Dear Dr. G.,
I am at a loss here. My beautiful 17 year old daughter is now complaining that she doesn't like her body. The truth is that she has a beautiful figure.I never heard her complain about her body until we recently went to purchase some bathing suits and she came out of the dressing room complaining that she looked fat in each bathing suit-all eight of them. Truth be told-I was a little jealous of just how good she looked in each one of them.
I am 47 years old and am constantly told that I look great but I too feel that I could be thinner. I work out several times per week but I just don't look as good as I did at my peak.
I do NOT want my daughter to develop an eating disorder. Even though, I am critical of my own body I have never been anorexic.
Dr. G., please tell me how to convince my daughter that she looks wonderful. It is very hard for me to sit back and hear her say that she doesn't like her body. I have no idea what to do. I tell her constantly that she looks beautiful but she seems to tune me out like what I say doesn't matter.
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Ah, nothing like bathing suit shopping season to start the collective gasp of teen girls and women everywhere who act like their bodies are awful and become even more self-critical than usual.The truth is that teenage girls and their mothers are much more critical of their bodies than males of all ages.
Sadly,by age 13, 50% of girls are reported to be unhappy with their bodies, By age 17-get this-8 out of 10 young women are unhappy with their body weight. Did I hear you mention that you too are displeased with your body? This is not a surprise. Among women over the age of 18 80% report being unhappy with their bodies.And, we know as women that it's often a thigh, the waist, and the hips that get the brunt of our scolding.
This is one area where males have it easier than us although my guess is that men will become increasingly dissatisfied with their appearance given our obsession with buff and muscular bodies. At this point,however, males are significantly less dissatisfied with their appearances than females.
Why is this the case? There are so many answers but I will touch on a few:
1. Females are more likely to be judged by their appearance.
2. Females are bombarded by images of the "ideal female body" by all forms of media,. And, many of these models do have eating disorders which they have developed to maintain these pre-pubescent looking bodies.
Related: 3 Ways to Help Your Daughter Resist Media Pressures
3. The current media ideal of the rail thin female body is almost impossible to achieve if one is engaging in life-sustaining healthy eating and exercise habits.
4. Our daughters are often raised by mothers who also dislike their bodies and we know that moms are the most important role models for their daughters. How can a girl feel good about her body when her mother is constantly saying that she needs to lose___ pounds herself?
You ask important questions. What should you do to help your daughter see herself accurately and not develop an eating disorder? My suggestions include:
1. Pay attention to what you are modeling for your daughter. You cannot expect her to be comfortable with her body if you are criticizing yours.
2.Get her involved in activities that make her feel good in all kinds of ways. There are lots of activities to choose from. Sports with the exception of dance and gymnastics may help her realize that the body is not just something that is there to look at but that it has many wonderful abilities-like strength,success at a cooperative sport, etc. When she is focused on a variety of things in her life perhaps she will be less likely to be critical of her body.
Related: Raising Confident Girls: A Dad's Perspective
3. This will be a hard one but you may want to educate her that many of the models are very young even 12 and 13 and may not even have reached puberty themselves. And,yes let her know that models have died in an attempt to starve themselves so that they could fit into their size zero clothes.
4. Remind both your daughter and yourself that there are many things that you and she can successfully achieve but being grossly underweight may be neither desirable nor possible unless you and she are willing to start the cycle of anorexia which has one of the highest mortality rates of any psychiatric disorder. Of course, I caution strongly against that.
5. Keep an eye on your daughter. If she starts becoming obsessed with her weight get her to a therapist and physician ASAP.
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