By Kristina Schwalm-Bacquet, MSW, RSW
My daughter is 16 now, and she seems consumed with her appearance. She is very focused on how she looks in clothes and I heard her and her friends talking about good diets. Do you have any tips for a healthy body image, or advice for how I should talk to her about this?
Dear Worried Mom,
I feel for you, and her. Being a teenager is a chaotic and tumultuous journey. The messages she is getting about the ideal size, weight and even the shape of her limbs are likely overwhelming not to mention one-dimensional. It can be incredibly hard to watch this as a mom. What’s worse is knowing that just based on her age and stage of development, she might not be interested in turning to you for guidance.
Try your best to find a quiet moment to help her explore her thoughts about her body and any reasons that she has for her focus on this aspect of herself right now. The important thing is to ask questions and listen first. Hearing her, and supporting her, and from here trying to let her know your concerns as non-judgementally as possible.
You might help her to consider her deeper values, what she truly cares about and wants out of life. Maintain a focus on the reality that her appearance is only a small aspect of who she is. Help her consider external pressures and explore any feelings of shame and anxiety to meet unrealistic standards, that get in the way of her more meaningful goals. Explore stressors and struggles in her day-to-day, and try your best to support a shift of focus to her emotional wellbeing as opposed to her physical appearance. You might even consider setting goals that you two can take on together, that are related to pursuing more meaningful strengths and accomplishments.
If she isn’t overly receptive to you, remind yourself that that is pretty typical for her stage of development. The most important thing you can do is show her that you are there for her and set good examples. Try to maintain consistent compassionate availability to her, offering your support and love whenever possible. Watch what you say about your own body and look for items in your home that might encourage poor body image: magazines, diet products, etc. Try to set the example of self-compassion, not self-shaming.
If she is open to seeking support from an impartial third party to help explore how she feels about her body, health, nutrition and exercise, helping her find a therapist, nutritionist and dietician would be a great step in the right direction. It might also be helpful to seek support for yourself. Concern for your little girl can be anxiety-provoking and make it really hard to maintain an attitude of patience and support. Moreover, many of us have fairly complex relationships with our own body image, which can make it very difficult to navigate setting a good example.
For more information on healthy body image and for concerns about eating disorders, take a look at these resources:
For concerns about eating disorders go to:
With questions, comments or if you’d like to send in your own anonymous question for Dear Kristina, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org, or head over to my twitter (@KristinaSchwalm), Facebook page (facebook.com/CBTintrinitybellwoods) or website (CBTinTrinityBellwoods.com).
Kristina Schwalm-Bacquet is a Mental Health Therapist, Supervisor and Instructor.