Helping Your Daughter to Have a Healthy Body Image

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What is body image?

Body image is the mental picture you have of your body, along with your feelings, thoughts, and judgments about your body.

What does it mean to have a negative body image?

This means not liking your body, your weight or specific body parts. It may also include disliking your hair, skin colour, or facial features. It is very common for women and girls in Canada to have some degree of body image dissatisfaction.

Some of the things that may negatively affect a child's body image are:

  • influence of media and popular culture;
  • experiences of physical or sexual abuse;
  • a parent who is preoccupied with their weight and dieting;
  • being teased, bullied or harassed based on size, gender, skin colour or physical abilities;
  • physical changes in the body at different stages of life such as puberty and pregnancy; and
  • participation in activities where extreme thinness is promoted, such as dance, gymnastics and modeling.

Why is it important to have a healthy or positive body image?

When a girl or woman is comfortable with her body and her feelings towards herself are positive and self-confident, she has a healthy body image.

A girl with negative body image:

  • may have low self-esteem;
  • may be uncomfortable participating in physical activities;
  • is more likely to become preoccupied with her weight and dieting;
  • is at risk of developing an eating disorder such as anorexia or bulimia;
  • may lose interest in school; or
  • may harm herself with drugs, alcohol, unsafe tattooing or piercing, or unsafe sexual activity with multiple partners.

How can I help my daughter to have a healthy body image?

Although your daughter's body image will be affected by many influences, the family can play an important role in her relationship with food and with her body. Encourage the men in your household to read and talk about this important health issue. The following suggestions can be used with girls of all ages.

Here are some of the ways you can promote a healthy relationship with food:

  • Try not to use food as a reward or punishment.
  • Teach your daughter to listen to her body and to trust its messages. It is okay to eat if she is hungry, even if it is not a mealtime.
  • Help your children understand nutrition and the health benefits of various foods, instead of telling them a food is good or bad.
  • Provide opportunities for your child to make her own food choices.

Here are some of the ways you can promote a healthy body image:

  • Compliment your children often on their strengths, accomplishments and efforts, instead of focusing on weight, size or appearance.
  • Consider not having scales in the house and avoid commenting on your own weight concerns. Try not to use words like “fat,” “ugly,” or “disgusting” to describe yourself or others.
  • Initiate family activities that involve getting outside the house and being active.
  • Be a role model so your children can see that size or appearance doesn't limit your own activities.
  • Encourage your daughter to play sports and provide her with the proper equipment to do so. Show up at her games and express pride in her participation whether or not she is a skilled athlete.
  • Recognize that weight gain, like the development of breasts and hips, is a normal part of puberty and adolescence. Help your daughter to accept these changes.
  • Provide your children with age appropriate information about puberty, menstruation and sexual health.
  • Teach your children about diversity. Let them know that people come in a variety of heights, weights, sizes, skin colours, physical abilities and that those differences are what make them unique. Show respect for the work and accomplishments of women despite their size or other physical characteristics.
  • Listen to you daughter if she is experiencing teasing or bullying based on her gender, size, physical abilities or skin colour. Try to give her tools for dealing with the situation or contact a local program that deals with bullying.
  • Make the time to talk to your daughter about what is going on in her life. Try to create a home environment where she will feel safe to talk to you about any concerns she has about her body.

Where can I go for more information?

Revised April 2013.