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Moms of Teenage Girls!
Help Your Daughter Create a Healthy Body Image
Body Image Basics
Open any teen magazine, click on primetime TV or walk through a department store. The images of impossibly thin models overwhelm today’s teenage girls. Unbelievably, most models are thinner than 98% of American girls and women.
A study of nearly 50,000 teenage girls revealed that a majority listed appearance as their biggest concern (Exeter University, U.K., 1998). Another study (Fat Talk, Harvard University Press, 2000) indicated that 90% of teenage girls frequently think about their body shape. Add to that, pressure from friends, boys and parents, and it’s understandable that this study found that 86% of teenage girls are, or think they should be dieting. And it’s no surprise that 5-10 million girls in the U.S. have eating disorders.
But ours is also a culture in which food consumes us, rather than the other way around. Super-size, fat-free, two for one, low-cal . . . the messages teens receive are confusing to say the least. In fact, one out of every five teens is overweight (Afraid to Eat, Healthy Weight Journal, 1997).. They need help! Help understanding and resisting the pressures and messages. And even more help developing strong body images. As a parent and particularly as a mother, you can guide your daughter in interpreting and resisting some of these pressures.
Nonetheless, as you probably know, frequent battles about weight, eating and exercise often leave mothers and daughters at odds with each other, complicating the struggle even more by causing communication to break down between them. Furthermore, although you may not even realize it, many mothers have their own, unresolved issues about weight and body image that inadvertently interfere with their ability to help their daughters create a healthy sense of their own bodies.
By becoming aware of the subtle messages that mothers might send their daughters, and by helping teenage girls interpret the world around them effectively, you can go a long way toward giving your daughter the tools she requires in order to grow into a strong, healthy and self-confident woman.
Reflections Of Yourself
As tough as it may be to do so, it is vitally important for mothers of teenage girls to look inward in order to understand a large part of what they may be communicating to their daughters.
To start with, ask yourself the following questions:
These can be difficult and even embarrassing questions to think about. But one of the most important things that mothers need to learn is the following: The way you think about and manage your own body image and weight issues will be communicated to your daughter and impact upon the way she thinks about her own body.
It is therefore crucial that you think about whether the messages you communicate are healthy or unhealthy.
The following suggestions can help guide your way:
The Real World
Of course, there are other factors that contribute to the way teenage girls view their own bodies — TV, magazines, friends and boys.
It is important for you to be on the lookout for opportunities to discuss these issues and to support your daughter’s ability to sort out fantasy from reality.
Fantasy: You can and should diet or exercise your way to look like a model and you have failed somehow if you don't make it.
FACT: Everyone is born with a different body. No one type is better or worse than another. Models have the type of genes that allow them to be very tall and thin. Very few people look like that.
Fantasy: Boys only like very thin girls.
FACT: Teenage boys may like to look at very thin, pretty girls. But they prefer to date regular looking girls, who are not intimidating to them during their awkward adolescent period.
Fantasy: TV stars naturally look fabulous.
FACT: TV stars spend hours a day getting their “look” and they sacrifice a lot to get there. What’s more, very, very few actors actually “make it." Most go on to do other things long before they get anywhere near prime time TV.
Fantasy: You have to look, dress, and eat like your friends or you’re not “cool."
FACT: Everyone has a different body type and you have to take care of your body in a way that feels comfortable and flattering to you. Being healthy is “cool” and having friends that accept you for who you are is the ultimate “cool.”
Create A Bond, Not A Battle
Adolescence is often a very difficult time for mothers and daughters. It can be fraught with bickering, fighting and lack of understanding on both sides. And things typically only get worse when moms become anxious that their daughters are overweight or underweight. After all, as a mother you want the best for your daughter and it can be painful to watch her body change in a way that you feel is detrimental.
But, here's a really important point to remember: By the time your daughter reaches adolescence, you no longer have actual control over her body, exercise or eating.
Your role has to shift — you will have a much more meaningful impact on her and also maintain a healthy mother-daughter bond, if you are able to refrain from critical, judgmental words and actions.
Here are some helpful tips that can reduce the fighting between you and your daughter and develop a more supportive and emotionally connected relationship. She may not end up with the body you want her to have, but she will have a mom that she can count on for emotional support and help when she needs it most.
Don’t Be Hard On Your Daughter . . . Or Yourself
The relationship between mothers and teenage daughters is often very difficult and you can only do the best that you can do. Teens naturally rebel, think they know better (sometimes they do!), and want to become independent. This doesn’t mean that they don’t need or love you.
As long as you make yourself available to your daughter in a supportive, non-judgmental and loving way, you and she will come through her adolescence closer than ever.
Dr. Susan S. Bartell is the author of Dr. Susan's GIRLS-ONLY Weight Loss Guide and Dr. Susan's KIDS-ONLY Weight Loss Guide. Read Dr. Bartell's articles: Moms! Help Your Overweight Daughter and Help Your Teen Adjust to a Stepfamily.
Therapeutic boarding school for girls, ages 13-18
by Susan S. Bartell
This enlightening guide enables teen girls to address more than just weight loss — it explores concepts such as empowerment, self-esteem, and healthy lifestyle choices.
by Mary Pipher
Adolescents' Grades, Well-Being Suffer Along with Body Image ~ Boys and girls who felt they were fat were more likely to report being overwhelmed by schoolwork and less likely to shake off sad feelings. Those feelings of stress and depression also held true for children who were actually normal weight or underweight.
Beauty and Body Image in the Media ~ The barrage of messages about thinness, dieting and beauty tells "ordinary" women that they are always in need of adjustment — and that the female body is an object to be perfected.
Body Image and Adolescents (pdf) ~ Be aware of your own body image issues and feelings related to your own body satisfaction. These feelings and biases may influence your work with youth. Empower yourself by becoming media literate and challenging unhealthy beliefs you may have regarding weight, shape, and eating. Youth are not the only ones affected by media, familial, peer, and social influences. Work to make your work and home environment as body image friendly as possible.
Body Image and Fear of Intimacy ~ Fear of intimacy is often exacerbated or made worse by a negative body image. Here's how to improve your body image and strengthen your relationships.
Body-image pressure inundates teen girls ~ The standardized image is pasted all over the mass media. Whether it's Hollywood, the runway or glossy magazines, the message is very clear: Look like this and be sexy. One factor that can help girls overcome their worries is a strong male role model -- their father.
Body Image and Your Kids: Your Body Image Plays a Role in Theirs ~ Your children pay attention to what you say and do — even if it doesn't seem like it sometimes. If you are always complaining about your weight or feel pressure to change your body shape, your children may learn that these are important concerns. If you are attracted to new "miracle" diets, they may learn that restrictive dieting is better than making healthy lifestyle choices. If you tell your daughter that she would be prettier if she lost weight, she will learn that the goals of weight loss are to be attractive and accepted by others.
Body satisfaction reflects self-esteem for most teens ~The happier most adolescents are with their bodies, the more they like themselves
"Do I Look Fat In This?" - The Role of Mother-Daughter Relationships in Determining Body Image ~ Research reveals that best friends and mothers have the biggest influence on whether or not a girl will use risky behaviors to lose weight. In fact, daughters whose mothers encourage them to lose weight are more likely to be dissatisfied with their bodies.
Do thin models warp girls' body image? ~ Psychologists and eating-disorder experts say the fashion industry has gone too far in pushing a dangerously thin image that women, and even very young girls, may try to emulate.
Girls' self-image may affect future weight ~ Girls' view of her social status has broader health consequences. Girls who saw themselves as popular gained more weight. Girls who saw selves on the higher rungs of popularity also gained, but less.
Help Your Teens Battle Image Issues ~ More than half of the girls in this survey said they thought they weighed too much and 58 percent said movie stars make them the most insecure about their bodies. But the influence of parents was undeniable. Also, research on teen suicide reveals that teens who see themselves as either too skinny or too fat were twice as likely to attempt suicide as teens with normal body images.
Hyper-sexualized society sets up kids for failure ~ Kids are exposed to an increasingly narrow definition of feminine beauty through mainstream media, computer games (which mix sex and violence), and sports marketing (which exploits the female form).
Mirror, Mirror: A Summary of Research Findings on Body Image ~ Female dissatisfaction with appearance - poor body-image - begins at a very early age. Infants begin to recognize themselves in mirrors at about two years old. Females begin to dislike what they see only a few years later.
Mirror, Mirror on the Wall: Reflections on Preteen Body Image ~ Eating disorders and body-image distortion aren't about food. Low self-esteem, anger, shame, helplessness and rage are at the heart of every eating disorder, whether it is anorexia, bulimia, obesity, compulsive over-eating, compulsive exercising or yo-yo dieting.
Negative Body Image Related to Depression, Anxiety and Suicidality ~ Adolescents with negative body image concerns are more likely to be depressed, anxious, and suicidal than those without intense dissatisfaction over their appearance, even when compared to adolescents with other psychiatric illnesses.
Self-Image: The Fantasy, The Reality ~ What is "the perfect body," and why does everyone want it? In the Mix digs deep into the American obsession with body image, which is driving teens to diet, use steroids, develop dangerous eating disorders and create a lifelong cycle of low self-esteem.
Self-Image in Recovery ~ It's from your self-image that you develop labels for yourself and develop scripts as to how you believe you should act to fit your image.
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