How to Improve Your Daughter’s Body Image

A few years ago, I spoke on Seattle’s KOMO 1000 radio for a two-minute sound byte on how parents can improve their daughter’s body image.  It is replayed frequently, and here is the short clip. I would like to add that women often score higher on depression inventories when they have looked at beauty and fashion magazines in the prior ten minutes.  This should take less than three minutes to listen to.

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Related post:

7 Ways to Protect Your Daughter (or Son) from Eating Disorders: https://cherriemac.wordpress.com/2009/12/17/7-ways-to-protect-your-daughter-or-son-from-eating-disorders/

7 Ways to Protect Your Daughter (or Son) from Eating Disorders

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After her brother said she was fat, Karen (not her real name) vowed to do whatever it took to get into a pair of size 6 Calvin Klein jeans.  Most women who struggle with eating disorders remember this type of significant moment in their stories.  This vow included starving herself to the point that she passed out on a beach.

When she regained consciousness, the EMT asked her, “What can I do to prevent this from happening to my daughter?”  With tears in her eyes, she answered, “You can love her unconditionally.” 

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“Oh my gosh, I can’t believe these elephant thighs,” you remark in front of the mirror as you try on a new pair of jeans.

“Maybe I have elephantitis, and my doctor hasn’t diagnosed me yet.”  Your daughter hears this, and you both laugh.

But the problem with these types of negative body image statements is that they cut deeply into her soul, doing much more harm than you realize.  Such comments, even if said in jest, reinforce the belief in our culture which screams, “If you’re not toothpick thin, you are ugly.”

This spurs girls, sometimes starting before age five, into dieting.  Then they begin the roller coaster ride of dieting and later bingeing because they feel so starved.

This leads to shame, which leads back to dieting again.  Even if they get down to a normal size, they still feel fat.  If they have people-pleasing, perfectionistic personalities, they often get swallowed up with anorexia.

If they are not people-pleasers, they often flirt with throwing up until it develops into full-blown bulimia.  But when they throw up, they are actually trying to purge all the hurtful feelings stored in their hearts.

This is why learning to express true feelings is so important.  (I will write more about this in another blog.)

Here are some ways you can protect your daughter (or son, as more and more boys are developing eating disorders) from eating disorders:

  • Avoid talking about dieting, fat, or your fanny.  Whenever you do this, your daughter is getting the message that her value rests on how thin she is
  • Discourage dieting, as it usually leads to a lifelong obsession with black-and-white thinking in regards to food
  • Discourage your daughter from looking at beauty and fashion magazines.  Research shows this leads to depression
  • Stop praising girls for their beauty.  Instead, focus on their other strengths and accomplishments, When we praise girls for their appearance, we reinforce the cultural tsunami of lies that drown girls in feelings that they are only valued for their appearance.
  • Be aware that certain activities such as ballet, modeling, gymnastics, and wrestling often emphasize thinness, which puts your child more at risk for developing an eating disorder
  • Encourage your child find out which physical activities he or she enjoys, so they can have fun while getting exercise
  • Promote a healthy lifestyle.  Research shows that kids tend to pick up their parents’ lifestyle habits, whether they are smoking, exercising, obsessing about dieting, or eating lots of sweets.  Work toward moderation so that they don’t feel deprived, yet get the benefits of a well-rounded eating pattern

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Of course there are no guarantees, but these suggestions will help your child to feel good about himself or herself, appreciating the unique characteristics that God has given them.   Also keep in mind that many more boys and men are now falling prey to eating disorders.

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© Cherrie Herrin-Michehl, MA, LMHC and Fannies:  Reflections on Cookie Dough, Life, and Your Derriere and Fannies:  Reclaiming the Plunder of the Body Image Bandit, 2007 – 2047. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Cherrie Herrin-Michehl, MA, LMHC and Fannies:  Reflections on Cookie Dough, Life, and Your Derriere with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

This article is taken from a newsletter on my web site:  www.notjustsymptoms.com.  Click on Newsletters on the right side of the home page.