Healthy body image: Tips for guiding girls

A healthy body image is an important part of a growing girl's self-esteem. Understand what you can do to help your daughter feel comfortable with her body.

By Mayo Clinic Staff

Girls often face significant pressure to look attractive. The quest for a perfect body or appearance can take a heavy toll, though. Find out what you can do to help your daughter develop and maintain a healthy body image and self-esteem.

Causes of a negative body image

Maintaining a healthy body image during adolescence, a period of major physical and emotional changes, can be difficult. Factors that might harm a girl's body image include:

  • Natural weight gain and other changes caused by puberty
  • Peer pressure to look a certain way
  • Media images that promote the ideal female body as thin
  • Having a mother who's overly concerned about her own weight or her daughter's weight or appearance

Research suggests that seeing material that sexually objectifies girls — where a girl is seen as a thing for others' sexual use rather than an independent, thinking person — can also have a harmful effect.

Consequences of a negative body image

Body image can affect how a girl feels about herself. If your daughter doesn't live up to her ideal body image, she might begin to feel inadequate and ashamed of her body. This can increase the risk of low self-esteem, depression and eating disorders.

A negative body image can harm girls' nutrition, causing them to skip meals or take diet pills. Some girls might try to control their weight by smoking or change their appearance by buying beauty products or getting cosmetic surgery. Having a negative body image might affect a girl's comfort with her sexuality or reproductive body functions, such as menstruation or breast-feeding, as she gets older.

Spending time worrying about their bodies and how they measure up can also take away from girls' ability to concentrate on other pursuits.

Aug. 11, 2015 See more In-depth