We baby boomers have questioned everything, except, for the most part, the standards and ideals of beauty and body image. If the amount of money and/or time spent on makeup, cosmetic surgery, and skin care products is any indication, we are still trying to meet these unrealistic ideals. We try to look young at any cost. In fact, CNN.com reported that from 1997 to 2001 there was a 304 percent increase in the number of cosmetic procedures. Therefore, it should come as no surprise that our daughters have taken in these messages. We are teaching our daughters to sculpt their bodies, appearance, and behavior into what others expect.

teen girls

We can’t overemphasize how important it is to be aware of the messages you give your daughter about her appearance and her weight. Depression in girls is often connected to negative feelings about their physical features and appearance. Popular culture encourages gender stereotypes in television, magazines, movies, and fashion industries that present challenges to girls’ healthy psychological development. The issue of body image is challenging for parents and their daughters. Lydia, the mother of 17-year-old Samantha, said, “It was pure heartache when I took my daughter, Samantha, to get a prom dress for the junior prom. She cried and said that every dress made her look fat. After looking at the pile of crumpled gowns on the dressing room floor, I felt so disappointed, frustrated, and sad that her image was so distorted. I finally said to her, ‘Samantha, how could you look fat in a size 8?’ I haven’t been a size 8 since I was in seventh grade. Get real; don’t ruin a potentially wonderful time with an inaccurate self-perception!”

A teenage girl’s constant worry about how the outside world views her is distracting. These worries drain a girl’s energy, enthusiasm, and focus on other things. The energy that girls use to hyperfocus on their popularity, beauty, and fitting in could better be used to play sports, study, and pursue hobbies.

While much of the pressure to be thin comes from the media, the earliest and most influential messages regarding your daughter’s body come from you. Your unintended comments can make the difference in whether your daughter can resist this pressure. The easiest way for you to encourage your daughter’s healthier body image is to refrain from commenting about being chubby or having baby fat. It is perfectly normal, for example, for young adolescent girls to have body fat. Most young girls put on weight before they enter puberty and grow; this is nature’s way of getting women ready for reproductive development.

girls fashion

Teenage pudginess was more accepted in the past. JoAnn Deak, author of Girls Will Be Girls, states, “When most of us were this age, prepubescent girls weren’t expected to look like glamour models.” Beauty doesn’t guarantee self-esteem. Physical appearance is only one factor; it may get you in the door, but it doesn’t keep you there. We need to give these types of messages to our daughters. But sometimes we can learn these lessons from our daughters.

Alison, an 18-year-old high school senior, told us about her mother’s fixation on her body. Alison said, “Ever since I can remember, my mother warned me about getting fat. I was never fat but could always stand to lose about five to ten pounds. I know that this doesn’t sound like much, but all of it sits on my hips and rear, and I can go down a whole pants size if I lose the weight. My closet has two pants sizes: chubby Alison and thin Alison. I am not as tortured by this as my mom. Even when I feel fine about myself, I sense her eyes settling on my rear. She offers me unwanted advice on how to dress defensively and looks pretty outraged when I don’t try to mask my figure faults. When I ask her why she just won’t give it up, she tells me that it’s for my own good.

barbie photo

“Thank God for sports. It’s been like an antidote to my mom’s pressure for me to be thin. I think I have a healthier view of my body because I’m athletic and play varsity field hockey. These legs work fine. My hips and rear don’t interfere with my performance on the field, and most guys don’t seem to mind either.” Alison’s story is a good example of the protective function of having other spheres of interest in one’s life to increase opportunities for developing a positive self-concept. Girls who are athletic present themselves with confidence for many reasons. They are fit and tend to have higher self-esteem. Athletic girls are busy with another interest that is about their performance, not about their appearance, and they have an opportunity to create deep bonds of friendship that can develop between teammates.