A Message to Parents with Daughters

This is from my “other” blog. I wanted to share it again because I’ve heard lots of stories about parents who are hyper-critical of their daughters’ appearance. While these parents may be well-intentioned, they say the road to Hell is paved with good intentions. In these cases, I’m afraid the road to rehab may be paved with good intentions…

As a parent of a teenage girl, I get to witness a lot of teen girl behavior. Sometimes it’s amusing, sometimes it’s sad and frightening. Much of the “sad and frightening” part revolves around body image issues and obsession with appearance. Young, thin, beautiful girls don’t feel that way because of the images and messages they’re bombarded with constantly. It’s absolutely heart-breaking. So, here are my thoughts on the issue:

Fake ≠ Beautiful: Almost all magazines use makeup and lighting tricks – as well as Photoshop – to get the desired “look”. This means models appear to have flawless skin, perfectly contoured bodies, and gorgeous hair. Nobody looks that great in real life. Girls may know this, but probably need to be reminded (especially if they’re depressed about not looking as beautiful as what’s-her-name on the magazine cover).

Unrealistic Beauty Goals: Celebrities and models get plastic surgery and other cosmetic procedures about as often as I go to a movie. Girls (and even adults) aspire to look like their favorite celebrity, without realizing that person hasn’t aged because they got Botox, they have great hair because they got extensions, and they have perfect teeth because they’re porcelain veneers. Pointing out that people in Hollywood get this kind of work done regularly helps her understand what’s a realistic goal and what’s not.

You Can Buy Boobs, You Can’t Buy Brains: This is one of my catch phrases. I use it regularly to remind people that a bimbo with Double D’s is still a bimbo. If you’re going to already have one, it’s better to have brains (even if you want to buy the other things later!)

Find What Works:  If your daughter has body image issues, help her find clothes that hide the things she hates and accentuate the things she likes.  It’s a harsh reality, but not everything that’s in style looks good on everyone.  I have weird-shaped calves.  I would never look good in skinny jeans (even if I were skinny!)  People who don’t have a very defined waist and/or have what I call “Female Love Handles” (extra padding on the top of hips) shouldn’t go with the belt-over-fitted-shirt look.  Learning to dress for your body shape is one of the best ways to feel good about how you look.

Confidence: The Most Attractive Quality: I’ve often said that confidence can make a less attractive person more attractive. Confidence can be hard to develop. The easiest thing to do is advice I’ve given to teenage girls: Fake It ‘Til You Feel It. You’d be surprised how well it works. Learning how to fake confidence actually trains you how to be more confident.

Focus on the Positive: Teach your daughter to find things she loves about herself. It’s easy to be critical and forget that there are good things about your body. Also, teach her that having good personality traits is more important than having good hair, skin, or whatever. A beautiful person with an ugly personality is a way less desirable person to be around. Teaching your daughter to love herself for who she is – not just how she looks – may be the most important thing you can do as a parent.

Put it Into Practice – A Simple Exercise: As my daughter approached her teen years, we started “Love Me Mondays”. Every Monday night before bed, I’d tell her something I loved about her (important: not just physical things) and I’d have her say something she loves about herself. Giving (sometimes forcing) an opportunity to focus on positive things helped her remember there are plenty of things to love. While “Love Me Mondays” have gone by the wayside, I still try to find opportunities to tell her about the things that make her special.

Banish “Mean Girl” Behavior: Teach your daughter that being a “mean girl” isn’t attractive. Even if that kind of behavior is prevalent in the “in crowd”, nobody likes to be made fun of and EVERYone has something they don’t like about themselves that could be singled out for bully behavior. Usually, people who go out of their way to make fun of other people have issues with feelings of insecurity/inadequacy that drive their nasty behavior. Make sure your daughter understands this and avoids forming friendships with girls who make being a “mean girl” their way of life. Teaching your daughter to accept people in all forms gives her an important life skill she can take into adulthood.

Learn to Laugh at Yourself: Having a good sense of humor helps you keep from being devastated at every potentially embarrassing event. If you can laugh at yourself, it takes the fun away from people who would make fun of you. That being said, a little self-deprecating humor goes a long way. Don’t let it get to the point of full-blown negativity.

In Conclusion: It’s hard being a girl. It’s hard even when you’re an adult. Teenagers have to deal with a lot of social pressure. Teaching your daughter to love herself and others without judgement helps her develop as an individual and sets her up for success in the future.

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