If you’re wondering how to talk to your daughter about body image, you’re not alone. It’s a conversation that has no beginning or end, but continues throughout your daughter’s life. Here are eight ways to help your daughter love her body.
Recently I had the incredible opportunity to interview and take surveys from almost 400 teenage girls. The conversations I had made me laugh, and cry, and gave me profound insight into the lives of teenage girls… and into their perceptions of their own bodies.
Between society’s expectations, the media’s drive for unrealistic perfection and the natural hormonal upheaval of the teenage years, when it comes to loving their bodies, our girls are at the front lines of a losing battle. As parents it’s hard to get a positive word in. Particularly if your child is boarding away from home for a large part of the year.
But it’s vital that we help our daughters learn to love their bodies. Here’s how to talk to your daughter about body image.
8 Ways to Help Your Daughter Love Her Body
1. Just listen
When your daughter calls you to complain about her body, or express a desire to be model thin, don’t brush it aside. These concerns are real. And they feel extremely important to your daughter.
Instead, listen to what she has to say and acknowledge the reality of her feelings. Show her you understand. You could say, ‘I’ve always had weird feet. I’ve never really liked them.’ But then show her that you’ve never let it get in the way of being anything that you wanted to be.
The reality is that it will likely be something more serious than ‘weird feet’. The point is that by listening and being supportive – but NOT brushing it away or telling her she’s perfect just the way she is – she’ll feel safe and understood. Deeper conversations can come later, once she knows you’ve really heard her vulnerabilities and insecurities.
2. Reframe the way you compliment
Our daughters love being complimented. But it’s important to be thoughtful about what we say. When you see her after a time apart, don’t say ‘You look pretty,’ or, ‘You’ve lost weight!’ (which can reinforce the idea that the prettier and thinner she is, the more she’s worth). It’s better to ask how she’s doing, what friends she’s making, or what successes she’s enjoying. Minimise or even avoid appearance related comments (unless you’re saying, “I’ve missed your smile so much!”) When she shares her life, including successes, avoid praise, and instead ask her how it made her feel. Get her to assess herself rather than relying on your ongoing affirmation. Only after she tells you she feels great should you dive in and say, “I think you’re doing great too. I love hearing all about this.”
3. Help her find meaning in her life
Time spent looking in the mirror is time focused on the wrong things. The more we can help our girls be absorbed in meaningful lives, the better we’ll be at getting the mirror out of their minds. Encourage your daughter to try out a variety of activities at school to help her figure out what she’s good at. Nurture characteristics like gratitude, compassion and confidence to help her develop a sense of meaning in her life.
4. Be aware of body shaming
Body shaming doesn’t encourage healthier behaviour. Body shaming only does one thing: it makes people feel ashamed.
If your daughter’s weight is a concern, don’t discuss it. She already knows. Instead, find ways to encourage healthy eating at home (because YOU are in charge of the pantry), and find ways to be active together. When she’s at boarding school, encourage her to team up with girls who are active. Entice her into extra-curricular activities that increase her activity levels. Talk to the school if she needs help.
5. Model healthy thinking
The attitudes we hold towards beauty are often toxic to our daughters. Stop talking negatively about your body. Just don’t do it.
Instead, model body comfort. Demonstrate (both explicitly and implicitly) acceptance and appreciation for your own body and what it can do. Talk to her about your daily swims. Send her pictures of you bushwalking, or your morning smoothie. When you believe your body is wonderful, she will, too.
6. Focus on function, not form
In the same way, what your daughter’s body can do matters more than how it looks. Talk to her often about all the things she’s capable of, both physically and mentally. Teach her to love to move her body, whether that’s organised sports, or walks on the beach during family holidays. Ask her to send you pictures of her evening dance off with her roommates, or the sunset when she takes a run. Be proud whenever she moves her body.
7. Acknowledge society’s obsession with perfection
Unfortunately, society is obsessed with appearance. In a recent study, The UK charity Girlguiding found that children as young as seven believe they are more valued for their appearance than for their achievements or character.
Talk to your daughter about society’s unrealistic expectations. Acknowledge the impossibility of achieving them and let her know that you understand the pressure that she might be feeling.
8. Tell her she’s beautiful
While I recognise that this seems contradictory, it’s important that we tell our girls that they’re beautiful. We don’t want to focus on appearance, but we want our girls to know they’re beautiful regardless of their appearance.
Navigating how to talk to your daughter about body image isn’t easy, especially when you’re far away. But keep the conversation going, enjoy your own body and give her opportunities to enjoy hers, and you’re off to a great start.
Article by Dr Justin Coulson, Happy Families