Talking about body image with a teenage girl can sometimes feel like navigating a minefield. How do you bring up the topic of body image without making your daughter feel like maybe there is something she should be self-conscious about? Or worse– confirming that the thing that she’s already self-conscious about is actually true! Unless your daughter is made of Teflon- there are probably some things about her body she is self-conscious of. She might know it’s all a media conspiracy to get her to buy make-up. She might know she “shouldn’t” be self-conscious about her body. She might not stand “Mean Girls” style in front of a mirror lamenting her cuticles and hairline, but nevertheless there are probably some parts of her body she is sensitive about.
I have yet to meet a teenage girl (or a grown adult woman!) who loves all of her physical self, all of the time. And that’s okay. That’s normal. It’s okay for your daughter to have days when she doesn’t feel her best self. It’s okay for her to love the way she looks and feels some days more than others.
But it’s not okay for her to berate herself for being a size 8 rather than a size 6 or to weigh herself multiple times a day. It’s not okay for her to restrict eating on days when she’s not feeling it or to exercise constantly without replenishing calories. If you worry that your daughter might have an unhealthy body image, it can be hard to bring it up with her. Many girls with unhealthy body image, and especially girls who are already showing signs of disordered eating, can be secretive and defensive when confronted with unhealthy behaviors.
One way to bring up the topic is to ask about the behavior from a place of love and concern and ask open ended questions. The most important part of the conversation is establishing and maintaining that you are a safe person to talk to about body image, one who can be trusted and who won’t be judgmental. Even if your daughter is saying things that concern you, just listen and empathize and don’t try to “fix” anything. Figuring out next steps can come later.
Do say: “Maggie, I noticed that you haven’t been eating much at dinner lately. I’m concerned about you staying healthy and energetic. Is there anything you’d like to talk about?”
Do say: “Liz, it seems like you’ve been wearing baggier clothes recently. I totally support your fashion choices, but I’m worried that the change might be about more than just style. Can we talk about it?”
If you’re worried your daughter might be struggling with body image, Colorado Teen Therapy is offering a Body Image Group starting November 28. Our skills based group will focus on toxic media messages and how to combat them with confidence and assertiveness. Whether your daughter could benefit from preemptively learning skills to combat negative messaging about her body or whether your daughter might already be showing signs of unhealthy body image, this group is a great way to jump start important conversations about body image that might positively impact the way she views herself now and in the future.
To learn more about the upcoming group, CLICK HERE.