A mother can have a profound influence on her daughter’s perception of herself. A recent study shows that mothers who worry about dieting and staying thin pass those concerns on to their teenagers. This is where the dreaded bulimic tendencies can step in. Growing teens need sufficient food to help them nourish their bodies. A smart mother should be the one who encourages her kids to eat well and exercise rather than just cutting food and thus creating an aversion for food which in turn shows them the comfort zone – the toilet where their tryst with bulimia begins.
Nonetheless, frequent battles about weight, eating and exercise often leave mothers and daughters at odds with each other, complicating the struggle even more by causing communication to break down between them. Furthermore, although you may not realise it, many mothers have their own, unresolved issues about weight and body image that inadvertently interfere with their ability to help their daughters create a healthy sense of their own bodies.
Reflections of yourself
It is therefore crucial that you think about whether the messages you communicate are healthy or unhealthy. The following suggestions can help guide your way:
Don’t talk negatively about your own body. If your daughter hears you complain about the way you look, she will feel that it’s appropriate to dislike her own body as well, particularly if there is really nothing objectively wrong with your body.
Try not to lose or gain weight dramatically, and don’t utilise fad diets. The only way a teenage girl should achieve a healthy weight is by eating in a well-balanced, moderate and healthful manner. If you model drastic weight fluctuations and extreme diet your daughter will try this too.
Model healthy exercise behavioru. For some people, exercising is probably one of the toughest things for anyone to stick with, and for others it is difficult not to overdo it. But, healthy, moderate exercise is one of the most important assurances for a lifetime of good physical health. And when children observe regular exercising habits by their parents it is probably the best way to ensure that they will have a lifetime of physical fitness and activity.
Don’t try to conceal your body problems. If your daughter sees that you accept your body structure and that you are not trying to hide your true form from others, you send the message that you are not ashamed about your body, and that she doesn’t have to be ashamed about hers.
The real world
There are other factors that contribute to the way teenage girls view their own bodies -TV, magazines, friends and boys. It is important for you to be on the lookout for opportunities to discuss these issues and to support your daughter’s ability to sort out fantasy from reality.
Fantasy: You can and should diet or exercise your way to look like a model and you have failed somehow if you don’t make it.
Fact: Everyone is born with a different body. No one type is better or worse than another. Models have the type of genes that allow them to be very tall and thin. Very few people look like that.
Fantasy: TV stars naturally look fabulous.
Fact: TV stars spend hours a day getting their ‘look’ and they sacrifice a lot to get there. What’s more, very, very few actors actually ‘make it’. Most go on to do other things long before they get anywhere near prime time TV.
Fantasy: You have to look, dress, and eat like your friends or you’re not ‘cool’.
Fact: You have to take care of your body in a way that feels comfortable and flattering to you. Being healthy is ‘cool’ and having friends that accept you for who you are is the ultimate ‘cool’.
Create a bond, not a battle
Adolescence is often a very difficult time for mothers and daughters. It can be fraught with bickering, fighting and lack of understanding on both sides. And things typically only get worse when mums become anxious that their daughters are overweight or underweight. After all, as a mother you want the best for your daughter and it can be painful to watch her body change in a way that you feel is detrimental.
Below are some helpful tips that can reduce the fighting between you and your daughter and develop a more supportive and emotionally connected relationship. She may not end up with the body you want her to have, but she will have a mum that she can count on for emotional support and help when she needs it most.
Don’t criticise her clothes—even if you hate them!
For teenagers clothing is a reflection of self-expression. By being critical of it, you are directly insulting a core part of your daughter. Even if she’s dressing to hide an overweight body, or to show it off, be gentle in the way you react to her clothes. Pick your battles carefully, asking yourself if it’s really essential that you express an opinion. Sometimes, if you give leeway to (or even support) fashions with which you don’t agree, your daughter will agree to dress the way you want for a family function, or other occasion that’s important to you.
Don’t be the food police.
If your daughter feels that you are watching everything she eats she will start to eat secretively (closet eating) which can quickly become part of an eating disorder. Avoid counting her calories, monitoring the number of helpings she takes or commenting on her eating habits. In general, don’t nag or criticise! Rather, provide healthy foods, limit the amount of junk food available at home and model good eating habits yourself.
Encourage exercise of all kinds.
Exercise can occur in many forms. Some teens are naturally athletic and very active in sports and exercise. However, many girls are more interested in non-athletic activities and will not get enough exercise. But with some thought and innovation you can help your daughter become more active without her even realizing it.
Examine family eating habits.
Take a good look in your refrigerator. It is unfair to expect your daughter to be able to eat healthily if the food available and the family habits are unhealthy. Consider your supermarket shopping list and evaluate it critically. Are you giving your family and your daughter the best shot possible at healthy eating?
One of the most painful experiences that a child can have is when her mother compares her to a sibling, friend, cousin, or even to herself “when I was your age”. Drawing comparisons will shut down communication between you and your daughter, cause defensiveness and make her angry and resentful. Rather, speak to your daughter about herself, her body and her habits without involving using comparisons.
There is nothing wrong with wanting your child to be healthy, but even if your child is a little (or even a lot) overweight, you need to remember their mental health. Parents can make their children feel fat, disgusting and miserable, or they can make them feel loved, smart, cute, funny, etc. Instill this very important message to your kids.
Tell yourself over and over again that everyone is given only one chance at life. That means you can either enjoy it and be proud of being yourself or you can take other people’s remarks seriously and start believing that you don’t deserve a good life. It’s up to YOU, the one dealing with this disease; no-one else can do it for you. Remember, you only have one chance at life and you deserve to live it the way YOU want to. Be proud of your curves and roundness. Be proud of being natural, instead of trying to be someone on a magazine cover.
Try being someone that others envy as being the most naturally beautiful person they’ve ever seen!
Mothers who worry about dieting and staying thin pass those concerns on to their teenagers. This is where the dreaded bulimic tendencies step in.