One of the most common things I hear my tween and teen daughters complain about is how they look. It is hard for me as a mom to hear them get so down on themselves. I recently went to a wonderful body image presentation at my 6th grade daughter’s school. A Dr. that specializes in helping girls and women with medical issues related to how they perceive their body image and self-esteem spoke to the girls and their mothers. He spoke in a frank, yet fun way so the girls would understand but not feel anxious or embarrassed. There are many ways we can help our daughters love their body image and increase their self-esteem. Here are some ideas:
1. There’s nothing wrong with being a different shape or size from someone else. We are all different and unique. At the classroom presentation, the Dr. showed a picture of a bunch of different fruits and veggies. Some were tall and narrow, others were wide and short. All of these were healthy foods that many find delicious. Not one is better than another. He talked about wishing that he was just a few inches taller when he was growing up. No matter what he did, he couldn’t make himself grow any taller. It really bummed him out for some time, until he matured enough to realize that being taller would not make him any happier or better.
2. Our happiness is not dependent on how we look. We can choose to be happy no matter our circumstance and no matter what size, shape, or color we are.
3. The media portrays women and girls unrealistically. Models in magazines weigh on average 23% less than the average woman. And many pictures are airbrushed and not how they really look. We can help girls realize that these airbrushed pictures with impossibly long limbs and unhealthy weight can never be achieved because it’s not reality.
4. Don’t talk to your friends about how others look or compare yourself to others. Gossiping and comparing tears people down and will not make you a better person. In fact, it will take away from some of your inner beauty because gossiping and making fun of others is like a poison.
5. Parents should model acceptance of ourselves. Work on loving what you see in the mirror and don’t talk negatively about yourself. We are our own worst critic. It can be so hard for us to think of something we like about ourselves. I thought this video clip was interesting because it shows how quickly we can think of something negative about ourselves but we have such a hard time thinking of what we like about ourselves.
6. When you compliment your daughter, try to focus more on her accomplishments, the efforts she makes, and what she is doing than how she looks. If you compliment her looks more than anything else, she is likely to think that is the most important thing about herself.
8. A father-daughter bond is just as important as the mother-daughter bond. Besides trying to continue to have open communication, express admiration for female figures in prominent roles such as politics, sports, and community leaders. Notice and appreciate the women in your family, including their skills and talents, and share how you feel with your daughter.
9. If your daughter asks you how she looks, it’s ok to say: “You look great!” But try to spend more time talking about what her body can do, instead of what it looks like.
10. Notice if a movie or tv show you are watching with your daughter portrays women in a negative way. Point it out and talk about it.
11. Teach your daughter (and yourself) to see through their best friends eyes. We are so much more critical of ourselves than our best friends and family members are. Ask your daughter to ask herself, “What would my best friend say?” or “What would my Mom say?” the next time she find herself criticizing her appearance. Speak to yourself as if you were your best friend.
12. Exercise with your daughter and encourage participation in sports or other healthy fitness activities. Explore new ways to exercise like zumba classes, training for a 5K together, yoga, new sports to her, etc. Exercise boosts mental and physical health. Encourage healthy eating. What we eat can affect our moods and how we feel about ourselves too.
Dove has a ton of wonderful articles and resources to help parents and teachers teach kids to love themselves and improve their body image: Growing Up and Body Image, Ideas for Mom’s and Dad’s, and Beating the Blues
How the Media Portrays Women