How To Help Your Daughter Have A Healthy Body Image
Can we just admit that raising daughters is hard? Like, maybe harder than raising boys? At least the trouble boys get into is a bit more cut and dry. You can just tell them, “Don’t get anyone pregnant” and “Don’t get into fights.” But the trouble women get into can be of a more complex and delicate nature. Girls bully each other in highly advanced, manipulative ways. They don’t just punch each other—they slowly destroy each other’s self-esteem or reputation. Then there’s the sex stuff. We want girls to have those first experiences with boys who care about them, but we also know that boys that age don’t really care about anyone but themselves. How do you talk to your daughters about that? And finally, there is the most complex issue of all: body image. What an emotional minefield. But if we talk to girls early about these issues, we can set them up for a lifetime of a healthy relationship with their bodies. Here are some ways to do that.
Get her eating healthy, young
The best thing you can do is to get your children to like healthy, wholesome food from a young age. Don’t give into demands to order cheeseburgers and chicken fingers off the kids’ menu forever. Too many American parents allow that to go on until a child is well into her pre-teens. Kids’ menus should really just be for little kids, but by age eight or nine, transition your child onto the adult menu. Get creative with healthy foods at home, so your child’s palate adjusts to and even craves things like vegetables.
Give her better reading material
Steer her away from all of those magazines with headlines like, “See how this celebrity stays so svelte” and “Learn how this star lost 80 pounds!” That media just gets her thinking from a young age that someone’s weight is newsworthy. It shouldn’t be. Expose her to better reading material. Give her books with strong female protagonists who accomplish incredible feats—feats far more important than being a size two.
Don’t fuss too much around treats
While you don’t want your child eating donuts morning, noon, and night, don’t create panic and negativity around treats. Don’t have super strict rules about only allowing dessert once a week. Don’t slap a cookie out of your child’s hand. You don’t want to create the idea that treats are bad and your child should feel guilty for enjoying them. That can lead to a deprivation/purging pattern later.
Change the conversation around overeating
If you notice your child has a tendency to overeat, don’t say things like, “You don’t want to get fat” or “That’s too many calories.” Talk to her more about how food should energize us, rather than make us feel lethargic and weighed down. Talk to her about how overeating may make her feel too full to run, play, and have fun, but how the right amount of food can enhance playtime.
Make exercise about having fun
When it’s time to exercise with your kids, don’t talk about burning calories or getting in shape. Talk about having fun Make exercise a part of their daily activities, but find ways to make it exciting and interesting. Mix things up. Find new games for them. Take them on adventures to different hikes and beaches. Get them craving time outdoors and a little physical activity every day.
If you overhear her friends discussing it…
As your daughter reaches those pre-teen years, you may hear some of her friends starting to talk about wanting to be skinny and being on diets. When you overhear these conversations, just make sure you talk to your daughter about them after. She’s easily influenced at this age, and could have strong feelings about what she hears her friends say. Talk her through those feelings and answer any questions she has.
Talk to her about friends with eating disorders
At a certain age, your daughter’s friends may also begin to exhibit some disordered eating habits. Without speaking harshly about the friend, make sure you tell your daughter that those behaviors are not healthy, and that she shouldn’t follow suit. You can also do that friend’s mother a favor and notify her, in case she doesn’t already know, of the behavior you saw. If she can get healthy, then you can continue to surround your daughter with healthy friends.
Focus on her other strengths
Praise your daughter regularly on her attributes that don’t pertain to her appearance. Tell her how smart she is. Tell her how funny she is. Tell her how creative she is. Rant and rave about her academic or artistic achievements in front of her.
Don’t make shopping a hobby
From a young age, my parents would drop me off at the mall to kill time on a weekend. My parents would ask, “What do you want to do today? Go shopping?” I was exposed to our retail therapy culture that makes shopping a pastime, but you don’t have to get your daughter into that. Find better ways for her to spend her free time. If she just gets into shopping and fashion, she’ll be more likely to develop those insecurities around weight and body measurements.
Ask if she’s full or hungry
When your daughter wants more food or wants to get up from a meal, don’t say, “You already ate too much” or “You have to finish your plate.” Instead, ask if she’s still hungry or if she’s had enough to eat. Get her thinking about her own comfort levels.
Don’t make snacking a hobby
Though we can all be a little guilty of boredom eating, it’s important that your daughter sees food as just fuel and not a hobby. When you want to do something fun with your daughter, don’t always turn to getting ice cream or baking cookies. This gets her into the mindset that eating is just something to do when you have nothing else to do, which can set her up for weight issues later.
Don’t make food a reward
It’s also important that your daughter doesn’t feel that food is a reward for a job well done, or a consolation during difficult times. It’s common to take a child out for ice cream after a soccer game, or when she’s feeling sad. But this can set her up for emotional eating later in life.
Don’t talk badly about your body
If you want your daughter to love her body then you, too, must love your own. So don’t talk badly about your body in front of your daughter. Don’t grab your stomach and say, “Ugh. I feel gross.” Don’t say, “Mom’s on a diet.” Speak lovingly about your body.
Expose her to great body role models
There are tons of wonderful body positive role models out there. There are plus size and curvy models who are challenging beauty stereotypes and who speak out about loving yourself for who you are. Expose your daughter to these role models, and not the super skinny, diet-addicted celebrities.
If you see something, say something
If you do notice any new and odd behavior in your daughter, like her counting her French fries or exercising a bit after every meal, talk to her about it. Ask what that’s about. It’s important to nip any disordered eating behavior in the bud early, before it implants in her brain.