7 Ways to Teach Your Daughter to Like the Girl in the Mirror

7 Ways to Teach Your Daughter to Like the Girl in the Mirror

Expert tips to help teach your daughter to embrace herself, no matter her shape or size.

By: Laurie Sue Brockway

Growing up overweight is rough on girls. They are surrounded by peers in tight jeans, fashion magazines with thin models, TV shows with petite stars -- and a culture that constantly reinforces the message that certain shapes are more acceptable than others. That’s why it is so important for moms to help daughters develop a healthy self-image that is not based on physical appearance.

Mothers have a powerful influence. Here are some expert tips to help you teach your daughter to embrace the person she sees in the mirror.

1. Become a good role model. A mother’s negative self-image is passed down to her daughter, says Stephanie Moir, MA, CRC, LMHC. “We can change that by changing our own viewpoints and [through] acceptance of our own bodies,” she says. “If you want your daughter to grow up and become a self-accepting woman, you can make every effort to model self-acceptance at home. The way you talk about your body, how you pose in front of the mirror, what you wear, and how you allow others to talk about you -- these all help teach your daughter self-acceptance.”

2. Be mindful of what you say . Even a seemingly harmless comment can have a lasting negative impact. “Don't make critical comments about a daughter’s looks or weight gain,” says clinical psychologist Rachel Lowinger, PhD. “During teenage years, it is perfectly normal for bodies to change and [for there to be] weight gain. Insignificant, small comments about food intake may stay with a teenager daughter, making a lasting impression about her inadequacy.”

3. Avoid stressful reminders. Even if you are helping your daughter get healthier, try to remove things that symbolize a weight problem. “Cut out labels showing size, and stay away from the scale,” says personal trainer and instructor Greg Justice, MA. “The numbers can cause unnecessary worry and anxiety -- and they don't tell you enough about health and body composition. When you go to a scale, it is as if you are asking that machine, ‘Am I OK and can I feel good about myself?’ It is always OK to feel good about yourself. Don't let the scale tell you any differently.” Justice says it’s enough to keep track of weight at doctor’s visits.

4. Let her share feelings. Open the dialogue about everything that is troubling her. “Moms can encourage self-acceptance by helping their daughters understand and embrace their emotions,” says psychotherapist Tina Gilbertson, LPC, author of Constructive Wallowing: How to Beat Bad Feelings. “Allow your daughter to express her feelings, help her put words to them, and offer compassion.” Being accepted by your own mom is one of the fastest routes to self-acceptance, she says.

5. Celebrate all shapes and sizes. It is important to celebrate all female forms, says Sheri Gazitt, founder of Teen Wise, a coaching program for teens and moms. “Don't put down the tall and lanky models,” she says. “They have a right to their shape and size too. Instead, celebrate what they look like while pointing out the other shapes and sizes are to be celebrated as well.”

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6. Teach self-compassion. A recent study showed that women who can embrace themselves -- no matter their shape -- can also handle life’s disappointments with greater ease. “Regardless of their weight, women with higher self-compassion have better body image and fewer concerns about weight, body shape, or eating," says Allison Kelly, the lead author of the study and a professor with the Department of Psychology at Waterloo, in Ontario. "There is something about a high level of acceptance and understanding of oneself that helps people not necessarily view their bodies more positively, but rather acknowledge their bodies' imperfections and be OK with them.”

7. Focus on what’s inside. We tend to acknowledge girls for their looks. Try acknowledging your daughter’s character, abilities, how she treats others, and other traits that make her special. “Moms can make learning about self-compassion and self-acceptance an everyday event,” says Moir. “Teaching girls that loving yourself starts from within helps them gain emotional strength to become self-accepting women in the future. Positive body image is created by accepting and loving yourself, no matter your flaws.”

Ultimately, we want our girls to be healthy and comfortable in their own skin. Moms might also find that focusing on self-image-building for daughters is a chance to improve their own sense of self.

How have your taught your daughter to love herself?

Laurie Sue Brockway is a journalist and author who has written extensively on love, marriage, parenting, well-being, and emotional health. Her work has appeared in hundreds of print and online publications, including Everyday Health and The Huffington Post.

Image ©iStock.com/monkeybusinessimages

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