How Can I Help My Teen Have A Positive Body Image

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Parenting Teens: Help Your Daughter Love Her Body

BY DR. SARAH HUGHES

Last year Girlfriend magazine published a survey of a thousand readers who were asked how they felt about their appearance. The results were sad to read.

Does your daughter have a healthy relationship with her body?

Does your daughter have a healthy relationship with her body?

96% of readers said they wanted to change a part of their body. Nearly 70% of readers said their bodies made them feel self-conscious. 1 in 4 readers didn’t like what they saw in the mirror

Worse, a 2007 University of Sydney study of nearly 9000 teens showed that 1 in 5 teenage girls starve themselves or vomit after eating to control their weight.

The message is clear. From a young age girls don’t like their bodies and they’ll do anything to be thin. Which begs the question, when do we stop seeing our body as something that helps us to do and start seeing it as something that has to look a certain way?

Where do we learn to body judge?

The fashion industry has a lot to answer for. Stick thin models and air-brushed images go a long way towards girls feeling bad about their bodies, but there are other influences as well, and sometimes they’re closer to home than we care to admit.

How many times have you stood in front of a mirror and made a negative comment about your appearance? Have you ever made a joke about your weight or talked about dieting in front of your daughter? Do you eat burgers, chocolate, or pizza every now and then (without labeling it as a ‘treat’ or making a comment about your weight) or do you limit yourself to low-fat products and salads?

If you do any of the above, you’re not alone. Most of the time our body bashing and diet talk is so engrained that we don’t even realise we’re doing it. But if you tell your daughter she’s beautiful then comments about your own body and your own diet don’t matter right? Wrong. Even if you tell your daughter on a daily basis that she’s perfect the way she is, the seed has been planted….

Help your daughter see her body for its functions not its appearance

Help your daughter focus on what her body can do

Your appearance is important. Being thin is important. It’s so important that I diet and judge my appearance.

Your actions are more powerful than your words. It’s not enough to tell your daughter that she shouldn’t diet and she’s beautiful just the way she is. You have to lead by example. Your daughter will learn about the importance of appearance by what you do, not what you say.

Teach your daughter to treat her body well and have a healthy relationship with food by changing your own behaviour. Instead of teaching your daughter to see food as something that will affect her weight, help her to see food as something that fuels the many important functions of her body. Talk about exercise in terms of health and fitness, not in terms of calorie burning and weight loss. And most importantly, compliment your daughter on her achievements and draw attention to her personal strengths so she learns that her appearance, no matter how beautiful she is, isn’t the most interesting or amazing thing about her.

Dr. Sarah Hughes is a clinical psychologist and the founder of Think Clinical Psychologists. She enjoys working with children, adolescents, and adults, and specialises in anxiety, depression, postnatal depression, eating disorders, self-harm, and challenging behaviour.