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"I Hate My Body": 7 powerful messages to give an adolescent who dislikes her appearance

Cleopatra admired varicose veins. Elizabethan beauties shaved their foreheads. In many developing nations, "fat" is considered fabulous.

Beauty ideals come and go, but American girls today probably face the toughest standard in history: bodily perfection.

The media barrage our daughters with the message that only the shapely and sleek can expect the good life. Adolescent girls are especially vulnerable to reacting to these impossible expectations with self-destructive behaviors. A recent national survey showed 13.3 percent of 9- to 16-year-olds showed symptoms of eating disorders.

When our 13-year-old screams, "I hate my body!"?and holds up Teen People magazine to show why?how can we help? By focusing her attention on both the rewards of a healthy lifestyle and contentment about physical appearance. Here are seven powerful messages she needs to hear:

1. "You are a work in progress." "The main message parents need to convey to their children at this age is 'You aren't finished yet'," explains Beth Quinn, a child and adolescent therapist. A child's growth and maturity are uneven?those awkward proportions, lingering baby fat and skin problems won't last forever.

2. "You inherited a general 'body profile'." Body size and shape are powerfully influenced by heredity. Eating and exercise habits aside, our kids are going to grow up pretty much as their dna dictates. A little healthy pride in our particular family look?and a determination to make the most of it?can do wonders for self-acceptance.

3. "You are a real person, not an advertising symbol." Does your daughter really think most girls look like models? Spend an afternoon people-watching with her at the mall.

4. "You are responsible for your choices about health, fitness and eating."DNA happens; what we do with it is a choice. During these years, parents become important role models: what we eat, how we exercise. What lifelong values do we promote?

5. "You have unique assets." We can remind our daughter often of her particular appeal?a dazzling smile, gorgeous eyes, a terrific head of hair. Rosalind Russell believes that "taking joy in life is a woman's best cosmetic".

6. "You are completely loved as you are." Nothing we can do will make God love us more than he already does (Eph. 3:17-19). Our homes can emphasize the same kind of love.

7. "You're at your loveliest when you strive for the beauty that lasts." The scriptural ideal of womanhood, described in Proverbs 31, never mentions perfect skin or measurements. To God, true beauty is "that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet [tranquil] spirit, which is of great worth in God's sight" (1 Pet. 3:4).

?Suzanne Woods Fisher
Mother of four and writer
Hong Kong

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