A recent discussion with my teenage daughter revealed she was having some body image issues. Alex is the exact opposite of me at her age–she’s very thin, long arms and legs, a flat belly and narrow hips. She looks like the typical high school freshman–or so I thought until after the first week of picking her up at school. While there were girls who closely resembled Alex’s stature, so many looked YEARS older than their actual age. "I just want to look normal, " she said to me.
Normal–what exactly IS normal? When I was her age I felt uncomfortable because I matured faster than most other girls. I longed to be less curvaceous than I was. I spent most of my middle school years walking around with my arms folded across my chest and now my daughter feels that how I looked at 12 and 13 is normal.
Honestly I can’t blame Alex and many other young girls for feeling this way. Our culture bombards these kids with images of human Barbie dolls and sets the expectation that unless you meet that standard you’re inadequate. When you think about it, it isn’t surprising we have so many of our young women either suffering from eating disorders or having some kind of ridiculous plastic surgery to fix what they view as a flaw. On the opposite end of the spectrum, kids are drowning their insecurities in unhealthy food choices, which results in our society’s current obesity problem.
In a perfect world we’d be able to overhaul these media messages our kids receive, but that’s not likely to happen anytime soon. So, we as moms need to do a better job of making our daughters feel special regardless of whether or not they fit into this mold.
What we need to focus on is being healthy, which means eating lots of healthy foods (think fruits and veggies!) and incorporating physical activity into each day. And, for each of us healthy may look a bit different–we come in different shapes and sizes, some tall and thin, some short and stocky. It’s also important for us, as mothers, to be aware of how we are portraying our own body image around our daughters. Be careful of how often you complain about your body size or shape and watch those comments on how a friend put on a few pounds. Our girls listen to us and what we say and do impacts how they look at themselves.
In the end, I told Alex my own story of how I felt at her age and explained that every body shape comes with its ups and downs. I assured her that there were girls who envied how she looked. I know her discontentment won’t change overnight, but I intend to keep looking for opportunities to make her see how she’s healthy and beautiful in her own right.