Dear Dr. G.,
First, let me tell you that I am a real perfectionist. My 17-year-old daughter, on the other hand, is anything but. She is relaxed fun-loving, and free-spirited.
Here is my dilemma with this child. Obviously, since it is the summer she is showing off her body in all of her new bikinis. I have to tell you that these are beautiful bathing suits but she is too big for these suits. I sort of feel sorry for my daughter. I would be embarrassed to wear these skimpy suits at the beach at her weight. I believe that my daughter is about 5-10 pounds overweight for her height. She seems to think that she looks great.
I want to talk to my daughter about maybe wearing more modest bathing suits. What is stopping me, though, is that I don't want to say anything that will lead her to develop an eating disorder. I know that at least one of my daughter's friends has been treated for anorexia nervosa and I definitely don't want this for my daughter. On the other hand, I don't want my daughter to embarrass herself. I don't want the other kids to call her fat or to make fun of her. So far, though, this doesn't seem to be happening. Please, Dr. G. I heard you on the radio talking about teens and body image. Should I address this issue with my daughter or leave well enough alone?
An Embarrassed Mother
There are many things in life to be embarrassed about but to me it does not seem like you should be embarrassed by your daughter. In fact, perhaps you should instead feel grateful that she seems to have a healthy body image and a high level of body comfort rather than a negative body image that could lead her down the dreadful road to an eating disorder.
You state that you are a perfectionist. I am not clear what this means about how you feel about your own body but my guess is that you are likely self-critical. Please be careful not to make negative comments about your own body or your daughter's body. These types of comments can be extremely powerful. Your daughter,I am quite sure, is listening very carefully to what you are saying even though this may not appear to be the case. After all, you are her most important role model.
Consider yourself lucky that your teenager does not appear to be among the 8 out of 10 young women who report being unhappy with their bodies by the age of 17.
I suggest that instead of worrying about your daughter, an extra 5 or 10 pounds, and her bathing suits that you focus instead on issues unrelated to her body and appearance. Try talking to your daughter about the activities that she is involved in and her passions. Criticizing her body will lead to nothing good. I am quite sure of that.
My answer to your question of whether or not to address the weight and bathing suit issue is an emphatic NO.
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