Please note that this is an Archived article and may contain content that is out of date. The use of she/her/hers pronouns in some articles is not intended to be exclusionary. Eating disorders can affect people of all genders, ages, races, religions, ethnicities, sexual orientations, body shapes, and weights.
By Stephanie Thomas
As the parent of a teenage girl, you know one thing: No one’s more beautiful, inside and out, than your daughter.
If only she felt the same way.
Studies show that 81 percent of 10-year-old girls worry about their weight.1 Add a few more years of body anxiety, puberty and interest from the opposite sex to the mix and it’s no wonder she responds to comments about her beauty with a shrug saying, “Whatever.”
What’s a loving parent to do? We’re here to help with four actionable ways to encourage a healthy body image in your teenage daughter.
1. Focus on what the body can do, not what it looks like.
Our bodies are incredible machines. They enable us to do all kinds of things — run, jump, dance, take care of ourselves and others, pursue our hobbies, do work we love and so much more!
Tap into the interests of your daughter and ask how a strong body might help her to reach her goals. Then start with what happiness researcher Gretchen Rubin calls foundational habits: quality sleep, healthy eating and regular exercise.2 Model these behaviors for your daughter and look for ways to get the whole family involved.
You might ask your daughter to help with grocery shopping and meal prep or build after-dinner walks or Saturday morning hikes into your weekly routine. Need motivation to get moving? Try this on for size: “Studies show active teens have a better body image regardless of their weight.”3
2. Be honest about the role social media plays in body image.
Let’s start with the not-so-obvious: Does your daughter need (or is she ready for) unlimited access to social media? Of course, the answer should depend on the age and maturity level of your child — not on pressure from peers, yours or hers.
It’s also helpful to keep in mind that it’s much easier to slowly award privileges than to suddenly take them away. If, by some miracle, your daughter isn’t already plugged into the world of Instagram and beyond, consider bestow those types of opportunities gradually.
Then, when you give the go-ahead, have this conversation:
“Social media can be a lot of fun, but it can also mess with your head. As you scroll through pictures, you might see stuff you wish you had: a nicer car, stylish clothes or what looks like the ‘perfect’ body. What you may not realize is that sometimes people post pictures that aren’t true to life. There are even apps for creating an unrealistic magazine-cover version of your face and body.4 What do you think about that?”
Let her answers guide your discussion as you prepare her heart and mind for the potential dangers of social media.
3. Give careful consideration to the way you talk about your own body.
The bar is high with this one, folks. After all, if you’re the mom of a teen girl, you know what she’s going through and then some. Maybe you’ve spent your life tackling body insecurities of your own.
We’re not suggesting that, at the completion of this article, you walk like a supermodel and flaunt your new-found confidence. (Although, by all means, please feel free!)
Instead, we’d like you to simply keep a few things in mind:
- How might my negative comments about my body unintentionally transfer over to my daughter’s thoughts about her body?
- In what ways could my openness about my own body struggles help my daughter to overcome hers?5
- How can I separate body talk from a particular body – mine or my daughter’s?
Then proceed accordingly.
4. Celebrate her unique qualities and support individual expression.
Wanna hear the most outrageous message you could share with your daughter? She doesn’t have to be a copycat of every other girl in school. Say this, sure, but reinforce your words with actions.
Make room for her passions. Help her discover a personal sense of style. Emphasize character development, academic effort and physical strength. Encourage healthy friendships with kids who are unique themselves.
As you do, you communicate a powerful truth: Confidence comes from growing who you are on the inside and being OK with who you are on the outside.
Above all, make your home a haven — a place where your daughter feels both fully known and fully loved just as she is.
1 Body Image Statistics. Statistic Brain, February 19, 2017.
2 Rubin, Gretchen. Want to Make it Easier to Stick to Your Good Habits? Strengthen Your Foundation. GretchenRubin.com, December 16, 2013.
3 Boost Your Teen Daughter’s Body Image. Stanford Children’s Health, Accessed April 14, 2017.
4 Simmons, Rachel. How Social Media is a Toxic Mirror. Time, August 19, 2016.
5 Master, Shannon. How to Talk to Your Girls About Body Image. Scary Mommy, Accessed April 14, 2018.