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The Exhibition Team

The Biggest Loser premiered the beginning of my Junior year of high school. I was hooked. Could I go on this?  Mind you, I weighed a whopping 135 pounds at 5 foot 8 inches.

While I didn’t go as far as to research contestant information, I actually believed I would qualify to compete on the Biggest Loser. At some point during my middle school and high school years, I began to have a horrible body image. And I can’t help but wonder when and how this began.

I sometimes wore sweatpants and frumpy outfits that my best friend famously labeled “the rainbow collection”  in high school because I honestly didn’t think anything flattered me. I had recently quit tennis because tripping over your own two feet, missing 9 out of 10 balls, and making your partner bleed by hitting her with your tennis racket were not elements of “normal tennis etiquette”. To say that I was athletic or even attracted to vigorous physical activity would be a flat out lie. I was put on the exhibition team. We played when everyone else’s scores were in and the bus wasn’t there to pick us up yet. We were basically a cheer squad. Giving up on ever becoming the number one singles like my brother and dad, I went to practices for the sun tans and social hour.

It’s not the olympics. It’s high school tennis. Why couldn’t I enjoy my level of skill and embrace my lack of coordination and continue to play? How did I start to think that I wasn’t good enough to play sports or slender enough to be considered beautiful?

I was on the exhibition team. I shouldn’t bother trying. My pant size was a different number. I’m not skinny enough. I let other people decide my value instead of being confident in who I knew I was.

While I don’t have a daughter, I am one. My parents were (and still are) very hands on and encouraging. I remember setting up an art store and selling my artwork at age 10. My dad attached one of my pieces to his manuscript that was publisher-bound, making me believe my work was worthy of being published too. They affirmed my choices. They complimented my hair cuts and nail polish. And yet I still struggle with self-esteem.

I realize problems with self-image are a common problem among women – specifically teens. How does it end? Why must we all be the same size with the same hair with flawless grace? How do we stop making outer appearance a high priority for women and the standard for true beauty? Here are a few quick ideas for how to consistently build your kids up:
(While some of these may seem to contradict each other, they don’t have to. It’s all about balance)

Start ’em young. I read this article about what to talk to young children about, rather than focusing on their appearance (i.e. “You look so pretty! I love your dress.”). Ask about books, movies, friends, favorite activities. The possibilities really are endless. Let your kids know from an early age that’s there’s more to them than their looks.

Compliment their appearance. While, it is only a fraction of who they are, they still identify with their appearance. I’ve read stories of parents who firmly avoid any affirmation of their child’s appearance. While I agree that this should not be the main focus in building your child’s self esteem, it certainly does no harm in complimenting your daughter’s dress or telling your son he’s handsome. Again, balance.

Love yourself. Your child is a product, sometimes an exact replica, of you and your husband. When you step on the scale and sigh at your love handles or tease your husband about his big ears (that your daughter inherited), how will it affect her?

Focus on the good. Where does your son excel? Is he the fastest runner? Is he a good reader? Does your daughter do well in school? Is she kind? Compliment them! If it isn’t incredibly clear by now, my love language is words of affirmation. The more I’m affirmed, the harder I’ll work.

Speak kindness. Be aware of your words. Allow your children to hear you genuinely compliment your friends and peers, your spouse, and yourself. If you’re a positive person who seeks to encourage others, they’ll believe you when you speak truth into their lives. They will, in turn, be positive thinkers.

Don’t take yourself too seriously! I’m slowly learning there is no one more beautiful than a confident person! I envy women who create and own their own style; who are kind, yet unashamedly themselves. They’re considerate and hard-working, yet they learn to laugh in the moment. Have a dance party or karaoke night. Go ice skating even if you’re terrible! Teach your children that it’s okay to look silly, to not be perfect at something. But most importantly, that trying and being confident in yourself and your abilities means much more being the number one singles in tennis.


Ashley Cooper

I strive to find joy in each ordinary day.

  • Lori DeNeff

    Ashley, you are such a great writer.This post should be read by moms all over and teens who need to know they are who God made them. Your love and care for others is so apparent. Thanks for writing this.

    March 9, 2016 at 9:21 pm Reply
  • lani pence

    This is a lesson that I need to learn over and over. I hope to pass along the positives of this to my children as they grow up and learn to be the people, as Lori says, that God made them to be. While we Pence’s enjoy a good dance party in the living room, I hope to teach them silliness and imperfection is part of life and needs to be rolled with!

    July 22, 2016 at 3:10 pm Reply

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