Modesty seems to be a hot topic in parenting circles these days, and the conversation typically focuses on girls. While boys and girls should be taught about modesty, how we teach our daughters can lead to body shaming. This is something I would like to try to avoid.
The term “modesty” is derived from the Latin word modestus, which means “keeping within measure.”1 Typically, modesty is determined by the culture you live in and what you are brought up to believe. Depending on those factors, your standard of modesty can range from just keeping intimate parts covered to forbidding wearing anything form-fitting or showing any skin.
Some people believe that women should choose to wear whatever they want and not feel shamed by society. Then others believe that women should dress more conservatively not to draw unwanted attention. I think both perspectives have valid points and should be considered.
I believe that until my daughter is a mature and capable woman in her own right, my job as a mother is to protect my daughter and her body while preserving a positive body image. So I will teach her a combination of these two concepts in an attempt to ensure that she is both unashamed of her body and takes measures to protect her privacy and confidently draw boundaries for herself.
Teach Your Daughter Modesty Without Body Shaming
Treat nudity as something natural and normal.
There is nothing wrong or shameful about the human body. Young children are prime examples of how nudity was meant to be experienced; they have zero problems running around completely naked, their tiny bits flying all over the place. In fact, some kids love and prefer to be naked! This is natural and normal. It will also instinctually change as they get older. Don’t shame your children for reveling in their nudity. Instead, ensure they know it’s okay to run around naked at home, but encourage clothing when friends or guests come over.
Encourage questions about the body and answer them factually.
Kids are very curious about their bodies starting at about age three. They also notice the difference between their siblings’ bodies and their mom and dad’s bodies. When your kids start asking questions about their or your body, answer them factually and concisely. For instance, when my daughter was around three, she saw her dad getting out of the shower. She turned and asked me, “Mommy, why does daddy have a long pee-pee, and I don’t?” I tried hard not to laugh as I told her, “Daddy is a boy, and boys have penises. They are shaped long. Girls have vaginas, and they aren’t long. Boys and girls are made very differently, aren’t they?” This answer seemed to satisfy her curiosity for the time being.
Start talking about the importance of covering up casually.
I never want to make a big deal about nakedness. When my daughter was tiny and ran around naked, I would tell her, “Silly girl! Go put on a pretty dress. Nobody wants to see your naked butt!” She would giggle and put on a princess dress. These days, I will talk to her casually when we brush her hair after a shower. I will say to her, “Great job using your robe! Now that you’re getting bigger, it’s a great idea to make sure we’re not walking around the house naked.”
Respect your child’s natural inclination toward modesty.
Around the age of five, your child may start to feel the need to cover up more.2 Trust this instinct and encourage it. When my daughter turned five, I bought her a fuzzy pink bathrobe. I told her she could use it to get ready for her showers, and it would keep her covered and warm. I also started utilizing my bathrobe more. Whenever we would get ready for her shower, I’d say, “Make sure you put on your robe and slippers!” And she would very excitedly don them. I also encouraged her to close the door when she went to the bathroom and close her room door when she was changing.
Start teaching your child that their nakedness is private and they are in charge of who sees it.
Let’s teach our sons and daughters to think about each other’s bodies as amazingly crafted creations. Perhaps instead of making our girls feel like their blossoming feminine form is something to hide, we should teach them that their beautiful bodies are private and should be respected. We should teach them that they are in charge of how much they show of it. But we should also teach them that if they choose to show too much, they will inevitably attract a lot of attention. And not much of that attention will be wanted or even safe. It is a girl’s responsibility to protect and respect herself. But it is a boy’s responsibility to control his thoughts and actions, and she cannot control that no matter how she dresses.
Be a role model for how to dress well.
As our girls get older, they will want to start dressing like the women they see on social media, in magazines, or on TV. However, some of the “role models” our kids have these days are questionable at best. I don’t want my kids acting like them, much less dressing like them. So I have to be the primary example of what a beautiful, confident woman looks like to my daughter. I feel most confident when I am wearing clothing that is flattering, attractive, and relatively conservative. So I will encourage my daughter to emulate that same look. I will encourage her to see icons like Grace Kelly and Audrey Hepburn as the type of women to emulate. And I will further encourage her by taking her shopping and gently leading her toward the more classy, classic styles instead of the booty shorts and midriff tops that seem to be all the rage (seriously, why???).
As mothers, we are responsible for teaching our daughters how to love and appreciate their bodies and to protect their privacy with appropriate modesty. They will learn how to view themselves by what we teach them and how we view ourselves. If you do only one thing to impact your daughter’s body image positively, make sure you love your own body image and do so openly! Don’t put yourself down, and always dress how you want your daughter to dress. She will follow your lead for the rest of her life, so make sure you work on loving and respecting your body, too.