Supporting Your Daughter’s Body Image

Body image is how you think and feel about your body and what you imagine that it looks like.  It may or may not be a reflection of your actual appearance. Poor body image affects young people in so many ways - eating disorders, depression, social anxiety and low self-esteem are just a few. 

Young people identify body image as one of their top personal concerns. Research from Mission Australia in 2015 found that 1 in 4 young people have serious body image concerns. A young person with mental illness is 56% more likely to be concerned about body image than someone without, confirming again that health is incredible important to safeguard.

Emails like this express in everyday language the concerns that so many parents have:

Hello Michelle, Love your blog and have your book, thank you. I have an adorable 12 year old daughter and she is starting to have doubts about her appearance just as she leaves for school in the mornings or outings with friends. She says she looks "fat”, hair is ugly etc and none of these things are true at all. As her mother, how can I best support/respond to these sometimes worrying statements?

 I have daughter and she is 15 years of age. She has a habit of binge eating, she hides sweets but doesn't throw up. She constantly wants to eat, then feels guilty when she does. I find a lot of the teenagers seem to want to have a perfect body. I don't know if I should take her to a psychologist or is it a phase? I'm not trying to make a big deal about it nor am I wanting to ignore it. She's a beautiful girl, not overweight.

Having walked a hard road of self-doubt themselves, most mothers want to install confidence in their girls. They want their girls to discover how beautiful they are, before their youth disappears. Here are eight thoughts which will help you do just that.

How can we help our girls embrace their beauty? 

1. Remember that puberty also brings self-criticism and self-consciousness with it.  Listen to your daughter’s concerns about her body shape without shutting her down. It is important she is able to talk openly about her feelings.  Also, recognise that her language may be exaggerated, so try not to over react. Given the right support, your daughter is likely to outgrow much of her self-doubt.

2. You are the most influential person in your child's life.  Eat well, exercise, take care of your health and most importantly, enjoy your life.  Avoid talking about diets, and instead focus on a healthy lifestyle which embraces healthy food choices. Make your family a happy family that laughs often.  This will go a long way in helping your teenager stay balanced.

3. Our girls need balanced affirmation.  Don't stop telling your daughter how beautiful she is, but deliberately praise her for how strong, courageous, confident or intelligent she is.  Don't let her put all her eggs in the one beauty basket.

4.  Encourage her to be her best self, not a replica of someone else. Girls often define beauty as the one thing they are not, rather than the one thing they are. That one thing is usually a feature they admire in someone else but don't possess themselves. Ask your daughter to identify what she likes about her appearance, especially during times she comments on attributes she likes with others.

5. If your daughter develops strong problem solving skills it is sure to have a far reaching impact on every area of her life. Focus on her general resilience and courage to handle strong emotions. Girls who strive for perfection often need support to embrace risk, handle disappointments and work through setbacks.

6. Reward your daughter for being assertive, without being aggressive.  Encourage her to say 'no'.  Saying 'no' in real life will help her take care of herself in every area.  She will need to be able to say "no" to distorted thoughts to grow a healthy body image.

7. Everyday education around diet, exercise, health, style, shopping and sexuality are all linked to healthy mindsets about body image.  If your daughter's eating habits are worrying talk to your doctor, a dietician or psychologist.

PS. Thank you for sharing. You never know the difference you could make to someone else’s life.

You can find more on this topic in my book 'Self-Harm: Why Teens Do It and What Parents Can Do To Help” available from


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