A few days ago I ran into “Michelle”, a mom who took my local Time for the Talk class a few years ago with her daughter “Lola”. At the time Lola was a confident, well-spoken 11 year-old. As we caught up, Michelle talked about how concerned she is that Lola is now experiencing a lot of self-doubt about her changing body. As she goes through puberty, Lola wonders if she’s too fat, too curvy, too womanly. Her confidence has taken a real hit as she compares her changing body to her friends’. Michelle is worried that Lola is quickly developing a poor body image and doesn’t know what to do.
Talking with Michelle reminded me of how tough it can be for girls as their bodies change with puberty. I thought back to my own experience. Somehow I managed to get through high school without thinking too much about my body, but that all changed in college when my friends talked nonstop about how many grams of fat were in the foods they ate and how guilty they felt after indulging. All of a sudden, I began to question my own figure and whether it was thin enough, whether I was “good enough”. I saw many girlfriends struggle with eating disorders, one who would vomit every time she ate and often complained about her heart hurting after. To this day, I wonder if she’s ever recovered.
Our society puts so much pressure and value on women to be a certain size, one that is unrealistic for most of us. On top of that we hear about the rising number of overweight kids. As parents many of us feel confused about how to raise healthy daughters, who feel good about their bodies.
Fortunately, there are some ways we can help:
Talk about it: Ask your child if she feels pressure to look a certain way. Talk about the messages the media send about the “ideal body” for women and whether or not this is healthy or realistic. Look at ads together and talk about the messages they send. Find exceptions. Point out actors, singers and athletes who don’t match the “ideal” set by our society.
Set a good example: As grown-ups many of us still feel pressure to look a certain way and struggle with our body image. However, our children are watching us closely. Be careful not to criticize your own body. Instead talk about eating healthy and exercising regularly to feel good, rather than to look a certain way.
Focus on what really matters: Talk with your daughter about her dreams and goals and help steer her attention away from focusing on her body. Help her realize she is so much more than her body size.
Show Alternatives: There are some great resources that share a very different message about body image. New Moon Magazine is a great starting point for girls.
By keeping the lines of communication open, and addressing the issue head on, you can raise a stong, confident, healthy daughter.