Girls’ body image tends to take a negative turn during adolescence. Not only are their bodies changing rapidly, but they are also becoming more socially aware. Add social media to the equation and there is a strong potential for a negative body image to emerge.
If you are noticing your teenage daughter becoming hyper-critical of her appearance and talking excessively (and negatively) about her body, it can be worrisome. In order to guide your daughter toward a healthy body image, there are three important things to know and actions you can take to parent-coach her toward a healthy, positive body image.
1. Social media plays a powerful role.
Most teen girls spend countless hours on social platforms where they are bombarded with sexualized images and portrayals of “perfection.” There is no doubt that these images promote unrealistic ideals of beauty and unhealthy comparison. Even when they know certain images have been photoshopped, girls can easily get sucked into a cycle of thinking: Why don’t I look like her? They begin to believe they are expected to look “perfect” and may start striving toward an often unattainable ideal. Striving can show up through extreme behaviors but often it is an internal battle of wishing they could be different and upset they are not. In addition, many teen girls recognize that the girls sharing sexy selfies or body shots receive a lot of attention and validation, so they start to do the same.
The damaging effects of social media on your daughter’s self-esteem and body image are concerning but not insurmountable. With education, limit setting, and consistency you can help her recognize how she is being influenced. Talk early and often about the power of marketing and the impact that images have on belief systems and emotions. Help your daughter notice when she is falling into a “compare and despair” cycle by highlighting her energy and mood after she spends time scrolling. Until your daughter can do it for herself, set limits on social media and monitor what she is being “fed” online. You can also share how social media impacts you. None of us is totally immune and your experience with comparison, expectations, validation, and striving can show her how to cope with similar feelings and experiences.
2. The influence of your reactions.
Whether a compliment or a criticism, when attention is on her appearance, it detracts from the attention paid to her skills, talents, intelligence, and kindness. Encourage your daughter to find acceptance with her changing body. Explain how yours too has gone through changes and how you have accepted them. Focus on feeling healthy and strong rather than looking “perfect.” Talk about her hopes, dreams, and interests and, as much as possible avoid conversations about weight and body size – of anyone.
3. Your body image matters.
When it comes to body image, moms are the most important role model for their daughters. The degree to which you accept, honor, and talk about your body will impact how your daughter accepts, honors, and talks about hers. These questions can help you reflect on your body image and the messages you may be sending to your daughter:
- How do you feel about your body?
- What kind of comments do you make about your body?
- What kind of comments do you make about other people’s bodies?
- Do you frequently diet, over-exercise, or obsess about your weight?
- If you have multiple children, do you focus more on one child’s body over another’s? Do you put more emphasis on your daughter’s body than your son’s?
Your teenage daughter’s body image is delicate and needs to be tended to with intentionality and care. Most of the time, your guidance and coaching will steer your daughter in a positive direction but if you have any concerns about an eating disorder or other unhealthy behavior, take it seriously. Get the advice of an expert and provide your daughter the support she needs to live a balanced, healthy, and positive life!