Tummy’s sucked in, lips pouted, photo taken and retaken (and retaken again) until the perfect angle is captured. Followed by editing, filters, skin smoothing, ‘face-tuning’ to make boobs bigger, tummies smaller and butts firmer. All of this to perfect the image before it is posted online. . .
Ridiculous isn’t it? We know this from the images we are bombarded with on our social media feeds showing impossible beauty standards. But do your teenage girls know this?
Thirty percent of young people in the Mission Australia’s National Youth Survey reported that they were concerned about their body image. Negative body image is linked with poorer mental health and well-being, along with disordered eating.
So, what as a parent can you do to raise your daughter with a healthy body image in our toxic culture? Here are four ways to get you started:
- Focus on what bodies can do.
Bodies are not primarily meant to be looked at. Instead, they are how we experience our everyday life. We often take for granted what our bodies offer us.
Walking, running, jumping, riding a bike through to the ability to see and admire beauty, experience positive emotion and connect through relationships. Bodies give us so much.
These things can seem strange to focus on, but positive statements like “it is so great you enjoy netball so much; what a great thing your body is capable of” can make a difference.
- Be aware of social media.
What is on your daughter’s social media feed?
We know the significant struggle with screens and social media – we experience it ourselves.
But the adolescent brain is not the same as ours, it is still ‘under development’. In particular, the prefrontal cortex that is the part of the brain involved in managing emotions and behaviours, controlling impulses, problem solving and healthy decision making is still developing in adolescents. Our children’s brains cannot manage their device use on their own, they need our help.
Additionally, know what images your daughter is exposing herself to.
Humans very rarely make judgements in isolation. The brain almost always latches onto something for comparison. That’s how we think. As a result, we anchor to something for comparison and are influenced by it both consciously and subconsciously.
How do you know if you have a good body? By comparison. As women, the majority of us have anchored on an impossible standard and we are not consciously aware of it.
So what is your daughter’s anchor? Can you go through her feed and talk to her about following some body positive accounts and accounts that promote resilience and humour?
- Parental support.
Parental support is protective against body dissatisfaction and poor body image. Research shows a relationship between parents who are nurturing, warm, positive and supportive and positive body image in children.
Adolescents need your warmth, your support, your nurturing.
- Practice what you preach.
Last but not the least, in fact the hardest point of all, you have to practice what you preach. Our kids do what you do, not what you say.
So, ask yourself:
What are you modelling to your daughter?
How do you speak about your body where her ears might be listening?
Are you actively dieting?
Do you talk about body shape and weight not being 100% in our control?
Do you talk about food as “bad” and “good”? Or rather than morally labelling food, do you talk about food as nourishing our bodies, and that all food is good, in appropriate portions sizes.
No one is perfect! And as mums we struggle with our body image too. I am a mum, and I too struggle at times! But I’m committed to the ongoing process of maintaining a healthy body image to pass on to the next generation.
So, what action will you take and how can you get started to raise body positive young women?
If you feel you would like to tackle improving your own body image, or for help with raising a body positive daughter you can contact Dr Carmel Harrison at BodyMatters.
Carlisle, E., Fildes, J., Hall, S., Hicking, V., Perrens, B. and Plummer, J. 2018, Youth Survey Report 2018, Mission Australia.
Michael, S. L., Wentzel, K., Elliott, M. N., Dittus, P. J., Kanouse, D. E., Wallander, J. L., … Schuster, M. A. (2014). Parental and peer factors associated with body image discrepancy among fifth-grade boys and girls. Journal of youth and adolescence, 43(1), 15–29. doi:10.1007/s10964-012-9899-8