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May/June 2013
Causes of a negative
body image
Maintaining a healthy body image during
adolescence is often difficult for girls. Factors
that might harm a girl’s body image include:
• Natural weight gain and other changes
caused by puberty
• Peer pressure to look a certain way
• Media images that promote the ideal female
body as thin
• Having a mother who’s overly concerned
about her own weight or her daughter’s
weight or appearance
Consequences of a
negative body image
If your daughter doesn’t live up to her ideal
body image, she might begin to feel inadequate
and ashamed of her body - even if she’s not
overweight. This can increase the risk of
mental health concerns, including:
• Low self-esteem
• Depression
• Eating disorders
Sometimes a negative body image leads to
skipping meals or a cycle of dieting, losing
weight and regaining weight - which can
further harm self-esteem.
Some research suggests a link between body
dissatisfaction among girls and cigarette
smoking, possibly because girls believe that
smoking will help them control their weight.
Having a negative body image also might affect
a girl’s comfort with her sexuality as she gets
older. A negative body image might lead some
girls to consider cosmetic surgery.
Talking about body image
Talking about body image with your daughter
can help her become comfortable with her
body shape and relate to food in a healthy way.
When you discuss body image,
you might:
• Explain the effects of puberty and
Make sure your daughter
understands that weight gain is a normal
part of her development, especially during
puberty. Explain that body shape is strongly
influenced by genetic factors.
• Talk about media messages.
programs, movies, music videos, websites,
magazines and even some children’s toys
might send your daughter the message
that only a certain body type is acceptable.
Check out what your daughter is reading or
watching and discuss it with her. Encourage
her to talk about and question what she’s
seen or heard.
• Discuss self-image.
Talk to your daughter
about her self-image and 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
• 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 or have a large body frame.
Other strategies to
promote a healthy body
In addition to talking to your daughter about a
healthy body image, you might:
• Team up with your family doctor.
Your family doctor can help your daughter
set realistic goals for body mass index and
weight based on her personal weight history
and overall health. The doctor can also help
identify early signs of an eating disorder
during routine checkups.
• Help establish healthy eating habits.
Offer healthy meals and snacks, but be
careful to let your daughter make choices
about the food she eats.
• Counter negative media messages.
You might not be able to shield your
daughter from media images that promote
an idealized image of women’s bodies. You
can, however, expose her to women who are
famous for their achievements - not their
appearance. For example, read books or
watch movies about inspiring women.
• Encourage a positive school
Support school policies that
aim to stop size and sexual discrimination,
harassment, teasing, and name-calling -
and support community efforts to improve
school nutrition.
• 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.
• Encourage physical activity.
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.
• 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.
When to consult a doctor
Developing and maintaining a healthy body
image isn’t an easy task for girls. If your
daughter is struggling with a negative body
image, consider professional counseling.
Additional support might give your daughter
the tools she needs to counter social pressure
and feel good about her body.