Being a teenage girl is tough. I’m sure you remember that often uncomfortable and awkward time in your own life. As a mom, I’m sure you’ve thought about what you can do to help your teenage daughter with their body image. After all, as women, we face criticism and judgment about the way we “should” look from every angle.
The good news is that, as a mom, you have a lot of influence. “Moms are probably the most important influence on a daughter’s body image,” said Dr. Leslie Sim, clinical director of Mayo Clinic’s eating disorders program and a child psychologist.
Since you have so much influence, here are some things you can do to positively affect your daughter’s body image.
Be a good role model.
It may not seem like your teen listens to you (and maybe they don’t!) but they really do pay attention to the way you behave. If you’re constantly criticizing your own looks and going on crash diets, your daughter will learn to imitate you. On the flip side, if she sees you cooking and eating healthy meals and taking care of your physical health by exercising, keeping up with doctor’s appointments and even resting when you need rest, she’ll learn to imitate those good behaviors too!
That’s not to say that you can’t be vulnerable and honest about having your own insecurities to show her that we all have our hang-ups. In fact, that’s a very helpful conversation to have when your daughter brings up her insecurities but it’s important to frame it in a positive way. This isn’t about being in denial, it’s about making your daughter aware that this is something everyone feels and it’s normal.
Teach her the difference between looks and health.
Teach your daughter about what being healthy really means and how not everyone who is considered to be “attractive” by society is actually healthy. This might require some introspection on your part… how do you define health?
Take small steps together to eat healthier and be more active. You can start small by planning your meals and implementing a family dinner routine instead of picking up dinner from the drive-thru. Of course, to-go foods have their place from time to time and teaching moderation is a wonderful gift you can give to your daughter.
Show her that she can take control of her own health and that being healthy feels really good. Maybe you two can take walks, try out a yoga class, swim, bike or cook together. This can be great bonding time and when it’s focused on health over appearances, it can foster a better body image too.
Talk to her about the media.
It is never too early to start this conversation with your daughter. We are all shaped by our environment and that includes the media that surrounds us. Help your daughter learn to be skeptical about what she sees on social media, in magazines, on TV, and in movies. It’s important that they understand that what they see isn’t reality and that tools and resources like airbrushing, photo edits, stylists, personal trainers, cosmetic surgery fuel the beauty industry and celebrity culture. In fact, show her edited photos along with untouched photos of celebrities so she can see just how dramatic the difference can be.
Discuss more than just looks.
This goes for your daughter, yourself, women around you, and women in the media. There is more to a woman than the way she looks but all too often, that’s all that gets talked about. Make a point to bring personality, achievements, and other qualities into the conversation when talking about women. For example, Jessica Alba is a movie star touted for her sex appeal but she has also built a company worth almost $2 billion around something she really cares about.
Be sure to tell your daughter that she looks pretty but be sure to compliment the qualities that make her who she is and acknowledge her achievements in those areas as well.
Take stock of what you love about each other.
I’m sure there are many things you admire and adore about your daughter and she could really benefit from hearing that. One fun exercise you could do together is to make a top 10 list of things you like about yourselves and then do one with a top 10 list of things you like about each other.
We all tend to take our strengths for granted and focus on what we perceive to be our weaknesses. Taking stock of these things will help your daughter see what others see in her, what she sees in herself, and help her to be grateful for her strengths instead of glossing over them.
Body image is an ongoing issue so let your teen know that you are open and happy to discuss these things with her so that she feels comfortable coming to you.
Missy Currin is a Women’s Health RN, Nurse Educator and the owner of FIT4MOM Midtown Raleigh. She’s mom to 3, which includes 2 daughters! Missy’s passion is coaching women along their motherhood journey through education, exercise, healthy food, community and positive self-talk. Learn more about her programs for moms of all ages and stages at www.midtownraleigh.fit4mom.com.