Beach Body Image Lesson: ‘Mom, Do I Look Fat in This Bathing Suit?’

 

For many women, bathing suit shopping is about as fun as a trip to the dentist — on a day we’re getting a filling. We pine for our pre-baby body, the younger us who didn’t view skirted suits as a public service. But what do you do when your tween or teen doesn’t want to swim because she “looks fat” in her bathing suit?

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“We want our girls to feel comfortable in their bodies,” says KnowMoreTV child/teen development specialist Robyn Silverman, Ph.D., author of Good Girls Don’t Get Fat: How Weight Obsession Is Messing Up Our Girls & How We Can Help Them Thrive Despite It.

The reality is often very different. “Ninety-six percent of girls ages 16 to 21 want to change something about their bodies,” says Dr. Silverman. Think your daughter is too young for all that? Think again. “Elementary school kids are already dieting and comparing themselves with other kids.”

What can we do as parents to raise girls who buck the trend? Dr. Silverman has these tips:

  • Find out where her feelings are coming from. Did a peer say something critical to her? Did she hear a friend complain about her body and decide to echo her? Did you say something negative about your body?

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  • Set a good example. If your daughter hears you complaining about your own body, that sends the wrong message. And it’s not just what you say but what you do that matters. Are you looking in the mirror and slapping your stomach saying, “Oh, I shouldn’t have eaten that”? If so, it’s time to stop.
  • Make your home a safe haven. That means one free of “fat talk.” Control your own talk, and don’t allow other adults who come into your home to make “fat” references either.
  • Teach your daughter to be media savvy. It’s no secret that the media loves thin. “Think about the magazines and TV shows your daughter’s exposed to. Ask yourself what’s coming into your house that‘s sending a message that ‘you’re not good enough,’” says Dr. Silverman. And have a frank talk about advertising. “Tell her there are adults in this world who want you to feel bad about yourself so you will buy things. When they understand that, they rise up and say ‘I’m too smart for that.’”
  • Explain that bodies change. Help girls understand that they’re going to grow every year, that it’s normal for them to gain 20 to 25 pounds during puberty. “No one tells them that,” says Dr. Silverman. Explain to them, she says, “This it totally normal and natural; it happened to me, it will happen to all of your friends at different times.” Especially when their bodies are changing, girls—and boys—need to understand that no one body is the right kind. And the body they have today might change tomorrow.
  • Make it about health, not weight. “How you define health is really important,” says Dr. Silverman. Focus on eating nutritious foods, not on dieting. Explain the importance of drinking enough water, getting enough sleep, getting at least an hour of moderate exercise each day, and blowing off stress in productive ways. “If you’re doing all these things, then wherever your body falls in terms of weight is where it’s supposed to be.” Tell your daughter, “We’ve striving for health in our family, not thinness.”

And in that moment when she makes with a cringe-worthy comment about her weight or size? Steal this line from Dr. Silverman: “You have a beautiful body that I love because it does incredible things. But”—because let’s face it, sometimes it really is about the clothes, not us—“if this bathing suit makes you feel bad, let’s choose a different one.”

Then go out and enjoy the water together!

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Marianne Wait is a writer, editor and book developer who specializes in health. Follow her on Twitter @MarianneWait.

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