Helping Daughters Navigate Body Image


 By Anjum Choudhry Nayyar

Copyright: 2014

Copyright: 2014

As a young girl growing up, I never felt that I was ever classified as, ‘beautiful’. My mom always told me how beautiful I was and I never felt the messaging I got was anything but appropriate. My mom did a great job in how she communicated her beliefs with me when it came to beauty.


When I was a teenager, I hated my eyebrows…they were thick and joined in the middle…boy, did I wish I lived in someone else’s body during that time.  After I was finally allowed to get them waxed or plucked years later, my focus then became, “I was ‘too white’ and I remember wanting to tan all the time because I didn’t look like my other friends when they got a tan, with that beautiful ‘tan’ colour.

So I spent hours outside in my backyard trying to get the ‘right colour.’ But when I got the tan, I hated the way I looked too! So dark! Tanning just didn’t work the same way with my South Asian skin.


I think the messaging we get from movies, Bollywood movies, what our parents look like, or what others say to us can hold an even bigger impact than what our parents say to us sometimes. So I think  when it comes to body image, we as parents need to give our daughters (and sons for that matter) the tools to think critically about the way media or pop culture portrays women and their bodies. It’s one thing for us to tell them, ‘you’re beautiful’ but it’s another to ask them to really think about what they are seeing as ‘the perfect body’ on film or TV. I don’t think keeping young girls away from TV or Barbies is necessarily the best solution.


Because they still have to grow up and navigate that culture and those images and determine for themselves what they think is ‘healthy’. As the mother of a young girl, I hope to find a way to help my daughter think critically about what she sees and what others do around her. One of the things I think parents can do is ensure their kids know that :” If your girl body image feels inferior, then others will see you that way. It’s imperative we start having the dialogue about positive body image sooner rather than later. According to beinggirl.comAlthough almost 80% of the teenage girls studied in a recent survey fall within the healthy weight range, less than 50% saw their weight as “about right.”


The proportion who wanted to lose weight increased from 69% in 7th grade to 82% in 12th gradeincluding 49% of underweight girls. In another study, more than 30% of nine-year-old girls expressed fear of fatness, increasing in age to over 80% among 18-year-olds. More than the dark, more than mice and snakes and scary movies, what most teenage girls fear is growing fat.

My mom and I

My mom and I

And how do you deal with all those magazine covers and celebrity look in media? I think it’s important for mothers to first help their daughters take stock of their personal body image first. Help them appreciate what they see in the mirror.

Be aware of the messages or language they might hear from elders or other South Asian family members who maybe don’t realize what they may be saying such as:


1) You shouldn’t go out in the sun too much, you’ll get dark. Who will marry you then?

2) Don’t eat so much sweets, you’ll get fat.

3) She’s so fair, you should look more like that.


Some of the topics your daughter may be talking already around her own body image can be found on the site and may help you start the dialogue with your daughter. Here are a few tips for girls that you can start talking to your teen about to help get her talking about a positive body image:

Learn to Love Yourself

Embrace and love your body. It’s what makes you amazingly you. It is easy to unravel insecurities if you are picking out the little things about your body you don’t like. The thing is, all those small things make up who you are, and you should be proud of that! Take a look at the big picture and realize that you are one of a kind.


Work on Positive Affirmations

If you are ever feeling down, the best thing you can do is look in the mirror and say to yourself, “I am beautiful!” The more you say it, the more you will believe it. Giving yourself positive affirmations will help lift your spirits and will always help start your day off on the right foot.


Develop Healthy Eating Habits

Explore healthy eating habits that work for you. It’s all about feeling comfortable. If you fill yourself with good foods, you will be providing your body fuel and helping your body develop and grow — plus you’ll feel good too!


Take Daily Care of Your Body

It’s important to take care of the things you love. You protect your valuables, and that should include your body. It’s best to keep yourself clean by washing your face and body daily to purify your skin and keep body odor at bay. It is also good to brush your teeth every morning and night for a bright, confident smile. These are great ways to take care of your body.



Create Your Own Unique Look

Creating your own style is one of the best parts about having a body fitted just for you. It wouldn’t be any fun to look exactly like all your friends, so why not be a trendsetter? Pick a few pieces that are unique to your style and rock them with a smile — your true beauty will shine!


How do you talk to your daughter about her body image? What messages do you provide when it comes a positive body image? What are some of the negative messages you heard growing up?

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  1. Anchal Malik

    Being a South Asian mother of two beautiful girls, this article was a really interesting read. Anjum, I really appreciate you writing articles on topics that I would like to read about but would not be able to find any where else. Time and again when I read stuff on masalamommas I always think it was a brilliant idea to have this online magazine that truly caters to the topics of relevance especially to the South Asian moms or as u call us “Masala mom’s:)

  2. Shailee Butalia

    It’s interesting because my husband and I were just having a conversation recently on how to raise our daughter. We have a 5 month old girl. We literally get stopped on the street at times because she is a really pretty baby. Both my husband and I have gone through an ugly duckling phase in which we really developed who we were and learned that looks aren’t everything. I worry sometimes that because my daughter has the “ideal” look for an Indian person that she will end up too focused on that. We want her to encourage her to be proud of her looks but also focus on her personality, health, and achievements in life. We want to encourage to have a mind of her own and really have confidence in her beliefs. I hope we can teach her that looks aren’t everything, whether you fit the generalized idea of what beautiful is and isn’t.

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