Talking To Teen Girls About Dieting And Body Image

Body image is a tricky subject to broach with teenagers. Not only because it is likely to be met with groans of 'you just don't understand...', but also because it can stir up your own insecurities about the way you look.

Eminent psychotherapist Susie Orbach wants to help mums find ways of talking openly with their daughters about body image and self-esteem.

Orbach's work has often centered on self-image and food disorders. She became a household name in the 90s when Princess Diana famously sought her help while battling an eating disorder.

Will my teenage daughter pick up on my own insecurities about my body?

'We all have bad hair and bad body days, so let's focus on what you can stop doing in front of her (and hopefully stop altogether)," says Orbach.

"When your daughter's within earshot don't: look in the mirror and sigh about how awful you feel'; complain about your 'floppy' bits or say 'I shouldn't be eating this because I don't want to put on weight.'"

My daughter is always comparing herself to her friends. She's really beautiful to me and I know she's as least as attractive as her friends, but she doesn't see that.

"Try greeting your daughter and her friends with a sentence that goes something like...

'My goodness, you three girls are all such beauties!'" Orbach advises.

"When you are then alone with her you can talk about how lovely she and her friends are and how appealing their different physicality is.

"If she responds by saying 'You're wrong, Mum, I feel ugly,' you could walk her to the mirror and show her how you see her. This could open up a conversation about how you see things for girls her age and how awful it is for them to have so much pressure on them to look just one way rather than celebrate their variety."

My daughter wants to go from one 'diet' to another, and sometimes I struggle to get her to eat enough.

"So many teens have become frightened of food as though it is an enemy they have to stave off or even a drug they should be frightened of," says Orbach.

"If your daughter is doing this it is worth telling her that there is nothing so tempting as a food that is off limits. Making all foods allowable and moving away from the idea of good foods and bad foods, makes it easier to make wise choices.

"It really is worrying when you see your daughter's eating or not eating has little to do with hunger and fullness and everything to do with invented rules she reads about in magazines or has exchanged with her friends.

"Your daughter might not realise that our bodies are designed to cope with occasional famine and that if we eat too little continually (through dieting), we don't end up losing weight so much as we end up slowing down our metabolism because our body thinks it is in a famine state and conserves the food super efficiently.

"If you can model eating behaviour yourself that restores the idea of appetite and fullness rather than dieting and bingeing, your daughter will have something more sustainable to draw on."

My daughter is really influenced in how she thinks about herself by the images of perfection she sees in the media and the celebrities she looks up to – how do I help her keep a healthy attitude?

"Try laughing with her about how amazing it is that so many people's energy," says Orbach. "Stylists, hairdressers, make-up artists, photographers, lighting technicians, dressmakers and fashion designers –goes into creating that look and how maintaining the look is a full time job.

"Get her to laugh with you about what fashions are considered essential this season and how we now all hate what was so in last year. This might help her see style as fun rather than essential to well-being.

"It might also be helpful to talk about how we seem to like just one body type and how you would love to see a celebrity who has a really different body type and who is not 100Slideshow-84733%