Helping your daughter develop a positive body image

A healthy body image is an important part of a growing girl’s self-esteem. Adolescence is a period of major physical and emotional changes. There is natural weight gain, increase in height, breast development and acne as a result of hormonal changes. Naturally, teens begin to compare themselves to their peers and the images they are inundated with in media to see how they stack up. By the time they are 12 or 13 years old, girls already feel immense pressure to look “attractive”. They then set off on the quest for the perfect body or look, and by the time they find out there’s no such thing, the pursuit of perfection has already taken a tremendous toll on their self-esteem, physical, and mental health. Parents often feel unable to help their daughters develop a positive body image and many times, are struggling with unhealthy attitudes toward their own bodies. However, there are some things you can do to help your daughters develop a healthy body image.

Explain the effects of puberty: Make sure your daughter understands that weight gain is a normal part of her development, especially during puberty.

Talk about media messages: Television programs, movies, music videos, websites, magazines and even some toys may send the message that only a certain body type is acceptable and that maintaining an attractive appearance is the most important goal. Check out what your daughter is reading or watching and discuss it. Encourage her to question what she sees and hears.

Monitor internet use: Teens use social networking sites and services to share pictures and receive feedback. Awareness of others’ judgments can make teens feel self-conscious about their looks. Set rules for your teen’s internet use and talk about what she’s posting and viewing.

Discuss self-image: Offer reassurance that healthy body shapes vary. Ask her what she likes about herself and explain what you like about her, too. Your acceptance and respect can help her build self-esteem and resilience.

Use positive language: Rather than talking about “fat” and “thin,” encourage your daughter to focus on eating a healthy diet and staying physically active. Discourage family and friends from using hurtful nicknames and joking about people who are overweight.

Help establish healthy eating habits: Offer healthy meals and snacks.

Counter negative media messages: Expose your daughter to women who are famous for their achievements — not their appearance. For example, read books or watch movies about inspiring women.

Praise achievements: Help your daughter value what she does, rather than what she looks like. Look for opportunities to praise her efforts, skills and achievements.

Promote physical activity: Participating in sports and 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.

Encourage positive friendships: Friends who accept and support your teen can be a healthy influence.

Set a good example: Remind your daughter that you exercise and eat a healthy diet for your health, not just to look a certain way. Also think about what you read and watch as well as the products you buy and the message your choices send.

Keep up with your daughter’s annual health visits: Your pediatrician can pick up on signs of poor body image and unhealthy coping strategies that parents may miss. They can also help your daughter set realistic goals for BMI (body mass index) and weight, based on her personal weight history and overall health.

Remember that your pediatrician is a valuable resource for helping you raise happy and healthy kids. If your daughter hasn’t had a physical for a while, call and book one today.

• Dr. Tamarra Moss is a pediatrician committed to helping you raise happy and healthy kids. You can find her at Dr. Carlos Thomas & Pediatric Associates in Nassau, Lucayan Medical Center in Grand Bahama, or on Instagram @mykidsdoc242.