What Parents Can Do to Help
Girls Love Their Bodies
Abigail H. Natenshon, MA
Body size acceptance is not related to weight or actual body size, but to
self-esteem and emotional health. The true indicator of a good body image is
good self-esteem – not the ability to fit into size 2 jeans. It is up to
parents to insure that children grow up with all the emotional tools and
resources they need to love and accept them selves and love their body.
In an effort to foster self- and body-love, parents should keep the
following in mind.
behaviors, weight talk and any activities that may require parents
to take a look at their own eating and exercise rituals, attitudes,
and preferences about weight and size.
The mother of a 13 year old told her daughter one night at dinner
that she was “about to sin”…..she was going to “order dessert and
then exercise like crazy tomorrow to work it off.”
Beware of skipping meals. You may be a perfectly healthy individual
who does not feel hungry in the morning, and may prefer not to eat
breakfast. However, remember that your child is learning to develop
an eating lifestyle from modeling after you. Sit down to meals with
your child and family as often as possible in an effort to nourish
and connect with them all both physically and emotionally.
Even if you will not be available to partake in particular family
meal, be responsible for providing a nutritious meal for the rest of
the family. Be sure your child’s school lunch is made the night
before if you will not be available to send her off with it in the
Do you avoid certain activities because they call attention to your
own weight and shape? Do you wear uncomfortable clothing because it
is fashionable? Do you exercise primarily to work off calories,
rather than to become fit and feel good? Self-awareness is critical
to effective parenting.
The father of
a 14-year-old anorexic girl criticizes actresses on television for
looking too big or for being fat. Her brother jokes with his
boyfriends about a girl at school who “needs to wear a sign on her
rear end that reads “Wide load.” Never tease or joke about weight or
about the American cultural bias in favor of excessive thinness.
Help your child develop immunity to the steady stream of media
messages that distort her perspective by countering destructive
messages with reality messages.
Let your child know that the actresses we see in the movies and on
television are thinner than 98% of American females.
Teach your child to become critics of extreme or otherwise harmful
Cancel your subscription to fashion magazines or to women’s
magazines that encourage rapid weight loss programs. Ask your child
what she thinks those actresses must do to remain so thin.
televised wrestling matches. Then talk to your son or daughter about
why you have done so.
and weight-loss fads. Instead, encourage a wellness lifestyle. If
your child wishes to lose weight, encourage her to eat differently,
Let your child know that diets are the worst way to lose weight,
that 95% of dieters regain lost their weight within 1-5 years, that
when children restrict food in their early years, they become
predisposed to becoming overweight adults, that fat-free or
restrictive eating of any kind is harmful to a person’s health.
Get rid of
your bathroom scale.
Don’t equate thinness
with happiness, self-satisfaction or self-actualization.
creates unrealistic expectations, i.e. if five pounds lost makes her
happy, then 10 pounds lost would make her twice as happy.
Praise your daughter
for what she does, not for how she looks. Do some of those things
together with her.
Learn new activities together, modeling the natural successes and
defeats of the learning process, and of life itself. Go canoeing
together, take ice skating lessons, or learn snowboarding. Falling
down is a perfect way to learn how to pick yourself up and move
towards growth. Let your daughter become your teacher.
enjoyment of activities rather than performance.
Give your daughter a
vision of a greater purpose in life that extends beyond herself and
her appearance, thereby encouraging her to develop healthy interests
and passions. Self-esteem is drawn from productivity and
substantive ways to interact and engage with your child; take a
class together at the planetarium about Black Holes, volunteer to
work together on a neighborhood wetlands conservation project, see a
play together and discuss it afterwards, distribute meals to the
homeless, attend church or synagogue together.
Teach your child that
there is no such thing as an “ideal” body. Beautiful bodies come in
all sizes and shapes based on each individual’s unique strands of
Discuss the full range of factors that determine physical size with
your child, explaining that genetics and heredity factors are beyond
a person’s control; others, such as good nutrition and exercise are
very much within our power to affect.
child that overweight people can be just as physically fit as thin
people based on their eating lifestyle and their physical activity.
Spend quality time
with your daughter.
Wander into her room at the end of the day and sit down to chat.
Connect with her emotionally. The nature of the parent/child
connection will change through the growing up years, though the
connection itself must never become severed.
to hear what she has to say, listening actively to her thoughts and
Pay attention to
negative comments your child may make about her shape. Even if they
are irrational, be empathic, not dismissive, as she feels her
feelings deeply. Engage your daughter in a discussion about how she
thinks she might look better and how she a changed appearance might
improve her life. How does she plan to accomplish these goals?
“between the lines” to underlying feelings, and to learn what your
child is really hungering for. This is a golden opportunity to teach
some important “life” principles that she so needs to learn.
Kids need parents to do more than love them. They need parents to teach, to
support, to be role models, listeners and talkers. Parents need to find new
ways to listen to and communicate with their daughters. In addition, parents
need to authentically live the lifestyle they seek for their child in order
to insure their child’s immunity to eating dysfunction.
Most importantly, parents with eating disorders must be aware that it is not
a foregone conclusion that their children will be adversely affected by
their problems. When two parents can be of one mind and present a united
front to child, disease, and professional, the strengths of one parent can
compensate for the weakness of the other. When parents face an eating
disorder and conquer it openly, inclusive of their spouse’s and children’s
input and understanding, everyone stands to gain, not only in terms of how
they eat, but also in terms of how they face and deal with life, and the
long-term quality of family relationships.