Discuss body-image issues with daughter



August 03, 2008|By HARRIETTE COLE

Dear Harriette My 9-year-old has already launched into the "I'm fat" routine, and I'm beside myself. She's such a beautiful girl, not overweight at all, but I listen when she talks to her friends and they are already complaining about their bodies.

I want to nip this in the bud now! How can I address this without alienating her and "making a big deal"?

Tamara, Sugar Land, Texas

Dear Tamara

You are right to be concerned and should definitely address body-image issues with your daughter now. You can take different approaches.

Engage your daughter in dialogue about what she doesn't like about her body. Stand in front of a mirror with her, both of you naked, and look at your bodies.

Be honest and tell her what you like and don't like about your body. Chances are you are a bit self-conscious about something.

At the same time, tell her how you work to accept and love the body you live in and how she can do the same. Pay attention to see if you speak negatively about your own body. Many women do so without realizing it.

Emphasize fitness for both of you - that a beautiful body is a strong, healthy body. Ask her what is making her feel self-conscious. Is she already developing? When hormones begin to rage, girls can easily start to feel uncomfortable in their skin.

Plus, our society encourages extreme thinness, even as obesity is on the rise. It's hard to be able to point to what a healthy body actually is. One way you can show this to your daughter and her friends is by going to a museum and looking at classical sculptures and paintings through the ages.

Show them the range of images of women and girls, and what artists over time have considered beautiful - and how there isn't a single type of female that represents beauty. Show her full bellies and flat ones through art. Point out full breasts and smaller ones, full thighs and bottoms and thin ones. Introduce your daughter to the beauty of the woman's form with the help of the masters.

And continue to show her your evolving body, as you work with her to feel great about herself. Readers, I want to take this discussion a step further. Body image in young girls is threatened every day by the pictures we see in the media of what is beautiful. Too many of our daughters suffer from low self-esteem, in part because they don't recognize their own beauty.

We need to see the unique beauty in the people around us, especially our children. Please share any stories you have about how you have encouraged a young girl, or add to the discussion about challenges you or others have faced with self-esteem.

Life coach and author Harriette Cole is the creative director of Ebony magazine. You can send questions to askharriette@


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