For many young girls, being “model thin” is a very real obsession. With the media bombarding adolescents with images of super-thin models, and with TV shows fixating solely on appearance, teens are easily influenced. It is no wonder parents sometimes feel helpless when it comes to improving their daughters’ self-esteem.
“We’re seeing girls at younger ages starting to be dissatisfied with their bodies, proactively trying to change them, and feeling like they need to emulate something different than what their bodies can do,” says Elissa Gittes, MD, a pediatrician in the Division of Adolescent Medicine at the Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh.
Body image and self-esteem have a direct correlation to each other, and both are powerful influencers in a young person’s developing lifestyle. In an attempt to mimic what they see in the media, teenage girls may take drastic measures. Drastic measures often take the form of eating disorders, such as anorexia nervosa or bulimia nervosa. These disorders wreak havoc on a teen’s health, not to mention they interfere with daily life, exacerbating dramatic stressors and pressure.
The Importance of Self-Esteem
Having good self-esteem is defined as raising one’s confidence and one’s own self-worth. But good self-esteem is so much more wondrous than that; it’s realizing that every part of you is worth caring for and protecting.
Good self-esteem gives a teen three dynamic prompts: courage, power and confidence. With the courage to tackle new things, the power to believe in oneself, and the confidence to make healthy, life-sustaining choices, your daughter will find it easier to deal with life’s ups and downs, during her adolescent years and well into adulthood.
The Parent’s Role
Parents can help nurture a positive self-image by encouraging a healthy attitude toward nutrition and valuing oneself. While being mindful as to how you relate and talk to your teen, and being conscious about using words free of judgment is well intentioned, it is sometimes not enough. Girls will mimic what they see and adopt the same habits for themselves. If, as a parent, you weigh yourself incessantly, make negative comments about your own body, eat like a bird or skip meals altogether, it’s important to remember that your daughter is paying attention.
Help your teen redefine her image of herself, and bolster her identity as one that is NOT based on looks by modeling more healthy behaviors yourself:
- Don’t aim for perfection. Love yourself and your imperfect body, and accept yourself as you are.
- Address and attack your own feelings of inadequacy. Take a stand, put on that swimsuit, accept your perceived imperfections and be proud of who you are.
- Be your authentic self. Give yourself permission to be who you are.
- Focus on health (not your physical appearance), but don’t be obsessed. Allow yourself that dessert without any guilt.
- Be mindful of your words. Model compassion and acceptance for yourself.
Building a healthy body image can be hard work, especially during the developing stages of adolescence. It takes time to build confidence; but with your help, your teen can thrive with self-acceptance. With these steps, along with family counseling if necessary, she can grow and aspire in the unique beauty that makes her special.
As the article, Your Body is Not Your Masterpiece states:
“Your body is not your masterpiece—your life is. It is suggested to us a million times a day that our BODIES are PROJECTS. They aren’t. Our lives are. Our spirituality is. Our relationships are. Our work is.”