12 Powerful Ways to Help Your Daughter Love Her Body and Stop Being So Critical of Herself

The harsh reality is 53% of 13-year-old girls admit they're unhappy with their bodies

by Nancy Reynolds

This post: 12 Powerful Ways to Help Your Daughter Love Her Body and Stop Being So Critical of Herself

“Having a positive body image means making the choice to love yourself despite your shortcomings (because we all have shortcomings), to embrace your whole self and not let others dictate how you feel about your body.” (~Paige Fieldstone)

This wonderful advice sounds simple enough, right? But when you’re a tween or teen girl going through puberty with mounds of changes happening to your body right before your very eyes and a flood of perfect-looking, filtered figures staring back at you on the Internet, in movies and in the media, loving and accepting your body isn’t always an easy thing to do. 

Add on the fact that, statistically, most girls’ confidence takes a serious nosedive between the ages of 8 and 14 and it’s easy to see why so many young girls dislike (and, in some cases, actually hate) their bodies.


The Statistics: Body Shaming is More Prevalent Than You Might Think

It turns out that far too many tween and teen girls are experiencing extreme self-doubt, pressure to fit society’s expectations and a compulsion to be perfect.

In fact, the statistics are staggering.

One study found that 53% of 13-year-old American girls are “unhappy with their bodies.” And, that number spikes to 78% by the time girls reach the age of 17. That same study also found that 40% of girls as young as 9 and 10 years of age have attempted to lose weight. 

According to the Girls’ Attitude Survey commissioned by the Girl Guide, upwards of 40% of 7 to 10-year-olds sometimes feel ashamed of their bodies, with 15% feeling this way most of the time. While this statistic is sad enough on its own, the numbers skyrocket just 10 years later, with 78% of 17 to 21-year-olds feeling shame and embarrassment about their bodies (50% most of the time). 

The Link: Poor Body Image, Food Obsession and Eating Disorders

What’s even more discerning is the direct link between poor body image, food and weight obsession, and eating disorders, including anorexia, bulimia and binge-eating disorders.

According to the National Eating Disorders Association, “A negative body image (or body dissatisfaction) involves feelings of shame, anxiety, and self-consciousness.

People who experience high levels of body dissatisfaction feel their bodies are flawed in comparison to others and are more likely to suffer from depression, isolation, low self-esteem, and eating disorders.

While there is no single cause of eating disorders, research suggests that body dissatisfaction is the best-known contributor to the development of anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa.”

And, even for those young girls who don’t develop an eating disorder, food and their desire to measure up in society’s eyes of what’s considered physically beautiful, can dominate the rest of their lives perpetuating unhealthy food and weight obsessions, unhappiness, low self-esteem and body shaming. 

The Role Social Media Plays on Girls’ Self Image

With tween and teen girls spending as much as five to seven hours a day scrolling through social media, including Instagram (known for being a silent self-esteem breaker, especially for young girls), Snapchat and TikTok, there’s no question that girls today are being totally bombarded with (often) digitally-enhanced images and messages. 

These perfectly curated images are sending distorted messages to girls about who they should be, what they should look like and what is considered to be “cool,” accepted, popular or even normal. And, experts agree the synthetic haze of realism that’s being pounded into their heads is tainting their view of themselves in a big way. 

For parents who grew up in a world without social media or the powerful desire to share a selfie or let people know where you are or what you’re doing in real-time, it might be frustrating to see their daughter so hyper-focused on her self-image, selfies and social media.

But for young, influential, (often insecure) girls, getting “likes,” “thumbs-ups,” or “hearts” on photos or posts along with encouraging comments like, “Wow, you look great!” “Girl, you’re rockin’ that bikini!” or “Wow… you look awesome! Did you lose weight?” can trigger a powerful sense of acceptance and a huge confidence booster. 

(Note: Parents need to pay attention to TikTok’s newest “What I Eat in a Day” Trend (#whatieatinaday) which is garnering a fair amount of negative attention claiming it’s “toxic” for young girls.)

A few additional facts:

  • Instagram is looking into new ways to discourage users from focusing on their physical appearance after the Wall Street Journal discovered that researchers have repeatedly found that the photo-sharing platform is toxic for teen girls. 
  • According to research conducted by parent company, Facebook, “Instagram can exert a negative impact on the mental health and body image of teenagers, especially girls.”
  • Instagram makes body image issues worse for one in three girls. 
  • Research shows the more time young people spend on Instagram, the more likely they are to compare themselves socially.
  • 90% of girls claim they follow at least one social media account that makes them feel “less beautiful.”

Note: It’s important to remember that social media has plenty of advantages. When used carefully, social media can connect and expose teen girls to positive messaging, opportunities and information they might not otherwise have access to. However, it’s also important to take into account the mental health effects social media plays on young minds. 

With so many powerful and unrelenting factors working against girls’ ability to fully love and embrace their bodies, many parents are feeling bewildered and helpless to help their daughters secure a positive body image.

Here are 12 powerful ways you can help your daughter love her body and stop being so critical of herself. 

12 Powerful Ways to Help Your Daughter Love Her Body 

1. Avoid Negative Self-Talk About Your Own Body

Your daughter is watching everything you say and do. She’s watching what you eat, how much you eat, whether you exercise, shame your body, compulsively diet or whether you complain about your weight when you both hit the mall and try on clothes. Your view about your own body is shaping your daughter’s view about hers.

Help your daughter love her body, by learning to love yours. Keep comments about your appearance positive around your daughter. Don’t talk about some new fad diet you’re going to try or how you’re limiting carbs because you heard it will reduce body fat. If she hears you complaining about how you hate your thighs or how you need to lose weight, soon enough, she’ll start to become more aware of her own thighs and adopt the notion that perhaps she needs to lose weight, too.

2. Remind Her That Changes in Her Body are Completely Normal

During her teen years, your daughter’s body will go through a total transformation. Not only will she notice a change in her height, but rising amounts of estrogen in her body will also cause fat to deposit in her hips and breasts and her overall percentage of body fat will increase. In other words, weight gain is completely normal during puberty.

Talk to your daughter about the changes she can expect during puberty and as she moves through her teen years. The more knowledgeable she is about her body’s normal development, the less likely she’ll be caught off guard when she no longer fits into her favorite jeans. 

3. Help Her Shut Down Negative Voices in Her Head

Instead of nitpicking every little thing she dislikes about her body, encourage her to shut down those voices in her head and overpower those negative thoughts with positive ones. Have her write down 10 things she admires about herself. The next time she starts to tear herself down, tell her to read those affirmations as a reminder of how amazing she really is. 

4. Focus on Being Healthy and Strong

Your daughter’s body is an amazing “machine.” Treat it well and it will run well. Treat it poorly and things will start to break. Talk to her about taking care of her body, the importance of eating nutritionally, exercising to stay strong and getting enough rest. Help her stop focusing on her body shape, her weight, how she hates her stomach or how she can’t stand how small her breasts are by shifting her mindset. Remind her that her body is a beautiful instrument, not an ornament. 

5. Help Her Gain Confidence From the Inside Out

One of the biggest barriers to confidence is comparison. When you catch your daughter comparing herself to others, remind her that she is uniquely HER. Her body, her accomplishments, her abilities, strengths and dreams are hers and hers alonethat’s her superpower! 

Praise her for her internal qualities and help her foster a lifestyle that’s geared toward improving herself as a whole person – her mind, her body and her soul. Whether it’s training for a marathon, a mission to make the soccer team, volunteering for an organization she’s passionate about or learning a new instrument, help her find her “own” beautiful!

6. Talk About Food in Terms of Nutrition, Not Calories or Fat Content

Help your daughter view food as fuel. The food she puts in her body is EVERYTHING. From her energy and mood to her skin and her strength, it all starts with what she puts on the end of her fork. Talk about food from a nutritional perspective, not a caloric or fat content perspective.

Make “healthy” a family mission. Make a commitment to buy healthy food for the entire family, so when your daughter reaches for a snack out of the pantry it’s food that’s actually good for her and will improve her body’s optimal performance. And, if she has a poor relationship with food, discourage her from using food as a crutch when she’s down (although a big piece of chocolate cake on occasion is the world’s best comfort food), by encouraging her to ask herself these questions, “Am I really hungry?” “Why am I heading to the refrigerator or pantry?” “What can I eat that’s actually good for my body?” 

7. Educate Her on the Pitfalls of Social Media and Fake Realism

Keep the lines of communication open. Talk to your daughter about how celebrities, models and quite possibly even her friends and classmates use filters to “beautify” their appearance with the promise of delivering model-esque looks by shrinking, enhancing, sharpening, and recoloring their faces, features and bodies.

Sure, it can be fun to dive into a few of the 1.2 million filtering effects that are available today, but she needs to know it’s all fake… nothing is as it seems. You know that gorgeous model she follows on Instagram? No one would look twice at her if they saw her walking down the street without makeup. And, that celebrity she’s mildly obsessed with? That’s not her real eye color and her skin isn’t quite as flawless as it looks in photos. 

8. Show Her How to Use Social Media the Right Way

Help your daughter become a critical viewer of social media. Teach her to pay close attention to images, slogans or advertisements that make her feel bad about herself or her body and to stop following any accounts that make her feel less beautiful or worthy. Instead, help her use social media in a positive way by following accounts that uplift and inspire her and make her feel good about herself. Check out these 16 positive and inspiring Instagram accounts she can follow! Here are a few inspirational TikTok accounts she can follow, too!

9. Toss Out the Bathroom Scale

It’s amazing how such a small device has the ability to consume our daughter’s thoughts and shape her opinions about herself. The moment she steps on a scale, she immediately begins making a number of subconscious decisions about herself. “I’m so fat, I need to lose weight.” “My friend weighs less than me, she looks better than I do.” “I gained three pounds… I’m not eating today.” But she’s so much more than a number on a scale. Not to mention that muscle is more dense than fat, that everyone has fluctuations in weight (it’s completely normal), and that just because you weigh less doesn’t mean you’re fit or healthy – in other words, the scale isn’t an accurate representation of overall health. 

10. Encourage Her to Surround Herself with Positive People

Your daughter’s friends are a powerful influence in her life. If her friends constantly complain about their bodies or hyper-focus on others’ bodies, your daughter will pick up on that and (more likely than not) start to become equally as body-conscious. It will be far easier for your daughter to feel good about herself and her body if she’s surrounded by others who accept and like themselves just as they are. 

11. Dad Needs to Be Involved, Too

The impact a father has on his daughter’s life reaches far beyond the role of provider and protector. Research has shown that everything from self-confidence and body image to how she approaches future romantic relationships, her education and career success are all tied to the relationship a girl has with her father.

So often, girls will view their self-worth through their father’s eyes. If Dad says she’s beautiful, then she is; if Dad says she’s a fantastic soccer player, then she is. The guidance and praise a daughter hears from her father throughout her influential years, especially her teen years, stays with her for life.

12. Give Her the Tools to Feel Confident

Maybe it’s wearing well-fitting, hip clothes that make her feel great about herself. Or, maybe it’s when her face is clear and it isn’t broken out with acne. Encourage her to write down all the things that make her feel confident and then, support her. Help your daughter love her body by giving her the powerful tools she needs to feel confident so when she looks in the mirror, she sees a whole person staring back at her that she loves and admires. 

Signs of Low Self-Esteem and When to Reach Out for Help

According to Family Doctor, to some extent, being preoccupied with body image is normal, especially during the tween and teen years. In many cases, it’s not something parents should worry too much about, especially if your daughter’s body image isn’t interfering with her normal activities, friendships, or willingness to attend social gatherings.

However, if you begin to see your daughter withdraw from her friends or activities, it could be a warning sign of a more serious response to low self-esteem and body image.

Symptoms of Depression

  • Social withdrawal (from friends/activities)
  • Low energy or lack of energy
  • Not able to control emotions (crying/yelling)
  • Irritability (gets mad easily)
  • Changes in sleep (sleeping more than usual or less than usual)
  • Changes in diet (not eating or eating more than usual)
  • Not talking as much as usual at home
  • Wanting to spend time alone

Symptoms of an Eating Disorder

  • Excessive weight loss
  • Eating very small portions or skipping meals entirely
  • Exercising excessively
  • Eating large amounts of food without gaining weight
  • Finding excuses to go to the bathroom right after eating
  • Using diuretic pills and laxatives
  • Being secretive about eating
  • Sneaking large quantities of food to eat alone

Be an informed mental health advocate for your daughter. If you feel she may be developing an obsession with her weight or developing an eating disorder, you can find helpful information here:

Note: Although this post specifically focuses on tween and teen girls primarily because research suggests that young girls are most often plagued by poor body image, it’s important to recognize that many boys experience similar issues as well. Keep your eye on your son. If you feel he has adopted an unhealthy view of himself or you’re concerned he may have developed an eating disorder, reach out for professional help. 

If girls make body acceptance conditional, they’ll never be happy with themselves. The reality is that their bodies will continue to change throughout their lives, and they will never be ‘perfect.’ If they base their self-worth on something as ever-changing as their bodies, they will forever be on the emotional roller coaster of body obsession and shame.” ~ Chrissy King

If you enjoyed, “12 Powerful Ways to Help Your Daughter Love Her Body and Stop Being So Critical of Herself,” check out these other posts!

Tell us! What are you doing to help your daughter love her body? Share your thoughts in the comments section below!

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