Help Your Tween or Teen Daughter With Body-Image Issues

Mom, you are your daughter’s biggest role model.


Photo of by Di Studio/Shutterstock

Q: My daughter is 14 and constantly talks about being fat, although she is definitely not. What's the best way to respond?  

A: In a culture saturated with digitally altered images on social media, raising girls with high self-esteem can be daunting. But as parents, you have a great deal of influence starting with comments about how you view yourself. For example: You glance into a mirror and say, “Do these jeans make me look fat because I had pizza?” There is an underlying message about food and self as either good or bad. And think about who is listening and watching.

A recent Dove survey of 2,000 moms found that girls as young as 7 mimic their mom’s behaviors, such as sucking in their stomach or describing themselves as fat. And according to a survey of 13- to 18-year-olds by Keds and Girls Leadership, 48 percent turn to their mother for support when they have a problem. Girls may get into the mix with their friends during the day, but mom is their safe haven. Chances are you’re everything to your daughter, including her biggest role model. 

Teenage girls start comparing body types as social influence runs wild in schools, sports and the community. When praising your child, direct your praise away from appearance and more on what she does well with her world. Balance compliments about appearance with compliments about who she is as a person and how that impacts other people. Challenge yourself to match every compliment you give about your daughter’s appearance with at least two about something nonappearance based.  

While watching TV or looking at a magazine, talk with her about what she sees and how that affects her view on her body image. Awareness is key when helping her develop a critical eye and learn to filter media messages that are unrealistic. If you have a tween or teenager, then you know the constant demand of being on social media. Don’t be afraid to enter her world by asking questions and showing interest in what she is being exposed to develop sense of self with her passions and interests. If she can communicate to you about what she likes and enjoys, then she is building confidence and developing a strong sense of self, which makes it easier to navigate adolescence.

Praise her imperfections. You might be surprised to learn that letting your daughter mess up is one of the best ways to build her confidence. The theory: Girls are inadvertently groomed to become perfectionists by being praised for “good girl” behavior, so they quickly learn that making mistakes means “not good enough.” This becomes problematic because researchers have found that it’s the very process of taking risks and messing up that builds confidence, explains Katty Kay, coauthor of “The Confidence Code.” “We tend to make our kids’ lives easy by doing things for them because we’re so desperate for them to succeed. But then when you tell a child she can do anything, she has no evidence to support that because she hasn’t had to work hard at anything,” says Kay. Show your daughter that mistakes are a normal part of life. And as cliché as it may sound, for all the challenges a girl may face, there is nothing more grounding or powerful than your unconditional love.


Hannah Coble is a licensed clinical social worker at Cone Health Behavioral Health Hospital with a background in behavioral health and outpatient therapy. Submit your questions to "Is My Kid OK?" by emailing


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