Talking to Your Daughter About Body Image

Talking to Your Daughter About Body Image

Moms, do you have a negative body image? Your daughter may feel the same way about her body as you do about yours. Here's how to help.

By Jenilee Matz, MPH, Staff Writer, myOptumHealth

She has your eyes and smile, and she shares your passion for adventure. That's not all you have in common with your daughter. Chances are you also passed down your attitudes about your body to her.

The apple doesn't fall far from the tree
You may tell her she's beautiful and perfect the way she is. But if you have a negative attitude about your own body, that's what your daughter will pick up on. Moms who complain about their weight teach their daughters that appearance is an important concern. You may think your comments are harmless, but kids watch and listen to their parents and follow the examples set by them.

Mothers who are preoccupied with their own looks or their daughter's appearance can set off weight concerns and unhealthy dieting behaviors in young girls. Other things influence girls' body image too, including:

  • Peer pressure to look a certain way
  • Body changes during puberty - such as weight gain - that can make girls feel uncomfortable
  • Low self-esteem
  • Images in magazines and on TV that show what the "ideal" female body looks like

A common problem
Many females feel poorly about their bodies from a young age. Just because the issue is common doesn't mean it's not serious.

A negative body image can set your daughter up for a lifelong unhealthy relationship with food. It can also harm her social, physical, and emotional growth. People who have a poor body image are more likely to:

  • Feel depressed and isolated
  • Have a low self-esteem
  • Be obsessed with weight loss
  • Take unhealthy actions to lose weight, such as taking diet pills, skipping meals, orsmoking cigarettes
  • Suffer from eating disorders like anorexia, bulimia, or binge eating

Girl talk
Moms can also influence a girl's body image in a positive way. But it can be tricky to promote good health habits without focusing on weight too much. Try these tips with your daughter:

  • Emphasize health, not weight. Teach her that good nutrition and regular exercise are keys to avoiding disease and living a healthy life. Help your daughter understand that weight gain is a normal, healthy part of puberty and it's something everyone goes through. Encourage her to care for her body well because it's the only one she'll ever have.
  • Avoid labeling foods as "good" or "bad." In a healthy diet, all foods are OK to eat in moderation.
  • Don't judge others based on their weight or appearance. Weight is not an indicator of character or personality. Good people come in all shapes and sizes.
  • Be critical of media images. Explain how people in the media are not ideal, and are often not healthy. Mention that special lighting and airbrushing is used to change how models' and actors' bodies appear.
  • Praise her for her accomplishments. Make sure your daughter knows her self-worth comes from many other sources besides appearance. Compliment your daughter when she does well in school or when she helps others.
  • Check in often. Keep the lines of communication open with your daughter. Tell her she can come to you about anything related to body, weight, or health. Then, help steer her toward healthy choices.
  • Mind how you care for yourself. Eat sensible foods, exercise regularly, and adopt other healthy behaviors you'd like your child to follow. Don't make negative remarks about your body. Instead, stress how grateful you are for your body and what it's capable of.

Sources:

  • National Eating Disorders Association. Body image. Accessed: 05/10/2012
  • U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Girls and body image. Accessed: 05/10/2012
  • Abramovitz BA, Birch LL. Five-year-old girls' ideas about dieting are predicted by their mothers' dieting. Journal of the American Dietetic Association. 2000;100(10):1157-11163. Accessed: 05/10/2012
  • National Eating Disorders Association. What can you do to help prevent eating disorders? Accessed: 05/10/2012
  • National Women's Health Information Center. Body image and your kids: your body image plays a role in theirs. Accessed: 05/10/2012

Copyright © 2012 myOptumHealth.