One of the most difficult issues facing our teen girls today is body image. The quest to achieve physical perfection drives people to do crazy things, and the obsession with image can undermine confidence, healthy relationships, and progression in even the best and brightest girls.

Issues regarding weight and self-image can be complicated. It’s hard to know what you can do to help instead of hurt. For example, is it healthy to tell your daughter over and over again that she’s beautiful? What if that leads her to think that beauty is all that matters? If you notice that your daughter is getting overweight and perhaps using food as a crutch, a drug, or a way to hide, should you say something? What can you say that won’t just make things worse?

Every person is different, of course, and depending on your daughter’s circumstances, your relationship, and the issue at hand, your game plan will be different. However, in any case, here are some tips that you should start with:

Demonstrate healthy habits and healthy self-image yourself

The most important thing to start with, if you’re a parent wondering how to help a daughter with her self-image, is yourself. Your teen will learn much more from what you do than what you say. It’s important to note, however, that “healthy habits” won’t look like crash-dieting, obsessively checking your size, or being emotionally dependent on the gym. You can have a healthy body and still have a very unhealthy perception of body image.

Ask yourself these questions:

  • What do you comment on about yourself? How often do you criticize or praise your own appearance?
  • What do you comment on about other people? How important do you judge their looks to be? Do you often point out physical, cosmetic things about other people and judge them based on it?
  • Do you use food as a crutch, a comfort, or a shield? How often do you hide what you eat or don’t eat?

Be grateful for what your body can do

We can get caught up in comparing our bodies to airbrushed models of perfection in magazines, but we forget to contrast our bodies with those who are less fortunate than us. Consider the trials of someone, for example, who can’t sleep through the night because of age-related illness; of someone who has been wheelchair-bound their entire life, of someone who can’t play sports or enjoy outdoor activities. This can significantly shift our thinking, from being critical of what our body isn’t, into being grateful for what it is. Instead of focusing on what our bodies look like, it’s helpful to focus on what they can do. When you really think about it, you’ll find yourself amazed at what a miracle the human body is. Can you inspire that same feeling in your daughter?

Encourage healthy activity

Speaking of focusing on function over aesthetics, healthy activity can remind us what our bodies are made for. Being involved in sports is a great way to improve self-confidence in children and teens. When we’re active, we learn to view food as fuel for our activities, rather than an indulgence or a punishment.

Always remind her you love her just as she is

It’s difficult when you see the potential of your daughter, and see her choosing not to fulfill that in the best way. However, as parents, our primary job is first and foremost, to love our children absolutely. If they can rely on that as a touchstone, they’ll always come back to it, even if your relationship goes through rocky periods. Acknowledge that she might need to go through some things before she really learns to love herself and to have a healthy view of herself. But in the meantime, you’ll always love and accept her without conditions or reservations.