In many households, the start of school means new clothes, however, back-to-school shopping can highlight negative body image for pre-teen and teen girls. Returning to school can lead to feelings of insecurity and anxiety for girls as many teenagers anticipate that their classmates might notice differences in their appearance after the long summer break.
Moms want to encourage teens to feel good about themselves because positive body image helps develop a healthy sense of self. So how do we encourage our daughters to not get hung up on numbers, to accept their bodies and not say mean things about their shapes? If you are privileged enough that your daughter still lets you tag along on this yearly ritual, here are a few things to keep in mind:
- Change negative self-talk. Being a little self-conscious during middle school and high school is normal. However if you are shopping with your daughter and she starts putting down her body or herself, it’s time to step in. Trying to get your daughter to refocus can be tricky because you don’t want to tell her that her beliefs are “wrong” or “silly.” Instead focus on how her body supports or fuels her. Does she love Field Hockey? Point out how strong she is or how her body supports her athletic goals.
- Encourage her to pick clothes that she feels good in. Your daughter is going to want to buy certain things that her friends are wearing—that’s what teens do. There will be small moments when your teen connects to her own unique interests—non-matching socks? Purple jeans? Be supportive when she indicates a certain preference and encourage her when she does. This will promote the development of her own identity.
- Take a break. Over lunch, discuss what she is interested in or enjoys doing. Is she moving from JV to Varsity soccer? Now an editor on the school paper? This will subtly allow your daughter to think of herself as a whole person, not just focus on the clothes she didn’t like on her body.
- Be careful about negative comments about YOUR body. I often hear mothers censure themselves for having extra weight around their middle or refusing to shop until they lose ten pounds. When you criticize yourself, your children are listening and internalizing the notion that perhaps they would be more worthy if their bodies were more perfect. Follow the same advice you gave your daughter. Focus on what your body does and what you want it to be healthy for (like an extra hour with her at the mall).
Remember, body image can be a reflection of how your teenager feels about themselves. Struggling to accept her new body is a part of this age. However if you notice a change of behavior (not participating in sports, not spending time with friends, odd conduct around meals) it is time to consult with a professional.