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my epic parenting fail

Self-esteem in girls

My daughter went back to school today to start her senior year of college.

Before we dropped her off at the airport, though, she asked me a question that still haunts me: “Did you ever decide what your most beautiful body part is?”

I know I have to give you some history to put this into context but I’m ashamed to say that my answer, much to her apparent dismay, was a mumbling, stumbling, look-everywhere-except-in-her-eyes, “Uh, no,” followed by an awkward, giggly, high-pitched, trying-to-be-light-and-jokey, “Still thinking.”

Here’s the back story.

A few months ago, I went to Mom 2.0 Summit, a fantastic blogging conference that, this year, was sponsored by Dove. I am a huge Dove fan because of everything they do to empower women and girls, and I don’t care if they’re doing it in order to sell soap. The message they send is so important and I give them a ton of credit.

At the conference, Dove debuted its new campaign, Unstoppable. They showed this video which reveals that 6 out of 10 girls stop doing what they love because they feel bad about their looks. Is there any female who can’t relate to the girl self-consciously pulling up the top of her bathing suit?

They also showed this video, entitled Inner Critic, which has stayed with me all these months later.

I came up with a list of my own least favorite body parts without even thinking consciously about it. That was easy.

Then I tried to come up with my most beautiful body part. I’m still trying to come up with it.

I mentored a self-esteem workshop for a group of girls from Girls Inc. of Orange County later that day led by the amazing and inspiring Jess Weiner, Dove’s Global Self-Esteem Ambassador. We talked about the representation of females in the media, the girls’ own body image and how it’s effected by their peers at school, and we created a cover for an imaginary magazine called Positivity – which would improve the world if it actually existed.

Dove Unstoppable campaign

This workshop was the highlight of the conference for me.

The girls were full of life-changing ideas and were eager to change the standard of what’s considered popular. They wanted to trade in short shorts and exposed bra straps for sweatpants and no make-up. They wanted to celebrate natural beauty and individuality. They wanted to be accepted for being themselves.

Because who they are is awesome.

I left there on a high, looking forward to great things from these girls.

When I got home, I told Sara all about it. She’s been doing an internship working with adolescent girls for the past year, and this is an issue that means a lot to her.

“What do you think your most beautiful body part is?” I asked her, cutting to the chase.

She rattled off a handful of parts, and I breathed a silent sigh of relief and patted myself on the back.

“What do you think your most beautiful body part is?” she asked me, genuinely curious to see what I thought of myself.

“Well,” I said, hemming and hawing. “I don’t know. I can’t really think of one.”

“What do you mean?” she pushed. “What about your eyes? Your skin? Your legs?”

And I went into a litany of why each part was not beautiful or my favorite.


I don’t doubt that Sara knows I’m self-confident and believe I can do anything I put my mind to. She knows I’ve never obsessed about my looks or my clothes, that I’m more concerned with my actions and accomplishments. But maybe, every once in a while, she needs to see me primping in the mirror, grinning and saying, “Damn, I look good!”

You are beautiful note

I felt terrible the rest of the night but each time I thought about a possible part to go back to her with, there was a long list of why it wasn’t beautiful. Each part was okay – but beautiful? I’m too practical to go there. And, by the way, so are 89% of women, according to Dove.

As days passed, I thought that, for better or worse, that conversation was over.

Until, all these months later, Sara brought it up again.

And I still couldn’t come up with an answer.

I should have just lied. I could have singled out any part at all and it would have been better, even if she looked at me funny and said, “Really?” She may have been surprised but she would have at least felt good knowing that I felt good.

So next time she asks – and, oh, she will – I’m going to wax poetic about the shape of my face, my smooth complexion, the curve of my hips. I’ll tell her how much I love my voluptuous chest, my bootylicious backside, the soft skin around my neck.

And maybe, if I tell her often enough, I’ll start to believe it myself.


  1. I loved this. Just lately I have been told I have great eyes and a butt that people try to have with implants. Okay I am going with eyes and butt for me.

  2. My first thought as I read this is that you might be confusing beautiful with perfect. I see lots of beauty in your face alone. I see beauty in me, though I certainly do not see perfection.

    Keep working on it, there are lots of beauty spots on you to choose from! ❤

    • Lois Alter Mark says:

      Thank you, Jo! For me, I think the whole is better than the sum of its parts. I can see beauty — but beautiful individual parts is a whole different story! And I think you’re right that there is a big difference between beauty and perfection. xo

  3. Helene Cohen Bludman says:

    Once again, Lois, your feelings so closely mirror mine. I have yet to come up with a favorite body part. It’s sad but true!

    • Lois Alter Mark says:

      It still bothers me but I just don’t see any one part as “beautiful.” Helene, you are so beautiful inside and out. xo

  4. Ruth Curran says:

    A daughter who challenges you to love yourself? I consider that an epic parenting win!

    And yes, I can answer that question. I have awesome calves!

  5. Reading this allowed me to think of countless things that are beautiful about you: your eyes, your smile, your hair…..(no, I don’t have a girl crush). But, like you, I”d lie if I said I could come up with one about myself.

    I guess we figure into the percentage of women having a hard time with our body parts. I lecture my mom all the time because she does the same thing. We need to empower ourselves and each other by trying to see ourselves in a better light.

    • Lois Alter Mark says:

      Cathy, my beautiful friend, I would mention all those same parts about you — and many more since we’ve shared a room 🙂 I feel good about myself in general but it’s weird that I can’t pick out a “best” body part when I can so easily pick out “worst” ones. And so interesting that you still lecture your mom — we need our moms to feel good about themselves so we can feel good about ourselves. If you ever need someone to tell you how beautiful you are, I am here and happy to gush over you. xo

  6. . Our second daughter recently told my sister that she refused to spend her life beating herself up the way my sister and I had, trying to erase a genetic predisposition to obesity. She accepts herself as she is, a physically fit, intelligent, beautiful, thick woman. I screwed my daughters up big time with my own futile obsession with chasing a thinner me. Life is too short to waste a moment not liking your body. My mother told me I would never be pretty like my sisters.(I know. Hard to believe, isn’t it?) and I spent way too many years trying to compensate for that. If I only had it to do over again, I would make sure to be cognizant that you cannot teach your kids to love their bodies if you don’t love your own.

  7. Well I could tell you what it wouldn’t be! Haha. I’d probably have to go with my legs. Other parts are sagging in the wrong direction. 🙂 Overall though, I can’t complain too much.

    • Lois Alter Mark says:

      That’s the whole problem — we’re all so quick to point out our “flaws,” but can’t find specific positives. You are beautiful, my friend. xo

  8. Barbara Cargill says:

    Terrific read yet again my dear Lois! hmmm…..lets see, for me? My entire life I hated my body…however now, at 53, I kind of like my curves…who knew?! And I am a curvy gal….but I think its ok now. I always thought I wanted to be “a stick” like the models in the magazines…but now, I’m rockin’ my curves…so curves it is!

  9. Oh, we are all so hyper- critical of ourselves! When someone compliments me, instead of saying ” thank you” I say incredulously, “REALLY??”

    • Lois Alter Mark says:

      Why do we do that? I am trying to learn to just say “thank you” instead of pointing out why whatever someone is complimenting doesn’t warrant praise.

  10. Lois, Wow, I have responses to your wonderful post on a couple of different levels. First, as a psychologist, I am reminded of a young girl I recently worked with who was teased by another girl in elementary school about the size of her ears. She dropped out of everything that would in any way display her ears – ballet, cheer, sports, anything! She went on to become almost agoraphobic, meaning she could not leave her home because she hated the way she looked! What you (and Dove) are talking about is SO IMPORTANT, the breaking down of what the psychology books call self-loathing. When you really think about it, I believe it’s connected to a similar thing that Sheryl Sandberg talks about – she says that women believe that they are in a place of power due to luck and relationships, not their own accomplishment. Isn’t our “self-loathing” – our not being able to say what we believe is beautiful about ourselves the same thing? “I have beautiful blue eyes!!!” – NOT “well, I guess I was just lucky enough to maybe be born with nice eyes”. I am all for claiming what we believe is unique and wonderful about ourselves!!! Thanks so much Lois!

    • Lois Alter Mark says:

      Great points here, Margaret. I am so sad for the girl you’re talking about — how terrible to let someone’s stupid comment ruin her whole life. Thanks so much for sharing.

  11. Lois, every word of this was meaningful and made me think.Two things: I realize how little conversation I’ve had with my own daughter about outer beauty because I’ve seen what happens to people who hang their worth on appearance, and, I fear how easy it is to succumb to eating disorders. I went in the other direction – de-emphasizing appearance and encouraging her to be mindful of the personality and nature and intelligence that make her unique and beautiful. Second: I can’t imagine how you consider this a fail on any level. That you are so attuned and positive as to even have these discussions with your daughter – that she knows how you value her thoughts – puts you in the success category in my book.

    • Lois Alter Mark says:

      Thank you, Susan. I appreciate the nice words. I have done the same thing as you have — tried to pooh pooh talk about appearance and concentrate instead on inner beauty, but I think somewhere we have to strike a balance because our girls are so bombarded with messages about appearance that we have to at least acknowledge them. So hard to find that middle ground.

  12. Sharon Greenthal says:

    Lois, I made it my mission, as apparently you did, to instill in my daughter a sense of self-esteem that would transcend any body image issues that might (and do) arise. I could write a book about the damage done to me by my father and his well-intentioned but harsh comments about my appearance when I was growing up – and how I’ve battled those voices all my life. It’s taken me a long time to learn to see myself without first looking at the “wobbly bits,” but I work on it every day.

    You ARE beautiful! What we all forget is how important the spirit is to making someone look lovely. You have that spirit.

    • Lois Alter Mark says:

      Thank you, and you certainly have that spirit, Sharon. You are beautiful inside and out. It is amazing, though, how other people’s voices turn into our own. Hopefully our daughters will always hear our voices telling them how beautiful they are. xo

  13. As I was reading, I was getting all squirmy and nervous.. thinking ahead and trying to answer to myself.. trying to figure out what part of my body I would answer (if asked).. I have never asked myself that.. really.. it’s so odd for me to even think about myself and your story just opened my eyes a bit. Hmmmm?

    Your words are beautiful. Thank you.
    I don’t have a daughter, wish I did….

    • Lois Alter Mark says:

      Heidi, that’s exactly how I felt watching the video. A girl would be lucky to have you as a mother. xo

  14. Having only sons, I never have these type of discussions. But, as most women, I focus mostly on the body parts that I hate and wish I could change. But I do know that it is important to realize that I do have good parts too (although I never think of them as beautiful). You are lucky that your daughter cares enough to keep asking.

    • Lois Alter Mark says:

      I’ve never had this discussion with my son, either. And I do feel lucky that Sara keeps asking — I just have to finally give her the right answer. xo

  15. Audrey Kamin says:

    Great column, Lois. When I was a Brownie and Girl Scout leader my mission was to instill a good sense of body image on the girls that I was leading. When they graduated from high school I had a reunion with my troop and it thrilled me that they mentioned to me me how much I had helped them in that area. As women we are so hard on ourselves. Whenever I see a picture of you I think of how beautiful you are. You have the kindest face and the greatest smile, because what is inside really shows through.

    • Lois Alter Mark says:

      Thank you, my beautiful friend. How amazing to hear from the girls how you helped them feel good about themselves — best foundation they could ever receive. xo

  16. I have always been so self-critical with myself but I have really tried hard to change this especially after I had my daughter. It’s so important for our daughters to see us being comfortable in our own skin.

    • Lois Alter Mark says:

      Agree. I think my daughter sees that, overall, I feel very comfortable in my skin — it’s just hard for me to praise the skin itself. Will have to learn to, so she will continue to do the same for herself.

  17. Wick Tarulis says:

    When we meet in Balboa Park, it was your smile that stood out.. As for myself….outwardly, I would say my eyes; I am often told they sparkle. Inwardly, I love my brain for its creative thinking and my heart for it generosity and compassion. Thank you for writing such a poignant post… keep them coming. For all us followers… hug all your parts!

    • Lois Alter Mark says:

      Oh Vicki, that means so much to me. And, yes, your eyes — and your warm smile — immediately drew me in. Thank you so much, and a big hug back. xo

  18. I think we could all remind ourselves of this every day!!! ONE of mine is my hair. 🙂

  19. This is a great reminder to stop being so critical of ourselves. We are pretty awesome! Thanks for sharing.

  20. Lois, in my mind you did not have an epic parenting fail. You didn’t have all the answers– who does???– but having the conversation is a huge WIN for both you and your daughter, and now for all of us. “Beauty is in the eyes of the beholder” is how your daughter likely looks to you, Lois. She loves you — all of you– and that’s clearly what you feel from her and give back to her. Sure, we may look at a book for its cover and like the font or some design element, but it’s the substance between the pages that we appreciate most of all…..

  21. Awww, we are so hard on ourselves at times! I can’t exactly pinpoint one, but overall I try to be happy with it all. God created me to be special so I kind of like the entire package, even if it sags, hangs over, dimples, is acne covered, etc. LOL!

    • Lois Alter Mark says:

      That’s awesome! I’m happy with the package as a whole but just can’t think of an especially beautiful part!

  22. Hi Lois. Great post. have you seen http://www.mybodygallery.com/? very cool site where you can see other women your same age, height, and weight. Really puts things in perspective.

    Your daughter is lucky to have you, i’m sure she will be as amazing as you are.

    Be Well!

    • Lois Alter Mark says:

      Wow, that site is fantastic. Will have to spread the word about it. Thanks so much for the nice words, and we will have to get together soon! xo

  23. This is absolutely beautiful! I have been pondering on this same issue the last few days. And I didn’t even know about the Dove campaign. But I work with the youth in our community. And we are all so self conscious about ourselves because of the media and what they portray as beautiful and that if you don’t fit the mold, you aren’t. So wrong. And it’s up to use Adults to show them that they are beautiful. But that means we have to believe it of ourselves too. And I realize I’ve been hit with the media plague as well and really struggle with this. I need to improve for my own daughters sake. She NEEDS to see me confident in herself so she can model it for herself.

    • Lois Alter Mark says:

      Thanks so much, Amber. I’d love to hear more about the youth you work with. Look into the Dove campaign. It’s awesome and there are a lot of tools and resources to share with kids. You seem like a beautiful person inside and out, and a great role model for your daughter. xo

  24. This was a great post, Lois. As usual…

  25. Well if this isn’t squishy ground – reading about your partner in life’s intimate reflections on her body parts – which in some deep place I think are part my body parts! Being together 35 years can blur the lines, curvy and thick and barely visible. So after intense and often joyous inspection of the subject matter at hand I have a list of my favorite parts of Lois. I will share just a few: your mouth – specifically the plumpness of your perpetually full lips and the way, so very faintly, the corners of them twist in such a shape to express your steadfast hopeful take on humanity. That’s one thing, secondly: your giggles that tumble, flow and float out in every single conservation (even when you’re pissed at me) between words and around them – may not count as a physical attribute but it brings light to dark and that’s a neat little miracle you perform with the ease of flipping the hair from your eyes – yeah, add both those features – your eyes are gorgeous (you should thank whoever in your gene pool you snagged them from and your hair – a source of great surprise. You’ve come home with every color combination know to nature, womankind and psychedelics. Let me just close here with one more for I could sense a blush coming from either you or me – it’s your mind that is flat out juicy and mesmerizing. For the rest of the list you’ll have to see me in person. Wink.

    • Lois Alter Mark says:

      Oh, Michael, honey, you just made me teary. Thank you for always making me feel beautiful, even if I can’t come up with one individual part. I love you. P.S. I have thin lips but love that you think they’re full. xoxo

  26. Looks like you got photobombed by the kid in the green shirt puking.

  27. I was reading this thinking, “Oh, my poor friend, Lois. You are such a beautiful person!” I think if you asked me — and I know that you didn’t, but I’ve never been one to shy away from offering an unsolicited opinion — I would say your smile!

    Anyway, there I was thinking, “Poor Lois” and then I began thinking about how I would answer that very same question. And I’m stumped. I, too, am a confident, never take no for an answer, kind of woman, but there I was scratching my head, trying to come up with an answer to what should be a very simple question. I know. I know. Go ahead. Think it. “Poor Jackie”. (In this case I am not comforted by being one of the 89%.)


    • Lois Alter Mark says:

      You are awesome, Jackie! It’s such a weird thing, right? I feel totally confident and happy, but the idea of finding one part of me that’s beautiful in itself is just mind-boggling to me. By the way, you have great eyes, a beautiful smile and you make me laugh so hard. xo

  28. Lois- this was not a parenting fail but a self-search sorta kinda fail. I think you achieved a parenting succeed. As for me, my legs and butt and arms get my votes. My daughter also left for her senior college year.

    • Lois Alter Mark says:

      I feel good about myself — I just have a hard time finding out specific part to call out as beautiful. I’m glad my daughter doesn’t have that same problem! Good luck to your daughter. How fast did those four years go?

  29. Ohkayohkay says:

    You know, I was raised with” Pretty is as pretty does!” the most beautiful part of me is unseen. It’s my soul ! Hoping that as the world and family and myself reflections view me ; see the light of dedication to their lives and the heart of a gentle, kind and loving God person! After surviving cancer 3 times and reordering my life as many times, I have come to realize that body parts exsisiting or not are not the main purpose of life! Surviving and loving are! Hugs to you for all you do to enhance each of us, Blessings, K

  30. Tremendous! Thank you for your honesty and for the sharing~

  31. Wow what a lovely message. I have a young daughter and this was a powerful message for me. Thank You
    Happy Sharefest

  32. That’s sad that women are such perfectionists that they can’t find a single thing to like about their bodies. I think this has gotten a little bit easier for me as I’ve gotten a little older, but I still have a lot of the criticism and self-doubt that women do. For me, my favorite body part are my hands, and just to accent them, I do crazy things with my nails every couple of weeks. Right now they are cheetah print, last week they were Minions, before that they were red, white and blue stripes. People comment on it a lot and I tell them, life is too short to have boring nails!

  33. Sara Tagami says:

    I know it’s a bit late to comment but really., this post really hit me in the face ,.hmm.,that’s because I really have a low self-esteem and tend to be that girl at the corner whenever there’s a party ., reading this and yeah, seeing Dove’s advertisement and campaign all over the net is an eye-opener.., thanks for sharing this ., I think I’ll start with that list too ., 😉

  34. Wow. I hope by now you’ve answered that question. If you haven’t, let me give you something to think about. Since I don’t know you in real life, I can’t pay you compliments on many things. But your hands are the body part that make your words come to life, and through them I know you. So your hands get my vote.


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