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How to Help Your Daughter Have a Healthy Body Image

May 7, 2019

From The Child Mind Institute:

Girls coming of age in the 21st century have more opportunities than any of the generations that preceded them. But they also face an array of pressures that are unprecedented. Girls are expected to become corporate executives and brain surgeons and Supreme Court justices, but they're also expected to be beautiful and sexy -- more so than ever before.

Which is why raising healthy, happy daughters has become more challenging, not less.

As parents, we know that nurturing a positive body image is crucial to helping our daughters become healthy, well-rounded adults. But our society seems to be fixated, more than ever, on youth and beauty. And beauty is, more than ever, defined as small. Or, to be more precise, small-plus-hot -- so that even someone who's stunningly thin can feel insecure if she's not also well endowed where it counts.

I'm not so much talking about girls who develop eating disorders, which involve a seriously distorted body image. I'm talking about a much larger group of girls who feel they can't be happy and accepted because, while they may have straight A's in school or terrific talents, they don't think they have the bodies they're "supposed to" have. Unfortunately, what they feel they are "supposed to" have is an ideal they see in magazines and on television that isn't attainable by 90% of women.

Of course there are some girls who -- because they're genetically endowed or because they're starving themselves -- do achieve this super-thin-plus-super-sexy body. But for most of our daughters it's not a realistic or desirable goal.

Girls can come to see themselves as a collection of body parts--breasts, lips, legs, thighs, butt--which they judge harshly. And, of course, none of it relates to anything about who they are on the inside and what they do.

So what is a healthy body image, and how can we nurture one in our daughters?

What we want for them is part realism -- a reasonable vision of what's an attractive and healthy body. And it's part perspective -- a sense that what they look like is just one aspect, and not an overwhelmingly important one, of who they are and what they have to offer as people.

To put it simply: They need to feel okay about how they look, and not let their looks dominate their sense of self-worth.

How do we get there? It doesn't work to try to pretend the pressure to be model-thin and drop-dead gorgeous doesn't exist, or lecture them on how appearance has nothing to do with who they are. They'll just conclude that you're completely out of touch. So what to do?

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