My daughter has a friend who constantly makes critical comments about her looks (i.e. your eyes are too big and look creepy, your hair so thin, etc). How can I teach her to not internalize these comments? I’ve noticed that she’s recently become more concerned with her appearance and I’m worried about the negative impact this could have.
Yikes, this is a tough situation. Since I don’t know much about their friendship, my first recommendation is to help your daughter examine whether or not this “friend” is a real friend. Rachel Simmons has an excellent video titled: My Daughter’s Friend is Toxic, Help! The article below the video offers sound advice for helping her navigate complicated friendships and how to talk to her about them.
Next, regarding the growing concerns regarding her appearance, talk to her. When you notice this behavior, question it. For example, let’s say your daughter is staring in the mirror one morning and exclaims,
“My eyes are enormous!”
Instead of responding with, “They are not, that’s just what Maria told you and she’s wrong” (or something of the sorts) – ask her “Hmmm, what makes you think that?” Or,
“It’s upsetting to hear you say negative things about your body/looks, where is that coming from?”
Listen to her response and help her to dig underneath the surface. The surface would be, “My eyes are big, that’s what makes me think that.” Underneath would be, “Maria said they were and now the whole class makes fun of me; it hurt my feelings.” Get to the root of the issue if possible.
If you have a similar story about growing up and feeling badly about your looks, tell her. But also tell her how you overcame it. If her feelings are rooted in other people’s negative comments, empower her to stand up for herself. A great place to start is:
“It’s not OK for you to make comments about how I look, please stop”
Simple to teach, unbelievably difficult to do, I know.
Finally, your daughter is growing into that stage where looks do become more important to many girls (and boys…). You can help her not internalize these messages by teaching her to think about what her body does, and not just what it looks like. Her eyes help her see. Her legs make it possible to walk. Her fingers will one day help her send 1,000 text messages a day. Her laugh is contagious. And so on. It’s a tough concept and certainly not a cure all, but I think sometimes a gentle reminder of how intricate and magnificent our bodies truly are can be helpful. Even for adults!
Best wishes and many thanks for reaching out!
Dr. Julia V. Taylor is a Counselor Educator at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, VA. She is author of The Body Image Workbook for Teens, The Bullying Workbook for Teens, Salvaging Sisterhood, G.I.R.L.S: Group Counseling Activities for Enhancing Social and Emotional Development, and a children’s book, Perfectly You. She can be reached at www.juliavtaylor.com