“Mom, I’m so fat. I need to go on a diet,” says your 10 (or 6 or 16) year-old daughter as she pinches at her belly.
Your heart drops. She’s too young to be feeling this way! But don’t panic. Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist Isabelle Tierney has some advice to help you — and to help her.
7 ways to help your daughter develop a positive body image
When something like this happens, you are flooded by a tsunami wave of thoughts and emotions:
- It’s my fault! I’ve disliked my body for so many years.
- It’s the media’s fault! I shouldn’t let her watch so much TV.
- It’s her friends’ fault! She shouldn’t hang out with Jane.
Of course you want to blame something or someone! Of course you have no clue what to do or say! This is such confusing and painful terrain.
Take a deep breath. Exhale panic and inhale love. These seven ways will help you and your child find peace and love in your bodies.
1. It all starts with you.
As long as you struggle with loving your body, it raises the likelihood that your child will struggle, too. This is true even if you are careful about what you say out loud.
Use the power of your fiercest self to practice loving your body from this today on. It will change your life. It will change her life.
2. Practice honesty, not perfection.
Learning to love your body is a journey, not a destination. I don’t imagine that you expect to love anyone unconditionally. You are human after all. Why should you expect to love your body perfectly then? That sets you up for failure.
Consider instead sharing your journey with your child (in an age-appropriate way of course). Let her know how you too get impacted by the media. Let her know dieting conversations with your friends make you feel bad. Let her know how you too get caught by the promise that being thin will make you happy.
And then, let her know that you are actively challenging these old patterns because you know that they prevent you from living your fullest life. Ask her to go on this journey with you.
Your vulnerability will likely inspire her more than any pretty (and false) words ever will.
3. Let go of body “image” and focus on who your body really is.
Whenever you (or your child) thinks about how fat or ugly your body is, change your focus to the inside of your body. Focus on how your heart beats 100,000 times a day (what?!), how your digestive system alchemized food into energy, how your muscles help you dance (dance with her right then and there!), or how your bones hold you up…
Embrace the truth that you and your body are more wonderful, more fabulous, and more miraculous than any seemingly perfect “image” of your body.
4. You are more than your body size.
Rather than looking at weight or size to tell you if you are worthy, make a list with your child of qualities that make you an amazing human being! This can include courage, a sense of humor, compassion, sensitivity, generosity, being a good listener, …
A great life is created because of these qualities, NOT because of the perfect body.
5. Act from love, not fear.
When you (or your child) eat or exercise, do it as a gift to your body rather than against your body. Dedicate your meals or workouts to different body parts, such as your heart, or muscles, or bones…
Coming from a loving intent rather than self-hating intent changes the whole experience!
6. Practice, practice, practice
Every night, write down together 5 things that you are grateful for about your body. Thank your lungs for breathing, your hands for writing, your legs for walking you to the school bus… Your gratitude list is infinite!
7. Connect to others.
You are not alone. Parents all over the world are going through similar issues.
You can get overwhelmed by this and feel hopeless… or you can be inspired, finding hope by coming together to change the culture that is causing us and our children so much pain. Let’s do this together!