Loving Her Body
Loving Her Body
Helping Your Daughter Develop a Healthy Body Image
Your nine-year old daughter wants to dress like Miley Cyrus. Her friend won’t eat her own birthday party cake because “it’s fattening.” Another beautiful, slim, young girl asks her mother every morning “Does this make me look fat?”
The media presents powerfully persuasive messages to girls and women: they must be thin, well-toned, made-up and seductively dressed in order to be attractive. Canadian women spend billions of dollars in their attempts to transform their despised bodies into “acceptable” shapes. Our little girls are not immune to these pressures. Studies show us that healthy –weight children as young as seven and eight are dieting. In a recent survey, over half the young girls reported dissatisfaction with their bodies and the desire to lose weight. By the time they reach adolescence, over 80% of girls “worry excessively about their appearance”.
While media bombardment is hugely influential, your daughters’ body image development is also impacted by stresses from within her family and pressures from her interactions with other significant people and activities. Here’s how you counteract the destructive forces your girls will face:
1. As a family, discuss media images and messages. Teach your children that the role models they are viewing represent an extremely narrow definition of beauty and acceptability. Talk to them about the power of advertising. Celebrate the natural diversity of human body shapes and sizes.
2. Carefully examine your own feelings about your body. Are you modeling healthy self-respect or do you criticize your own weight or shape? Our daughters need to hear their parents (especially their mothers) making positive, self-affirming statements about their own bodies.
3. Help your daughter discover what she likes about her body, instead of focussing on what parts are not “perfect”. Encourage her to use healthy self-talk when she describes herself.
4. Keep your comments to her positive and realistic. Puberty (which can start as early as nine or ten) can lead to significant weight gain, so don’t be alarmed or critical. Reassure your daughter that her changing shape is a wonderful sign of growing up. Teasing at this age can have devastating effects, so intervene if siblings or others are unkind.
5. Ensure that your daughter understands what is happening to her changing body. Talk openly about sexuality. Celebrate her development to combat embarrassment and shame.
6. Encourage fun physical activity. Girls who feel strong and competent can enjoy the marvelous things their bodies can do, whether it’s the joy of dancing, kicking a soccer ball, or simply walking in the park.
7. Focus on healthy eating patterns. Ban the concepts of “good” vs. “bad” foods. Going on a diet is the very best way to gain weight.
8. Encourage and provide the means for your daughter to express herself. Help her to assert her feelings and needs with confidence.
9. Remind your daughter that true beauty comes from feeling good about herself, recognizing her strengths, and carrying herself with a sense of acceptance and openness to herself and others.
10. If your daughter’s negative feelings about her body and/or unhealthy eating behaviors are not responding to your attention and encouragement, get professional help.
While body image is a central component of your daughter’s self-esteem, remember that there are a multitude of other ways that you can help her to feel lovable, valued and capable.