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How can moms positively impact the way daughters view themselves?

This weekend marked the 5th Annual Dove Self-Esteem Weekend at the United Nations – a celebration of inspiring conversations about self-esteem and how our perception of ourselves is passed down to our children.

We all know the importance of helping our daughters build self-esteem and that female role models have a tremendous impact on them. We’ve always been bombarded with unrealistic images of women in magazines, television and movies (thanks to makeup artists, hair stylists and the like). But the challenge of raising self-confident girls has never been greater. Given the ease of taking pictures and sharing instantly with the masses through social media and apps like Instagram, girls are flooded with hundreds – even thousands – of unrealistic images on a daily basis. The Oxford English Dictionary actually added the word “selfie” and dubbed it the “International Word of the Year for 2013.” What does that say about the exaggerated importance on image?

I know I’m not alone when I say that I’m not a fan of the artificial images, videos and messages our daughters are inundated with that don’t represent reality. These images often display women who have teams of people helping to make them look great, along with photo software to make them look even better, dare I say, “perfect”. This keeps our daughters striving to attain the same results. Unfortunately, they often aren’t able to see that these are unrealistic goals.

So what does all this mean for our daughters and for us? Well, it means the role we play as their mothers has never been more critical. It means that we need to positively impact the way the next generation views themselves. But how?

First, we need to focus on what’s right in front of them – the most powerful woman to model themself after – their mothers! We need them to see and hear what we love about ourselves. How we feel about our bodies and ourselves directly correlates to how our daughters perceive themselves – physically and emotionally. If you ever questioned how much, watch Dove’s new powerful Legacy short film. It asked mothers and daughters to independently write two lists: what they don’t like about the way they look, and what they do. The video reveals some remarkable similarities. Over and over again, the daughters’ feelings about their body and beauty echoed their mothers’. This just further emphasizes how we need to think long and hard about our beliefs and the messages we send to our daughters. They can ultimately affect their self-worth and the paths they choose throughout their lives.

As the mother of two girls, I know it’s not easy. I wish I could tell you that I love my physical self and pretty much always feel good about how I look. But like most women, I have hang-ups. However, I’ll continue to work on how I see myself. Not only for my sake, but for my girls who want to emulate me. Regardless though, I’m always extremely careful in what I say and do when my daughters are around. While I might be dieting or “feeling fat,” I don’t talk about it, or even utter negative comments about how I look or feel in a particular outfit. I’ve also made a conscious decision not to change my outfit multiple times because I know that even though I may not say why I’m doing it, the message is loud and clear (truth is that I sometimes try on different outfits, but I do it behind closed doors – literally – in my small closet).

I make it a point to integrate various types of exercise and physical activities into my daily life, along with healthy eating habits. This allows for my girls to see positive behavior, and hopefully model it. They also hear me talking about my successes and overall happiness. Most importantly, they have played an instrumental role in helping me start my new business GAALS: Girls Athletics And Life Skills, whose mission is to empower girls physically, emotionally and socially. I explain to them that trying something new requires stepping outside of our comfort zone. And while it’s an uncomfortable challenge, I’m willing to create something new and unique because not only do I know (and hear from others) how much a program like this is needed, I see how the classes positively affect these young girls. And their parents are so appreciative. It fulfills me in a way that no other job or volunteer work has; a wonderful message that I’m able to send to my girls – do what you love – even if it’s scary and unfamiliar.

Along my journey, I share with the ups and the downs with my family. I explain that I need to communicate, listen, focus, be a part of a team, set goals and persevere. These are all valuable life skills for my girls to see and learn, as they are for every child. That’s why life skills are an integral part of what we teach in our GAALS classes. How we apply these life skills to our daily experiences comes through in quick conversations during our icebreakers and team-building activities that revolve around that classes specific life skill. To further drive the point, we also incorporate similar dialogue throughout the physical activities. But it’s not enough to just say these things. We have to believe in their importance and live them. My goal is to provide opportunities for girls (and even moms) to build skills and confidence while having fun.

It is in this spirit that I have developed exclusive GAALS Mother-Daughter activities that seem to be resonating with the community. At the end of the summer we held Mother-Daughter Stand Up Paddle Boarding classes that were a huge success.

On Columbus Day, we will be offering our next set of Mother Daughter classes – both outdoor and indoor options. First, we’ll be appreciating the fresh fall air and the beauty of the season during a Scavenger Hunt Hike at Caumsett State Park in Huntington. The Life Skill for this event will be Observing. Our aim is to get girls to like hiking and believe they will all do so as they seek out items on the scavenger hunt list (having them search for things helps prevent whining and complaints). Plus, throughout the hike, each group will need to work together on various tasks, such as getting taped together and having to walk in sync until they find another item on their list. This event is sure to be an enjoyable and memorable bonding experience.

Later in the day, the GAALS coaches and I will be making our way over to Hot Ryde in Wheatley Plaza, where girls and their moms will have the opportunity to pound out their energy (or anxiety / stress) in our special dynamic Drumming and Listening cardio class. As we do in every GAALS class, we’ll begin and end with icebreakers and teambuilding activities that all pertain to the Life Skill, which for this class is Listening. For our Drumming special event, we’ll be offering a Girls Only class followed by a Mother Daughter class (sorry, no brothers or hubbies for this one – but stay tuned for those events in the future). This is a great opportunity for moms to show their daughters first-hand, how they are willing to try new things, challenge themselves and at the end, feel good about their achievements.

For more details on these and other upcoming events, as well as GAALS’ ongoing classes, please check out our website www.GAALSusa.com Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/GAALSusa

And if you haven’t already seen Dove’s Legacy short film, please take a few minutes to do so. It’s sure to spark thoughts and/or conversations about our self-worth. And hopefully, inspire us to share “positive feelings of beauty” – which will be our legacy to our children. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Pqknd1ohhT4&feature=youtu.be

Dawn Berkowitz-Ader

Founder & President, GAALS

www.GAALSusa.com

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