A Better Way To Look


Dear Moms and Dads,

Whether your daughter is nearing puberty or in the throes of adolescence, how she looks occupies much of her mind and activity.

  • Three changes of clothes before she even gets out of her room in the morning
  • Twenty minutes in front of the bathroom mirror
  • Shopping trips for that one "right" outfit that she has to have
  • Endless hours poring over fashion magazines and the latest tips on what will make her look "thinner, taller, leaner, sexier, older" become standard fare.

What happened to that girl who was strident and confident? Your daughter is trying to get used to a changing body, or wondering when it will change. She's experiencing the natural need to separate and to form an identity of her own. But, along the way, she is being bombarded with messages that are telling her, no matter how she looks, that she falls short of some unrealistic physical ideal. This is a challenging time for her and for you as well.

Young adolescent girls still look to their parents for guidance (although they will never admit it), assurance (what do you know?), and a model for being a healthy adult. Research shows that girls who feel their parents listen to them without judgment and guide them through a process of making their own decisions are better equipped to deal with the stressors of adolescence.

So as you provide that guidance, reassurance and modeling for your daughter, here are some tips to keep in mind:

  • Focus on Health, Not Appearance. Examine and if need be, modify your own attitudes and beliefs about food, weight, and body image. Base family food choices on what makes girls strong, not on calorie or fat content.
    By the way, girls gain an average of 40 lbs during puberty!
  • Help Your Daughter Know Her Body. There is a difference between eating because she's hungry and eating because she's bored or stressed. Teach her how to manage her emotions without food.
    By the way, journaling helps adolescents normalize feelings they would otherwise not express, enhancing self-knowledge.
  • Make Sense of the Media's Messages. Have discussions with your daughter about the unrealistic images she sees in the media and the glamorization of being excessively thin.
    By the way, ALL photos of fashion models and media stars are digitally changed to make them look thinner, taller, and flawless.
  • Give Your Daughter the Opportunity To Make Decisions. Letting her make age appropriate decisions will help her have a sense of mastery in her life and help her deal with the consequences of her decisions.
    By the way, when girls have the opportunity to make their own decisions, they are more apt to listen to their parents about the really important issues.

If you are a parent whose daughter is using the How I Look Journal, here are some additional thoughts:

  • Look through the Journal before she starts using it to get an idea of the issues and information she'll be learning and journaling about
  • Once your daughter has started using the journal, it is off limits to you. It's her private space to record personal feelings and ideas
  • Engage your daughter in general conversations about the topics she'll be reading about in the journal. She is more apt to discuss these issues with you if you start with "I'd love to hear what you think about..."
  • If your daughter has already started the How I Look Journal, these are some ideas for discussions:
    • Strengths, attributes and characteristics that make her uniquely her - celebrate them!
    • Stress (what are the stressors in each of your lives and how you handle them)
    • Family traits and body parts (Who inherited what from whom. This can be a very funny discussion)
    • Who are your female role models and why
    • What makes someone beautiful

More Parental Resources:

  • Books For Parents
    • Real Kids Come In All Sizes - Kathy Kater
    • You Have To Say I'm Pretty; You're My Mother - Stephanie Pierson
    • Daughters' Magazine - www.daughters.com
  • Eating Disorders information and referrals: http://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/
  • Books For Girls
    • The Care and Keeping of You The Body Book for Girls - Valorie Schaefer
    • Body Talk, The Straight Facts on Fitness, Nutrition and Feeling Great About Yourself! - Ann Douglas and Julie Douglas
    • All Made Up A Girl's Guide to Seeing Through Celebrity Hype... and Celebrating Real Beauty - Audrey Brashich
    • Girl's Guide to Becoming a Teen. Getting used to life in your changing body. - American Medical Association. Amy B. Middleman, MD, and Kate Gruenwald Pfeifer, LCSW

Sheila Dubin
Parenting Consultant