Photo by Alonso Reyes on Unsplash
Photo by Alonso Reyes on Unsplash

Developing A Healthy Body Image


I’m concerned that my daughter has a negative body image and that it’s having a negative impact on her relationships and her school performance.  How can I know of that’s a problem and if so how can I help her build a positive body image?


If you daughter is often critical about specific parts of her body (i.e. my hips are too big, my nose is funny, my hair never looks right), if she wears baggy, concealing clothing, if she avoids dressing for gym because she doesn’t like how she looks in gym clothes, if when she admires friends she emphasizes their body or their looks, if she has wanted to miss school because of how bad her hair looks or concerns with her complexion or if she frequently compares her body to the models in magazines or to her friends then she is probably struggling with her body image.

While this can be a problem for boys and girls it is a much more significant problem for girls.  The great news is that you are the perfect person to help. In 2008 the Dove Self-Esteem research showed that moms play a major role in their daughters body image. In this study 67 percent of girls from 13 to 17 and 91 percent of girls from 8 to 12 turned to their moms when they were feeling bad about themselves.

So what can you do?  First of all listen to her, be empathetic and try to see things through her eyes.  If she doesn’t believe you are trying to understand she’ll be much less likely to accept any help.  Let her know that you and her dad have been and will continue to pray for her about this concern and that you take it seriously.

Watch what you say about your own body or the bodies of other women.  Avoid judgmental labels like fat and ugly.  Help her focus on what she can change rather than what she can’t change.  On what she can do rather than what she can’t do.  On her abilities and personality rather than her physical appearance.

Help her understand that there is no one “perfect” body image and that her body will continue to change and grow.  Encourage her to exercise regularly, eat well and get good amounts of sleep—to care for and nurture the body she does have.  Praise her achievements and encourage her uniqueness.

All of the moms I interviewed for this question told me that over time they were able to help their daughters (and in some cases themselves) see that there is absolutely no causal correlation between physical beauty, happiness and success—it’s a myth.  Think of the women you admire and respect the most, the ones who have had the greatest impact on your life.  From a purely physical perspective they weren’t the most “beautiful” people in the world.  In fact, many of the most beautiful “stars” have had lives filled with tragedy and heartache.

Whenever a mom or dad has a daughter struggling with a negative body image it’s important to be aware of the warning signs for an eating disorder like anorexia or bulimia.  Early warning signs of anorexia can include losing a lot weight, saying that she “feels fat,” denying that she is hungry or exercising excessively.  Early signs of bulimia include using laxatives, withdrawal from normal social activities, finding reasons to go to the bathroom immediately after meals and eating large amounts of food without any weight gain.  If you suspect either one of these I’d encourage you to talk to your physician.

Helping her change her body image will take some time but if you are consistent and persistent you’ll begin to see a daughter who understands that she was made in God’s image and sees and values herself in terms of who God made her to be rather than what the magazines say she should be.

Gary J. Oliver, ThM, PhD
Executive Director at Center for Healthy Relationships | + posts

Dr. Oliver is the Executive Director of The Center for Healthy Relationships, and professor of Psychology and Practical Theology at John Brown University.  He has authored over 20 books and more than 350 professional and popular articles.  Dr. Oliver has over 40 years’ experience as a Clinical Psychologist, Marriage  & Family Therapist and Spiritual Director.  He leads seminars & workshops both nationally and internationally on a variety of counseling-related issues, healthy relationships as well as Emotional & Relational Intelligence (ERI).

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