The other day I was talking to a friend, who confided, “My fourteen year old daughter is very upset. She thinks she is not as pretty as the other girls in her class.” Another friend joined in and revealed that her daughter often asks her, “Mom do you think I am fat?”
Adolescence can be an extremely confusing time for most teenagers. Adolescence marks a time of rapid and intense emotional and physical changes. There is an increased value placed on peer acceptance and approval. Teenagers are extremely sensitive to external influences, and social messages about cultural norms. Girls, especially, face significant pressure to be physically attractive and have a perfect figure. As a result, many girls feel dissatisfied with their bodies, and are at a higher risk of developing mental health problems.
The experience of ‘body dissatisfaction’ can lead to poor health habits and low self-esteem. Adverse health behaviours, associated with poor self esteem, include – poor eating habits, dieting, depression, anxiety, and eating disorders. Having a negative body image may lead to skipping of meals, or a cycle of dieting, losing weight and regaining weight — which can further harm self-esteem. Stories of various fashion models and movie actresses, boasting a ‘size zero’ worsen their plight.
Factors that may harm a girl’s body image include:
Natural weight gain, and other changes caused by hormonal changes.
Peer pressure to look a certain way.
Media images that promote the ideal female body as slim.
Being teased about weight, height and other body issues.
Having parents who are overly concerned about their own weight, or their daughter's weight or appearance.
So what should the parents do? It is impossible to hide magazines, turn off the TV, ban watching beauty contests or playing with Barbie. However, there are steps parents can take, to encourage girls to love their body – regardless of its shape or size. The first step is communication. Explain how these models and actresses have to be underweight because their jobs demand so. Parents can help their daughters recognise that media images are unrealistic, and airbrushed to trim flab and hide blemishes. This will enable girls to accept their own ‘flaws’, and feel better about the way they look. If your child is truly overweight, encourage a healthier lifestyle and healthy eating habits, by being a role model. Criticism and comparison will not help. If you are scared your child is resorting to unhealthy means to lose weight, have a candid talk. Explain to her how a developing body needs a certain amount of nutrition, and failing to provide that can have serious repercussions later.
With less than 'perfect' bodies, Sunita Williams, Indra Nooyi, Kiran Mazumdar Shaw, Kalpana Chawala, Barkha Dutt and Mary Kom are still role models. Encouraging a healthy body image in their teenage daughter is something mothers must take seriously. Be an integral part of your daughter’s life, so that you can instill healthy eating habits and a good body image