Active, loving parenting is not an easy job. From dealing with a challenging child to helping a daughter cope with breast cancer, instilling healthy body imagery in your daughter is often a tricky endeavor.
Of course, Christian parent’s turn to the Bible as their ultimate guide. However, the Bible gives very little direct advice on this issue. Still, parents cling to verses like these to help point their daughters in the right direction:
I will praise You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made… —Psalms 139:14
Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting; but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised. —Proverbs 31:30
To gather practical insight and advice, I asked two professionals what their thoughts are about developing healthy body imagery in daughters:
Cheryl Wasserman, M.A., L.P.C., N.C.C. is a Licensed Professional Counselor and National Board Certified Counselor. She has a private practice at Alliance Therapy Associates/Partner, Westport Wellness Group. She has specialized in the treatment of weight issues for 25 years and also heads up Mindful Eating for Life.
I also spoke with registered Dietitian, Nutritionist and Certified LEAP Therapist, Donna M. Wolf R.D.N, CLT, from Healthy Directions of Poway. She specializes in identification and treatment of food sensitivities and allergies commonly associated with Irritable Bowel Syndrome, migraine headaches, fibromyalgia, arthritis, weight imbalances, ADHD, autism, celiac disease gluten intolerance, and other refractory medication conditions.
Q: How would you define a healthy body image for a girl or adolescent?
Wasserman: “Put simply, a definition of a healthy body image is ‘Acceptance of what is’. All bodies are different and it is most useful to appreciate what you already have rather than compare it to some idealized image.”
Wolf: “A healthy body image for a girl or adolescent is one in which she defines, not defined by media, peers, boyfriend or overly involved parents.”
Q: How does a parent’s attitude affect how a daughter views her body imagery?
Wasserman: “Daughters tend to be affected profoundly by the attitudes they hear verbally or see non-verbally from their parents about her body image. An off-the-cuff comment can cause a young girl to begin a life of body hatred & restriction.”
Wolf: “Parental attitudes significantly impact how a daughter views her body. Everything a parent models is learned by children, whether good or bad. As they grow this is their main and first impression with each subject or topic. For some things it is the only way they learn.”
Q: What would you recommend a parent do if their daughter is too thin or too chunky?
Wasserman: “I would not worry about my child’s weight if her doctor does not feel that there is aproblem. Many times girls become ‘chunky’ preceding a growth spurt.
Wolf: “If a parent thinks their daughter is too thin, or too chunky, I would recommend they consult professional help. I’d also recommend interviewing that professional to make sure the professional has experience treating adolescent weight issues.”
Q: Do you have any other thoughts or comments regarding the body imagery of daughters?
Wasserman: “I believe that girls learn from what their mothers model for them. They hear every self-deprecating remark that Mom might make when she tries on an outfit or passes a mirror. They tend to take on their mom’s attitude about her own body. They pay much more attention to that than they do to what their mom tells them they should feel about their bodies.
Wolf: “Body image is wrapped up in the overall package of self-esteem. So, it is important that young girls are exposed to healthy and positive messages about not only being female and what they will experience as their bodies grow into adult women, but also how their unique individuality is valued and should be respected. Each of us possess many good qualities and attributes. We also have issues we may need help with, and that is normal and OK. Education is important and overall health is of utmost concern.
What Do You Think?
Do you see a reflection of your attitude in the way your daughter views her body image? What have you done to help her gain a healthy perspective, or where have you failed? Let’s talk about it in the comments below.