This article explores how both mom and dads can help their growing daughters become comfortable with the way they look. It explores how factors such as positive role modelling, establishing healthy eating and exercise habits, and learning how to critically evaluate media messages can go a long way to developing positive body image in girls.
Developing a healthy body image: How moms and dads can help
A girl’s body image is how she perceives, thinks and feels about her physical self — including whether she feels she is attractive and whether others appreciate her looks. Girls are influenced greatly by many sources of socialization, including their peer groups, the media and their family. Studies indicate that what parents say have a powerful influence on how girls see themselves, their dieting habits, and their overall views about body shape and size.
Here are some tips for Dads and Moms to cultivate healthy body image in their daughters:
1. Listen to your daughter’s concerns about her body shape and appearance. Adjusting to the biological changes that come with puberty can be very stressful for young girls. Reassure your daughter that her physical changes are normal and that everyone develops at different times and rates. Make sure she understands that weight gain is a normal part of her development, especially during puberty.
2. Help your daughter become a media critic. Discuss with her the content of ads, magazine covers, billboards and television shows. Expose beauty myths to her by explaining the amount of time and effort that go into making celebrities look flawless. Point out how celebrities have a whole arsenal of stylists, personal trainers and plastic surgeons, as well as how pictures in magazines have been altered to create an image of perfection. By helping your daughter recognize how unrealistic these images are, you may enable her to feel more at peace with the way she looks, flaws and all.
3. Be careful about what you say and do. Reflect on how you dress and how much you focus on fashion, weight, food intake and appearance. Mothers should remember that their daughter seeks to emulate them and listening to you put yourself down can negatively impact how she sees herself. Fathers should also pay attention to how they respond to media images of sexy and thin women. Your daughter craves validation from you and if she feels guilty that she has not lived up to your standards of beauty, she may attempt to change her body, no matter the cost to her health.
4. Keep an eye on your daughter’s social networks. Young girls today live in a culture of criticism, where peer-teasing and cyberbulling are common. On online channels, girls can post, send, and read comments about their friends and themselves instantly, and many take advantage of anonymity and online distance to insult one another’s weight and appearance. If you notice that your daughter has a circle of friends that is obsessed with thinness and dieting, create opportunities for her to socialise with other people.
5. Keep your daughter physically active. Studies show that an individual who appreciates what their body can do, rather than simply what it looks like, feels good about their body and tends to have higher self-esteem. Even if your daughter needs to lose weight, do not goad her about it and try to cultivate her strength and fitness instead. Commit to having at least one family activity per week that involves some kind of exercise such as tennis, dancing, golf, swimming or going for a walk at the park.
6. Inculcate healthy eating habits. Children learn eating behaviours from their parents, so try to eat more wholesome foods yourselves such as fresh fruits, vegetables, meats, fish, eggs, nuts and seeds. Do attempt to reduce or even eliminate overly processed, deep-fried, sugary foods or drinks. Do not put your daughter on a highly restrictive low-calorie diet even if she is overweight. Moms and dads who promote dieting may be well-intentioned and trying to protect their daughters from society’s expectations, but studies show that early dieting may lead to a lifelong battle with body image. Instead, guide her to make sensible food choices and make healthy eating pleasurable. Teach your daughter to eat mindfully by observing how different foods make her feel – she will learn to notice which ones make her feel tired, bloated, lethargic, and which ones make her feel energetic and awake.
7. Help your daughter value what she does, rather than only what she looks like. Placing less emphasis on how girls look helps them derive self-confidence from multi-faceted identity characteristics. It can be a delicate balance to help girls take pride in their appearance while also emphasizing the deeper qualities that matter more. Look for opportunities to praise her skills, achievements and talents, such as her creativity, intellect or thoughtfulness.
8. Introduce other role models. Ask your daughter who she idolizes in the media and why. Without being heavy handed, share your views on the different people you find beautiful who have varying body types and tell her why. Furthermore, expose her to women who are famous for their achievements rather than appearance. For example, read books or watch movies with her about inspiring women.
9. Help your daughter feel confident. A strong sense of identity and self-worth is crucial to her body image. Teach her to express her opinions and individuality. Allow her to say ‘no’. Encourage her to be assertive if she feels she has been mistreated by others. This will help her retain a positive body image in the face of negative judgment or perceptions from others, particularly her peers.
As a girl’s body changes and develops during puberty, it is almost inevitable that she will compare herself to peers and unrealistic airbrushed images of models. You will not be able to shield your daughter from media images, peer pressure, and people who will let her down and criticise her. However, she needs at least some safe places when it comes to the messages she receives about her physical attractiveness and worth. As parents, you can create a safe place for your daughter by transmitting positive, affirming messages to her about her body, as well as who she is beyond her appearance.
Better Health Channel (2012). Body image: tips for parents.
Common Sense Media (2013). Girls and body image tips.
She Knows Parenting (2013). 5 steps to boosting your daughter’s self-esteem.
About the Author: The Dads for Life Resource Team comprises local content writers and experts, including psychologists, counsellors, educators and social service professionals, dedicated to developing useful resources for dads.
Categories: Ages and Stages