by Anna Sturino
Director of Operations
It seems like just yesterday that you were dropping off your daughter to preschool and dance class. But then she turned 11 and started spending hours in the bathroom and analyzing herself in every mirror she passes. She seems consumed by her looks. What happened?
As they approach the teen years, it’s common and natural for girls to become more interested in appearances, their own and others’. Their bodies are going through some big changes as they grow and go through puberty. As preteen girls change physically, they become more aware of how they look and the pressures to look a certain way.
Growth and puberty affect more than a preteen’s outward appearance — body image is affected, too. Having a healthy body image means that most of your feelings, ideas, and opinions about your body and appearance are positive. It means accepting and appreciating your body and feeling mostly satisfied with your appearance. Developing a healthy body image happens over time. It can be influenced by experiences and shaped by the opinions and feedback of others. It can be a difficult balance to help young females feel confident and satisfied with their looks while encouraging them not to be overly concerned with the superficial. It’s important to encourage girls to take pride in their appearance but also to emphasize the deeper qualities that matter more. This is not an easy task for most parents or caregivers, however if you keep the following in perspective it may help your daughter to have a positive body image.
As preteen girls explore with different looks, you can help by being accepting and supportive, providing positive messages, and encouraging other qualities that keep looks in perspective. Provide lots of compliments like, “you’ve got the most beautiful smile” , or “that shirt looks great on you”. Compliment them on other attributes such as their strength, endurance, balance, energy or grace. You want to encourage them to be comfortable in their own skin and appreciating physical qualities and attributes helps build a healthy body image.
You can offer reassurance that healthy body shapes vary and come in many sizes and shapes. Ask them to reflect on their self-image and ask them to comment on what they like about themselves and ensure to explain what you like about them. Your acceptance and respect can help her build self-esteem and resilience. Ensure to always use positive language, for example: rather than talking about “fat” or “thin”, encourage girls to focus on eating a healthy diet and staying physically active. Help them establish healthy eating habits and promote physical activity in any form. Participating in sports or other physical activities, particularly those that don’t emphasize a particular weight or body shape can help promote good self-esteem and a positive body image.
Discuss media messages regarding television programs, movies, music videos, websites, magazines, and even some toys like the popular “Barbie” and the message that they are sending to young girls. That a certain body type is acceptable and that maintaining an attractive appearance is the most important goal. Encourage them to question what they see and to understand how the images are distorted from their true form. Expose them to women who are famous for their achievements and not their appearances. For example, read books or watch movies about inspiring women.
Encourage them to form positive friendships and surround themselves with friends that are accepting of who they are and appreciate them for traits like kindness, sensitivity, and humour.
Set a good example
Be a good a role model and set a powerful example. Constantly complaining about your appearance teaches your daughter to cast the same critical eye on herself. If you are constantly talking about “dieting,” watching what you eat, and counting calories in order to be thin, this can result in your daughter having an unhealthy relationship with food. An alternative is to discuss how great healthy eating makes you feel and how great the food tastes.
Almost everyone is dissatisfied with certain elements of their appearance, and even as mature adult women, we all struggle with this.Try to talk about what your body can do and not just how it looks. Instead of complaining about how big your legs are, talk about how they’re strong enough to help you hike up a mountain. Instead of counting how many calories are on your plate or skipping meals you could talk about how you love that eating a balanced meal gives you energy to run, swim or play tennis.
Having a healthy and positive body image means liking your body, appreciating it and being grateful for its qualities and capabilities. This is difficult for most of us, but as adults, if we care for and appreciate our own bodies, we can teach young girls to do the same.