Teen girls, body image, and school - Mothering Forums

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#1 of 18 Old 11-09-2012, 09:57 AM - Thread Starter
 
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My 12-year-old daughter has gone from being very happy about being tall to feeling very negative about this and also about the fact that she doesn't have the flat stomach she sees on the models and actresses on TV.

 

At a friend's recommendation, we watched the film "America the Beautiful," which is an inside look at the modeling/fashion/beauty industry, and what dd mainly seemed to get from this was the realization that she was heavier than the models who thought or were told that they needed to lose weight.

 

When she started her period a few months before turning 12, she felt kind of sad when she learned that, on average, girls only grow about three more inches after menarche. She was 5'6" at that time and had been counting on growing to be at least 6'. She'd been thrilled at the thought of being taller than me (I'm 5'9 1/2") and it made her sad to think that she might end up just being my height or a little shorter. Now, at 12 1/2, she is 5.8" and actually feels like this is too tall and she doesn't want to get any taller. She wishes she'd drunk coffee as a kid to stunt her growth.

 

And she just keeps critiquing herself on little things.

 

I'm starting to worry because, up to now, virtually all of her negative feelings about her body and appearance have come from her own mind, and her own comparisons of herself and media images. We've been homeschooling, but she wants to start school this coming fall, when she'll be 13 and in the 8th grade.

 

8th grade was the absolute hardest year for me in school, and the year when I received the most cruel and negative feedback from boys and from some other girls about my body. I don't want to assume that dd's school experience will be just like mine. While trying not to be overly negative, I've talked to dd about how many kids in her age group do make really hateful comments about how other kids look, and I heard mean comments about my body in school and she probably would, too -- that most kids do. I told her that I was hoping she could learn to like and accept herself more before starting school, so she'd be ready to just ignore all those mean comments and not take them to heart.

 

Dd has been reassured by her doctor that she is totally on target as far as her weight-to-height ratio. She's honestly very attractive, and I'm not just saying this because I'm her mom. I'm just saying she has nothing really wrong with her appearance, but, of course, we all have those little oddities or imperfections that cruel and insecure people are all too ready to hone in on in the teen years.

 

What have some of your own daughters had to deal with in school, and how have you helped them deal with it and come through the experience with a healthy self esteem?


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#2 of 18 Old 11-10-2012, 03:49 AM
 
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I have a 12-year-old as well and she has an excellent body image for a few reasons.

#1 Belief in God and knowledge that he disapproves of the images of idealized women. Rather than compare herself she criticizes these images and wishes to avoid exposing herself to them (for instance, she said she does not like going into La Senza because of the pictures of women in underwear)

#2 modest dress code keeps focus off her body and on her face and mind. Keep the little girl in her by delaying all adornments of womanhood till appropriate age

#3 Mom (me) speaks positively about myself and my body, never criticize myself or diet

#4 Knowledge that our culture is wrong and media messages are harmful and should always be criticized rather than accepted or followed. We live in this world but we are not "of this world". We stand a little bit outside of it and know that our bodies are made for a purpose of serving God not for being looked at.

Hope this helps. I am a former fashion writer who knows all about the ways marketers create false images. You can get a free report to help your daughter with body image here: www.7bodyimagelies.com

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#3 of 18 Old 11-10-2012, 07:49 AM
 
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My DDs are now 16 and 14, and this hasn't been a big issue for us.

 

For my older DD, its an easier issue because she is on the autism spectrum and is less tied into to social cues, has no desire to fit in (doesn't understand why anyone values fitting in, etc). I bring this up because I see everyday how a complete disregard for society is actually odd. What so many people want for their teens is to be the same way that a child with autism naturally is.

 

With my younger DD, who is quite social, it's turned out to be muted. She has solid friendships in a group where being smart is important. So while she does want to look nice and be attractive, it is in balance with the belief that its really better to be able to beat someone in chess than to look good. For my DD, these friends came from school.

 

Although our family doesn't share the religious faith of the previous poster, one thing that both our kids have is support outside our immediate family for valuing themselves as a whole person rather than as seeing their value in being decorative. This is a time when it is quite naturally for offspring to start to disregard their parents as the font of wisdom, so having positive messages from others is really helpful.

 

In conversations about body image, I keep emphasizing HEALTH  over appearance. We go the the Y together twice a week (wish we could get there consistently more often).  But being active is something that I model and scaffold for my DDs. Much of what is value in bodies in a culture is based on health, but our culture tends to get it wrong in the end - valuing the appearance of health over actual health.

 

I think its pretty normal for girls around the age of your DD to start to have some issues with somethings about themselves. The high point in any woman's sense of self did not come at age 12. I've watched women's college sports where some of the players looked hunched over -- they were so tall, and had spent so many years trying to not be tall, that they were just --- hunched. Does your DD play any sports? Would she like to? Does she see examples of women who've used their height to do cool things?

 

This link goes to an article titled "why you don't look like a fitness model" and has pictures of the women's US Olympic team from a few years back. It's pretty awesome for the "different bodies are all OK" talk.

http://www.stumptuous.com/why-dont-you-look-like-a-fitness-model


but everything has pros and cons  shrug.gif

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#4 of 18 Old 11-10-2012, 09:21 PM
 
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Ok, so I'm not a mother, I'm the father. I no longer have weekly visits with my two daughters either: 15 y/o and 5 y/o, as the courts let the mother move them across the country. I no longer have the weekly influence that I think both girls direly need. My concern is that I don't believe the mother is a good role model for the girls, and I don't have any idea how her bf's treat the girls. I only have a couple weeks during the summer, and a portion of Christmas vacation to show the girls a proper way to live. (No see-through shirts, no mini-skirt, extremely low-rise jeans, low-cut shirts, not bringing a different bf home every week, etc).

 

I'm sure the 15 y/o will be, if not already, starting her period (as of this summer, it hasn't fully kicked in yet, thankfully). Her emotions will be as erratic as her hormones allow. She is starting to take a serious interest in boys now, but I am not there to father her in the ways of dating. I recently read something somewhere (newspaper article, online site, etc) about a 15y/o girl's sexting with her bf. I would hope that her mother wouldn't permit such behavior, however, I don't know how to broach the topic about its inappropriateness.

 

I need mothers' opinions on how to handle a 15 year old daughter (technically, former step-daughter. But, I've raised her over half her life, and she calls me dad, and I call her my daughter). I feel I have been removed from my daughters' lives since the mother moved them across the country. I am not sure how to cope with the loss of my girls. I am not sure how to properly handle finally having them back (for a week and a half). Due to many things, I don't have a lot of many anymore, so hardly am able to take them places: mall, beach, car rides, museums, etc). What do I do to entertain them for about 10 days during the Christmas and New Year's seasons? I love them dearly, and am trying to get them to understand a proper self-image, maintain a good and health self-respect, but I only have them for such a short time.

 

Any advice?

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#5 of 18 Old 11-11-2012, 09:33 AM
 
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To OP, a self-esteem hit is pretty normal in this age range. DD 15 has never had body issues and at 12, she was the most confident kid on the planet. However, at 13, she started to question her intelligence. She's actually a highly gifted and high-achieving girl but she started to feel like a "fraud." She was not bullied and always has had the respect of her peers. This was both internal on and a reaction to a poor academic environment. It was a difficult time for all of us and it took about 1.5 years to help her rebuild that confidence. At 15, she's back to her old self and honestly, better for having been through that stage. 

 

Basically, what I'm saying is that if it's not body, it's facial beauty, social standing, intellect, talent... you name it. It's not necessarily about what you did right or wrong. It's a tough age period. Consider that while it's not happy to hear her criticize herself, the fact that she's talking to YOU about such things is a real positive. 

 

My advice? Don't give this current insecurity more weight than it should have. You might find her being at school helpful in this situation. DD always gets positive feedback from peers for being tall. Sometimes it's easier for kids to talk about their friends issues than their own. When a friend says "ugh, I'm so fat" open up conversation with your DD later... "I think it's sad that Katie feels fat. Do you think she's fat?" You'll likely find that your DD does NOT think Katie is fat and you guys can have a non-threatening conversation about girls and body image without any lecturing. Focus on health. Don't be too generally flattering... instead of saying "you look so pretty" try "that color really does nice things for your eyes." Be honest. If you go shopping and there is something that doesn't look as good, don't try to sell it for her self-esteem. She'll believe your compliments more when you are earnest. Get her in quality interest based activities where she can be with kids focused on things outside of looks and typical teen fair. 

 

It's just a tough age and sometimes all you can do is survive it.


Married mom of two, DD 17 and DS 13.
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#6 of 18 Old 11-11-2012, 04:58 PM
 
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Another, really great documentary.  Dd and I thoroughly enjoyed this:  http://www.missrepresentation.org


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#7 of 18 Old 11-11-2012, 07:08 PM
 
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I agree that this a tough age,and most kids - girls in particular - have some sort of self-doubts. Whether about their bodies, their abilities, whatever. My daughter has always had a very positive self image wrt her body, but not always so much about her intellect. She's a bright kid, but has to work at learning. Things don't come as easily for her as they do to some others, especially some of her friends and her brother. Can't tell you how many times I heard "I'm so STUPID!!!" It took a lot of "No, you're not - you just do things differently." , trying different things, helping her find the way she learned best. She would also tell me how her friends thought they were fat, etc. So we also talked about how their feelings about their looks were similar to her feelings about her intellect. She would always talk to them about how they should be comfortable in their skin, that if they really felt they needed to lose weight, get fit, etc. - she'd be more than happy to help them. But that they should know that she thought they were beautiful just as they were.

 

She also had a lot of issues with her Dad. As she got older, he pulled away from her in a major way, and that led to her to question what was wrong with her. Unfortunately, they have not resolved their issues. I know it still hurts her, but she is coping with it.

 

I think that, in the long run, it helped her to know that there was nothing that she could do or be that would change my unwavering love and support.

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#8 of 18 Old 11-12-2012, 10:27 AM
 
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That documentary has some useful info, however, it simply shifts the focus from appearance to achievement and success/power which is damaging as well. Girls need to know they are valued simply for who they are - they do not need to do a thing to be a treasure.

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#9 of 18 Old 11-12-2012, 10:35 AM
 
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Girls need to know they are valued simply for who they are - they do not need to do a thing to be a treasure.

 

As do boys...

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#10 of 18 Old 11-12-2012, 02:11 PM - Thread Starter
 
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I really appreciate all the great feedback, and I'm looking forward to trying out the other links that some of you have sent me.

 

I think Linda and whatsnextmom have a point in saying that outside influences may actually be more helpful at this point. Dd has actually never heard negative comments about her body from other kids thus far -- I say this with a good deal of certaintly, because she is so quick to tell me if anyone does say anything to make her angry or hurt her feelings (all I can think of is one time, a few years ago, when a girl at the park critcized her for being "dusty," but this didn't really upset dd, because it seemed really abnormal to her that the other girl thought it was so important to stay clean while playing outdoors).

 

So all of the negative body image seems to be coming from the stuff she's saying to herself, just by looking at media images and other girls and making mental comparisons.

 

That's why I was so worried when I got to thinking how much more negative she's likely to feel after getting some real jabs from the various insecure kids that she's liable to encounter in middle school. But I was forgetting all about the positive aspect of getting lots more positive feedback from people outside the family. 

 

Whatever positive feedback dh and I give her right now seems to just bounce off of her because she's so sure we're just saying it because we love her.


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#11 of 18 Old 11-12-2012, 09:40 PM
 
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Whatever positive feedback dh and I give her right now seems to just bounce off of her because she's so sure we're just saying it because we love her.

 

Yeah, but tell her occasionally anyway.  I think she'll appreciate.  My parents did the same for me, and I rolled my eyes and said they're just saying it because they loved me, but I also appreciated it. 

 

And 17 y.o. dd and i do the same thing. We've had this back and forth since she was 11 or 12 y.o.  I tell her she's beautiful and perfect, she says I'm her mom and I have to say that and I say, no I don't, I say it because it's true.

 

She wants her peers to think she's pretty, but of course she wants to know her parents think she's pretty, too. 


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#12 of 18 Old 11-13-2012, 03:30 AM - Thread Starter
 
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Basically, what I'm saying is that if it's not body, it's facial beauty, social standing, intellect, talent... you name it. It's not necessarily about what you did right or wrong. It's a tough age period. Consider that while it's not happy to hear her criticize herself, the fact that she's talking to YOU about such things is a real positive. 

I just remembered this reassuring comment from you, and wanted to say thanks so much. It's been tough realizing that in spite of my doing so many things differently in raising my own children, in order to spare them the insecurities that I was constantly plagued with, dd1 still seems to be feeling so negatively about herself so much of the time.

 

Of course, I know it's not about how I feel about how she feels -- it's about helping her learn to like herself just as she is. But I do appreciate hearing what you had to say here.


Susan -- married unschoolin' WAHMomma to two lovely girls (born 2000 and 2005).
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#13 of 18 Old 11-13-2012, 03:32 AM - Thread Starter
 
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Yeah, but tell her occasionally anyway.  I think she'll appreciate.  My parents did the same for me, and I rolled my eyes and said they're just saying it because they loved me, but I also appreciated it. 

 

And 17 y.o. dd and i do the same thing. We've had this back and forth since she was 11 or 12 y.o.  I tell her she's beautiful and perfect, she says I'm her mom and I have to say that and I say, no I don't, I say it because it's true.

 

She wants her peers to think she's pretty, but of course she wants to know her parents think she's pretty, too. 

Thanks for reminding me! Yes, we do still tell her and I am glad that at least she is talking to us about these feelings -- as whatsnextmomhas has so wisely pointed out.


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#14 of 18 Old 11-13-2012, 09:27 PM
 
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Whatever positive feedback dh and I give her right now seems to just bounce off of her because she's so sure we're just saying it because we love her.

 

This is a stormy period for most girls. The real question is how well we are able to usher them through it. We can't keep them from experiencing this storm. We can only continue to assure them that we love them, we believe in them, we see their beauty.

 

The fact that she blows you off because she knows that you love her says a lot about how you've raised her -- she knows in her heart of hearts that she is unconditionally loved by you and her father. Right now she is questioning whether or not she is "good enough" without the unconditional love, but that unconditional love is actually her anchor. It will serve her well her whole life and is the foundation for eventual healthy relationships. Because she has grown up with unconditional love, she will eventually find other people who love her unconditionally too, it's what will feel right to her.

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but everything has pros and cons  shrug.gif

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#15 of 18 Old 11-18-2012, 01:26 AM
 
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What I've done to help my dd (now 16)

 

#1 Giver her knowledge that the display of images of idealized women is used to SELL. Either to sell products not necessarily related to women's bodies (beer or cars) or to make women feel upset or angry, or at least uncomfortable with themselves and think they need to "fix" themselves. I give an anti-patriarchal somewhat anti-capitalist explanation for why this occurs (a semi-joke at home, "I blame the patriarchy!" - also we sometimes look at ads on the MTR or in magazine and laugh about it).

 

#2 Remind her that the function of things like legs is to provide locomotion (and to separate our feet from our hips  :)). For a healthy woman to say "I hate my thighs" is nonsensical and sad. That we should enjoy healthy food and enjoy our bodies and nurture them.

 

#3  Speak positively about myself and my body, as much as possible (and hers!) and when I criticize myself or diet, acknowledge that like many women, I am not free of "The System" that teaches women to hate their bodies

 

#4 Teach her that for many women  and girls, "fat talk" is a form of bonding and to sometimes call her friends on it, or at least mention it every now and then

 

#5 I found this book was a great help for her - I gave it to her when she was 12 or 13. It's funny and fun, but also explains

http://www.amazon.com/Real-Gorgeous-Truth-about-Beauty/dp/0393313557/

 

Good luck!

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#16 of 18 Old 11-18-2012, 04:30 PM
 
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... I'm lost. What does "DD" and "DH" and the other acronyms stand for? Something-daughter, I take it? Perhaps something-husband? What is "OP"?

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#17 of 18 Old 11-18-2012, 04:42 PM
 
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When I asked an acquaintance, this is what I was told.

Dd is darling daughter
Ds is darling son
dh is darling husband
Op is original poster
Stbx is soon to be ex (husband/wife)
Pp is previous poster
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#18 of 18 Old 11-19-2012, 08:39 AM
 
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#5 I found this book was a great help for her - I gave it to her when she was 12 or 13. It's funny and fun, but also explains

http://www.amazon.com/Real-Gorgeous-Truth-about-Beauty/dp/0393313557/

 

Nice! I like it. I might get it for my 17 y.o.


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