Helping Our Girls Develop a Positive Body Image

Young girls get bombarded with media messages that can make it hard for them to feel good about their appearance. Here are some practical ways to help young girls develop healthy self-esteem about her appearance.

Girls as young as 8 – 10 are now worrying about their weight, their body shape, and what they wear at a higher level than ever before. Competition among young girls to attract attention from the opposite sex is happening at a younger age – a time when they should not be worried about it.

If the young girl in your life is your daughter, it’s an additional opportunity to break the cycle of lower self-esteem and self-confidence that can develop by the time they are reaching the age of 10 – and to give them tools to help keep them emotionally and mentally healthy regarding their visual image.

Managing Potentially Contradictory Media Messages

  1. Establish limits. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends limiting TV time to two hours a day or less. Be selective about the shows your family watches, instead of leaving the set on all the time. You’ll reduce some of the media influences on your kids and free up time for more productive activities.
  2. Discuss media portrayals of women. Watch TV with your kids. Talk about whether your favorite actress represents a realistic image of female beauty. Compare celebrities who look natural with those who’ve had radical cosmetic surgery.

  3. Present diverse images of beauty. Not all beautiful women are thin, white, and blonde. Rent a diverse batch of movies to show your kids different perspectives from other ethnic groups and cultures. Check out paintings online by artists like Reubens and Courbet,  who preferred full figure models, the recently-deceased Annie Lee, whose portraits of African-American women are widely celebrated and displayed.
  4. Encourage your daughter’s (or another young girl’s if you don’t have a daughter) interest in a wide range of subjects. Help her supplement her interests in fashion and beauty with additional academic and cultural activities. Music lessons or foreign language classes will enrich her life and let her feel more accomplished.

Clothing & Wardrobe Guidelines

  1. Avoid overly mature and overly sexy apparel for young children. Steer clear of racy clothing being marketed for children and pre-teens. Let your daughter enjoy her youth free from preying eyes and the pressure to grow up too soon.
  2. Enforce dress codes for teens. It’s natural for teens to want to dress like their peers, but parents, caregivers and influential adults can still provide guidelines on what’s acceptable. Keep your discussions respectful while clarifying the difference between positive and negative attention.

  3. Shop for clothes that flatter your daughter’s best features. Applaud your daughter’s efforts to find her own personal style. Help her select outfits that work with her ‘right-now’ body type, and discourage unhealthy attempts to lose weight simply to fit into a specific outfit or garment. Use color to help draw attention to her face instead of putting the focus on her body too soon.

  4. Talk with your daughter about buying her first bra. The first bra is a milestone in every girl’s life. If she’s uncomfortable mentioning it, be ready to bring the subject up yourself whenever her body begins to develop. Your openness can help her adjust to her changing body.

Additional Suggestions for Boosting Girls’ Self-Esteem and Self-Confidence

  1. Support your daughter in maintaining a healthy,strong body. Approach any weight issues with great sensitivity. Let your daughter know that her health and well being is your top priority. Volunteer to join her if she wants to join a gym, or find strength- and stamina-building activities you can do together.
  2. Compliment her inner qualities. Girls can feel pressured to value themselves based mainly on their appearance. Help her find more balance by focusing on her internal strengths, from being a good friend to mastering algebra.

  3. Monitor her participation in sports. Sports are often a constructive outlet but play it safe. Ensure coaches stress positive messages. Your daughter needs to enjoy herself without any excessive demands, pressure or abuse.
  1. Demonstrate a positive attitude towards all women. Your efforts to help your daughter will be more effective and credible if you have a respectful outlook concerning women in general. Try to avoid making disparaging remarks about family members or celebrities. Even if your comment seems trivial, teens and pre-teens can be very sensitive to the attitudes of their parents.
  1. Seek professional help. Most girls learn to accept their maturing bodies, but serious issues may require professional counseling. If your daughter shows signs of an eating disorder, consult your family physician or a counselor who specializes in working with children and adolescents. Help is also available via the ‘How to Love Your Reflection’ program on my website at

With your guidance and support, your daughter can develop healthy self-esteem and learn to love the way she looks. Keep the lines of communication open and focus on her inner beauty.