Lisa couldn’t wait for summer to arrive. The school year was so stressful, what with studying for the SAT’s, papers due for her honor classes and obsessing about college applications.
“I love summer,” she said dreamily. “Going to movies, reading what I want to read, sleeping late, and hanging with my friends at the beach.”
However, when the first weekend of summer arrived, Lisa was anything but happy. Instead, she couldn’t stop obsessing about how she looked and how she had “nothing to wear.”
“Everything makes me look fat,” she screamed, as she tried on one bathing suit after the other. “And these jeans–I can’t breathe when I put them on.”
“Honey, calm down,” said her mom. “You’ve got a lovely figure. I’d kill to have a body like yours. But if you’re so upset about your stomach, then lay off the ice cream and the junk food. I’ve told you many times they don’t help.”
“Get out of my room.” Lisa shrieked, as she slammed the door. “I hate you.”
The next day, Lisa calmed down. After she apologized for her behavior, her mom consented to a shopping spree. Though Lisa found new clothes to buy, it did nothing to alleviate her feelings about her body.
It was summer time and the livin’ was supposed to be easy. Yet, Lisa and her mom were arguing constantly, one of them always blaming the other for something. Neither one seemed to ever have a kind word for the other.
Lisa’s mom was understandably distressed. “Why,” she asked me, “is she so endlessly preoccupied with her body, making every little fault a huge imperfection that is so unacceptable? I wish I looked like her. Why can’t she see how pretty she is?”
Many adolescent girls, like Lisa, do have trouble feeling good about themselves and their bodies. As they compare themselves to the latest cover girl, they conclude that much is wrong with them.
Many mothers, like Lisa’s, try to bolster their daughter’s self-esteem by telling them how pretty they are. But, they also suggest how they could improve their looks if they cut their hair, lost some weight, cleared up their skin, stood up tall. Their daughters invariably ignore the first part of the message and hear only the criticism. “Oh my God,” they think, “even my own mother believes I’m hopelessly flawed.”
Of course, if you’re a mother who is also dissatisfied with your body, frequently griping because of your not-so-flat tummy, your too large breasts, your thunder thighs or your imperfect skin, how in the world are you going to teach your daughter to be pleased with her body?
Yes, I know, you want her to “follow what you say, not what you do.” However, it simply doesn’t work that way.
It’s tough to help a sulky, snarky teen daughter who hates how she looks. Though you want to “undo” what she is doing to herself, you can’t. That is, you can’t until she’s ready to hear you.
So, what can you do to get her from where she is to where you’d like her to be? Here are my suggestions, offered with the stipulation that nothing may work right away. So, cultivate patience.
- Avoid direct confrontation (i.e. you are pretty; no I’m not)
- Instead, offer her sincere compliments about a specific look (“those jeans look great on you”);
- Make sure your compliments have no ‘ifs, ands or buts’ attached to them;
- Compliment all her positive qualities, not just the way she looks;
- Be a good role model by accepting and appreciating your own body, flaws and all.