Most young girls begin to notice and care about their body image around the age of eleven, though some start by the age of nine. If parents don’t pay attention to their daughter’s behavior, a negative body image can begin to develop. Without reassurance from an adult — such as a parent, a teacher or a coach — young girls aren’t able to develop healthy body images and may use unreasonable frames of reference. After all, a nine-year-old girl can’t possibly compare herself to a twenty-five-year-old model without feeling some sort of resentment toward her body.
In many cases, it can be difficult for even the most nurturing of parents to strip away the barriers that a negative body image creates. Young girls who begin to think that they are less than wonderful because of the size or shape of their body can continue to hold those beliefs well into adulthood. This leads to other symptoms of low self-esteem, which are often destructive. In fact, young girls with negative body images are 80% more likely to develop eating disorders like bulimia and anorexia, says an article in the January 2003 issue of Parenting magazine.
In order to destroy a negative body image, parents must help their daughters to build a positive, healthy body image. This not only means giving compliments where they are due, but also paying attention to behavior. A young girl who doesn’t want to change during gym class or who insults her body around her friends and family is heading down a rocky road. She might be suffering from a negative body image, and her parents must work hard to rebuild that image.
One of the best practices that the experts recommend when it comes to this matter is answering questions openly and honestly. Pre-teens and teens are just starting to develop new bodies to replace their childlike ones, and they will have plenty of questions about those changes. Answering their questions in an honest forum will give them an opportunity to appreciate the changes their bodies are experiencing, rather than resent them.
A negative body image can also be the unintended result of a parent or family member’s comment. Even though you think that your comment is benign and unlikely to inspire resentment, everything you say is taken to heart by your daughter. For example, commenting on the beauty of one of your daughter’s friends can help her to develop a negative body image. Even though you were making an innocent comment, she’s likely to hear, “Your friend is prettier than you” in her mind. The development of a negative body image isn’t always rational, but it can always cause significant emotional and psychological problems.
If you think that your daughter is suffering from a negative body image, you might want to enroll her in counseling. Parents are often ill-equipped to deal with these matters without spawning arguments and tantrums. While your daughter wants to be accepted by you, she might rebel against your assurances that her body is just fine because she thinks you are patronizing her. We want to believe what our parents tell us, but we also know that they love us unconditionally.
Another tactic you can use to combat a negative body image is to conduct what Girl Power in the Mirror calls a reality check. Go through women’s magazines with your daughter and point out the flaws that exist in even the most famous models. It also helps to remind your daughter that pictures of models are airbrushed and otherwise enhanced by computer techniques. Discuss why personality, intelligence and creativity are far more important than one’s body.