Help your daughter—and yourself—break free from social bonds

Everywhere a girl turns she gets the message that being pretty should be her top priority. It's nearly impossible to avoid, despite our best efforts as parents. These social messages are ingrained everywhere from clothing to toys to movies to seemingly kind comments made in passing about our daughter's looks. 

So, what’s a parent to do to combat such strong social messages? Start by challenging the media on its false portrayal of how people look. Then reinforce that food is fuel, bodies have function, and beauty goes far beyond physical. 

Call out the media!
When looking through a magazine or watching a movie, poke fun at how false it all is. Explain how actors have whole crews to make them look great and that looking that way is nearly a full time job. Go online together and search “before and after pictures of models” and you are bound to see how ordinary looking people can be made to look amazing. Share the Dove Evolution video on YouTube that shows a model coming in looking a bit disheveled and the end shot of her looking flawless.  

Today’s girls have the extra hurdle of navigating social media. Did you know there are photo apps that instantly "improve" how a person looks? Girls post these photos on social media and guess what? Your preteen compares herself and feels inadequate. Expose these tricks for what they are. 

Tell her natural is beautiful and she doesn't need to enhance, fix, and falsify anything to look acceptable. Reinforce real beauty shines from the inside out.

Help her use her body with purpose 
One of the best buffers against media messages is to reinforce with your tween that our bodies have a function. It’s not there to be evaluated by others, it’s there to excel at a sport or school or any activity that brings her life meaning. It doesn’t matter what it is, find something your child is good at and focus on the confidence that it brings.

Food is fuel, not the enemy!
Here’s something fascinating you probably didn’t know: eating disorders are pretty much an American invention. A lot of research shows that there was no such thing as an eating disorder in other parts of the world until girls’ worldwide watched American television and got the message that ultra-thin is best. Now we are seeing eating disorders in several countries. 

Eating disorders get their punch from the belief that food is to be avoided—that it is literally poison. Food doesn’t’t nourish us, it makes us fat. The less we eat the better, and if we do become “weak” and eat, we need to purge to get rid of it. Of course, eating disorders go much deeper than that, but these are beliefs some kids who struggle with them have.

Make eating about health, not weight. Take every opportunity to teach kids what foods are healthy and what nutrients they hold. Eating well and the self-care it embodies has a positive psychological effect on girls. 

Model what you want to see in your daughter 
Last but not least, be a model (and not the overly skinny type!) for your daughter when it comes to a healthy body image. The actor Kate Winslet is quoted as saying, “As a child, I never heard one woman say to me, ‘I love my body.’ Not my mother, my elder sister, my best friend. No one woman has ever said, ‘I am so proud of my body.’”

Most likely you picked up some “rules” about food and bodies. Did your mom always lament about losing ten pounds or would she constantly diet or eat a tiny meal while she fed others a full dinner? Did your dad comment on women’s looks? Do you find yourself reliving these messages, even subconsciously? Do yourself and your kids a favor: catch yourself, and then do the opposite. When you want to give yourself a disgusted look in the mirror, smile. When you feel ugly, find something you like and comment out loud. After all, your daughter’s healthy body image starts with you. And really, you are fine just the way you are—and so is she.