How to give your teenage daughter a positive body image

With society's idealised image of beauty a painfully thin size zero, it has never been more important to ensure that your teenage daughter has a healthy body image and does not lean toward self-harm as she aspires to conform.

Award-winning educator Dannielle Miller, CEO of Enlighten Education, asks, "What conversations aren't we having with our daughters? This is woman's work." Dannielle and the Enlighten team go out to schools all across Australia and New Zealand, initiating real conversations on self-esteem and body image with 20,000 teenage girls every year.

"As women we live in strange times," Miller says. "It is so easy to feel that we've fought all the battles, but the ultimate glass ceiling is our bathroom mirror and we have not cracked that. I believe that the pressures around women to look perfect have increased and it's crippling us. Our best, brightest women are constantly engaged in plastic surgery and trying to literally make themselves smaller and take up less space."

In her book, The Butterfly Effect, Miller explains the intricacies of 21st century "Girl World" to mums and dads, and provides an action plan to help put a stop to your daughter's inner battle with her body, and help her to find peace and self acceptance.

Ten steps to improving your daughter's body image

Be a good role model. "There is a lot of research that shows girls are mostly influenced by their mothers," Miller says. "Teen girls say to me: 'I've never known my mum not to be on a diet.' Girls get a very mixed message when Mum says, 'Darling you're gorgeous. If I looked like you I'd be happy.' What we have to do for our daughters is to show them that we love ourselves. This is important business. It's not just about healing us; it's about healing our daughters."
Miller suggests broadening what you daughter values within herself by telling her you love her for who she is, not just how she looks. For example, tell them they're beautiful and smart, funny, kind-hearted, passionate, strong, brave and so on.
If your daughter is overweight, don't focus the conversation on changing her body shape or parts of her body, focus on encouraging a healthy diet, fitness and involvement in sport.
Empathise. Don't trivialise her concerns about the way she looks, as they are very real to her. Be kind and encourage her to be kind to others.
Watch for early warning signs of a serious body image crisis, including dramatic weight loss, constant dieting, excessive exercising, social withdrawal, a fixation with food, change in appetite (refusing or bingeing) and insomnia.
Help you daughter navigate the media. The media plays a key role in the objectification of women. Pay attention to what your daughter reads, watches and listens to. There are some recommended resources in The Butterfly Effect.

Encourage your daughter to appreciate her body. Women's bodies are amazing. Instead of critiquing yourself, focus on the positive aspects and give them a new emphasis.
Start a detox diary together (contrary to popular belief the body is not toxic, but the mind may be) where you both can celebrate what you like about your bodies with quotes, photos, affirmations and cut-outs of positive role models. "Girls love that," Miller says.
Remind your daughter to see herself as a whole person. We are more than just our breasts, our butts and our thighs. When we see ourselves as just bodies we forget that we are somebodies.
Ask your daughter to use affirmations and repeat them every day, such as, "I am more than my body. I am my heart, soul and mind. My body is strong, unique and beautiful."

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