I am reading A LOT of posts and articles from women and girls who are currently struggling with their body image. I am also seeing more and more posts about women who struggled in the past and are now trying to help their own daughters navigate through life. I always have the same answer, here is part of it. I responded to an article with this comment;
I have always been VERY conversational with my kids. If they are too young to understand something, I honestly tell them “That is not something that is appropriate for us to discuss, when you are older, (or we are in private) I can tell you more about that.” As a result, my kids talk to me. They know they can count on me for honest answers to their questions. In the case of my almost 13 year old daughter, we are dealing with self image issues. She, like me, has a thick frame. She is gorgeous, and curvy, just like I was at her age (now I have a hypothyroidism and 4 kids which has led me to struggle with quite a bit of extra weight.) Which kills me since she still seems so young to me. She sees her frame as perfectly acceptable, but constantly nit-picks about a few small things. I always have the same answer. “You are beautiful, but MORE importantly you are smart, and kind, and always the first person to stand up for someone who is being mistreated. If you don’t like the way your abs (or whatever the focus of the day is) look then choose to eat as healthy as possible, and continue to exercise. Right now you are still young and your body is not a ‘finished product’ but now is the best time to live a healthy lifestyle and promise yourself that you will continue it.” I think that girls will always compare themselves to the “ideal.” In my house we have magazines and art, and classic books that paint the “ideal” as something more like a size 16 Marilyn Monroe, and classic renaissance women who had a maternal, beautiful, full-figure. It isn't perfect, but I want her to know that women are beautiful for lots of reasons, and in lots of ways. Size negative 2 and tan isn’t the only way to be “pretty.” We also spend some time looking at pictures of girls who have gone from hollywood thin to anorexic bone-bags. (Think Callista Flockhart and Nicole Richie.) We discuss how that is neither attractive nor healthy, and always keep the goal of health at the forefront of the conversation. As a result, my daughter has chosen to forgo the occasional soda and chooses juice, or water, plays several sports, and focuses on being strong instead of skinny. Her strength gives her confidence, and she knows that muscles are way prettier than stick figures.
I would like to add that one of the reasons kids are encouraged to play sports, have hobbies, and participate in other activities, is because they find a big-picture kind of self worth. If a child is skilled in art or music or chess etc, works hard for his/her grades and achieves goals, plays a sport and excels at it, and makes good quality friends because he/she knows how to be friend, then that child generally has a wide range of places to feel special and will tend to acknowledge their looks, but not obsess about them. If you feel good about yourself in a thousand ways, the self-doubt can't find room to grow.
I also know that if your family values you, your church community values you, your friends value you, and someone takes the time to let you know that Christ values you, YOU will value YOU. :)
I say this knowing that it is not a hard and fast fact for every child. Kids are different, and we all have struggles in life. I also know that lots of women have gone through this as teens and come out the other side just fine. An honest evaluation of your weaknesses is only an opening to improve, it is not a crisis. Until a child is choosing unhealthy behavior over an attitude of self-improvement, there is no need to worry. We can't make problems disappear for our children (nor should we) we can only be there to love them and encourage them through it. It is how they learn to navigate life.