Here are two emails I recently received which share parents’ concerns about their daughter’s body image.
Hello Michelle, Love your blog and have your book, thank you. I have an adorable 12 year old daughter and she is starting to have doubts about her appearance just as she leaves for school in the mornings or outings with friends. She says she looks “fat”, hair is ugly etc and none of these things are true at all. As her mother, how can I best support/respond to these sometimes worrying statements?
I have daughter and she is 15 years of age. She constantly wants to eat, then feels guilty when she does. I find a lot of the teenagers seem to want to have a perfect body. I don’t know if I should take her to a psychologist or is it a phase? I’m not trying to make a big deal about it nor am I wanting to ignore it. She’s a beautiful girl, not overweight.
Body image is how you think and feel about your body and what you imagine that it looks like. It may or may not be a reflection of your actual appearance. Poor body image affects young people in so many ways – eating disorders, depression, social anxiety and low self-esteem are just a few.
Having walked a hard road of self-doubt themselves, most mothers want to install confidence in their girls. They want their girls to discover how beautiful they are, before their youth disappears. Here are eight thoughts which will help you do just that.
How can we help our girls embrace their beauty?
1. Remember that puberty brings self-criticism, self-consciousness and moodiness with it. Listen to your daughter’s concerns about her body shape without shutting her down by saying, “Don’t be ridiculous”. Puberty can be a worrying time.
2. You are the most influential person in your child’s life. Eat well, exercise, dress well and most importantly, enjoy your life. Make your family a happy family that laughs often. This will go a long way in helping your teenager stay balanced.
3. Our girls need balanced affirmation. Don’t stop telling your daughter how beautiful she is, but deliberately praise her for how strong, courageous, confident or intelligent she is. Don’t let her put all her eggs in the one beauty basket.
4. Encourage her to be her best self, not someone else. Girls often define beauty as the one thing they are not, rather than the one thing they are. That one thing is usually a feature they admire in someone else but don’t possess themselves. This is where they go wrong.
5. The majority of young women struggling with their body image also struggle with solving other problems in life. This is where they need practical strategies and tools to overcome life’s issues. Example: If young people don’t have problem solving skills they may stop eating when they get stressed, feel fat or depressed, as a way of coping.
6. Reward your daughter for being assertive, without being aggressive. Teach her to say ‘no’. Saying ‘no’ in real life will help her take care of herself in every area. She will need to be able to say “no” to distorted thoughts to grow a healthy body image.
7. Girls need to take risks and fail. I know we don’t like to see our girl’s disappointed but it’s an emotion they absolutely must learn to deal with. Girls who strive for perfection often fear rejection and failure.
8. Everyday education around diet, exercise, health, style, shopping and sexuality are all linked to healthy mindsets about body image. If your daughter’s eating habits are really worrying talk to your doctor, a dietician or psychologist.
RECOMMENDED READING: You can find more on this topic in my book ‘Self-Harm: Why Teens Do It and What Parents Can Do To Help”