​​​​​​Jackie Grandy, Registered Social Worker and former Outreach & Education Coordinator at the National Eating Disorder Information Centre (NEDIC) at UHN, shares her insights on how parents can speak to their daughters on healthy body image.​​

With t​he amount of exposure children have to media images, Grandy offers six tips on how parents can respond to the body image debate. UHN's NEDIC program, a national helpline, education and outreach centre, provides additional information, including a free media literacy curriculum for grades four to eight on positive self and body image.

In facilitating discussion with parents on children's body image, I often introduce the "how to talk to your daughter about her body" debate.

A bl​og entitled "How to talk to your daughter about her body"​ encourages parents to help their children love life and focus on what their bodies can do for them and not how they look.

What to say to your children about body image and how to say it, remain active subjects of discussion on and offline. With the advent of 'mommy blogs', and online how-to parenting manuals, the pressure on parents to get it right has perhaps never been higher.

"Another major influence is social media," said Suzanne Phillips, Program Coordinator at the National Eating Disorder Information Centre (NEDIC), "The amount of exposure kids have to media images has an impact. This includes the importance of fitting the ideal."

Phillips points out that weight loss practices are often unconsciously supported by adult mentors. "My daughter dances, and I'll listen to the moms waiting while their kids are in dance class, discussing diets. Kids are hearing this as part of a normal day," said Phillips.  Poor self-image in youth can have dangerous results. More than once, the NEDIC team has received phone calls from teachers concerned about an "eating disorder epidemic" in their school. How can parents respond when the body image debate becomes an urgent reality? Here are a few steps to consider.

6 tips on promoting healthy body image​:

  1. Recognize that she is normal. One in four teen girls diet, many experiment with restricting or bingeing with food, but not all will develop an eating disorder.
  2. Help her learn to love mealtimes – involve her in grocery shopping and meal planning and let her cook a family dinner of her choice every week.
  3. Expose her to a variety of diverse body image role models. If you're commenting on people's appearance, shower compliments equally on women of different sizes.
  4. Teach critical engagement with media. Watch one of the Dove Self Esteem Fund videos with your daughter. Ask her what she sees her friends going through, how she wishes things were different, and what she likes about her own body.
  5. Have fun together. Choose a physical activity you both like, from playing with younger siblings in the park to tennis or yoga, and keep a weekly date.
  6. Try to avoid disparaging comments about your size, shape, and appearance. We often normalize negative body-image at home by modelling it unconsciously. So appreciate your body – or act the part well.

And what about beauty? "It's based on a lot more than a certain body size, hair colour, the shape of your nose," said Phillips. "There's more to it than that. It's how you act, how you feel, how you engage with others. What I hope for my daughter is that she embraces who she really is, and that she's able to determine what makes her special and unique. I hope most of that has nothing to do with how she looks."

Jackie Grandy is a Registered Social Worker and former Outreach & Education Coordinator at the National Eating Disorder Information Centre (NEDIC) at UHN.

NEDIC provides support, information and resources to Canadians through its national helpline, outreach and education programming, biannual conference, and Beyond Images, a free media literacy curriculum for grades 4 through 8. For more information, visit www.nedic.ca or follow NEDIC online through Twitter and Facebook.​

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