What’s Heartbreaking About Teen Girls and Body Image

Last Friday I took my fifteen-year-old daughter to the mall. She’s been working hard, cleaning the neighbor’s house and after saving for a month, she wanted to buy some new clothes.

We aren’t very close to a major mall that has all the stores she loves so we had to make a day of it. I got up early, worked hard in the morning, and got her there by 1pm so we could shop and make it home to have dinner with her brothers.

As we began to shop, I immediately felt my daughter’s enthusiasm fizzle. (Twenty20 @jdnjd83)

As we walked into the store my daughter’s joy waned

As we walked through the doors, I immediately felt her enthusiasm start to fizzle. We looked around in some of her favorite stores and decided since the fitting rooms were closed because of Covid, we’d make our way to American Eagle since she knew exactly what jeans she liked there.

We were looking at the wall of jeans, at all the different washes when I saw tears welling up in her eyes as she stared at the oversized posters and mannequins. I asked her what was wrong (even though I had some idea– we’ve been here before) and she couldn’t even talk.

We stood in the corner and she sobbed on my shoulder. I could tell she was having a hard time breathing so I walked her outside where we could sit on a bench.

After talking a while to let the tears flow she said,”I just know everything is going to look bad on me. I’m so ugly and I hate how clothes look on me.”

It was heartbreaking to hear my daughter demean herself

This is absolutely heartbreaking for any mother to hear. I felt like there was nothing I could say to her to make her feel better although I tried it all.

You are beautiful.

You are perfect.

You are too hard on yourself.

All those images you see of people on your phone have filters.

Do you want ice cream?

I know if you get a few things and bring them home to try on you will find something.

Nothing I said or did helped. We went home empty-handed and I had a sad daughter on what was supposed to be a really fun day. My daughter is tall and a size 2. She has big beautiful eyes and clear skin. She has full breasts and says she hates her body because when she stands sideways, she looks like the letter ‘P.”

My daughter asks about plastic surgery all the time

She’s asked me countless times about getting a nose job, her breasts done, a chin implant, and talks about how much she hates her wavy hair.

Her friends are the same way. It doesn’t matter what size they are, what their hair looks like, or how they look in the latest fashion, they all feel so bad about themselves and to me, they are the most beautiful people I’ve ever seen.

They hate their face, their teeth, the way their hips curve, and how their feet look in shoes. They duck and hide their faces when I try to take their picture. There have been countless times they say they don’t want to go anywhere because they might see someone they know, or they have social anxiety because they don’t like the way they look.

I was a teenager in the ‘80s and ‘90s. I remember the feeling of flipping theorgh catalogues and magazines and feeling less than.

I was jealous of Cindy Crawford and all the other supermodels.

But this, the way the teen girls today feel about their looks, is different. It’s harmful and dangerous.

Sure, I envied those women but I still loved myself and could function regularly. They inspired me rather than making me want to change myself or get a nose job. 

I remember very clearly my nights at slumber parties and my long talks with friends on the phone. We were not consumed by our looks in this way. We didn’t have anxiety about seeing people or running into someone we knew. 

We didn’t have social media with picture filters

I believe the difference is that we didn’t have cell phones to stare at. We didn’t have filters in our face. We didn’t spend our days looking at young girls dancing in TikTok videos.

We did compare ourselves to others, but not to this degree.

My sister said her teenage daughter is going through the same thing and during every shopping experience, or getting ready for an event she crumbles to pieces because she hates the way she looks.

My boyfriend’s daughter refuses to go anywhere in public and will stay in the car if she does decide to take a ride with us. Her best friend recently told us that she thinks she’s so ugly and is really struggling with her self esteem.

I’m realizing this is everywhere I turn–our teen daughter’s self-esteem and confidence is so low it scares me.

Dr. Jennifer Powell-Lunder is a clinical psychologist who says this in an article for CBS New York.

When we live in a world where you’re always on, that’s going to attack your self-esteem no matter who you are, but girls…are particularly vulnerable.

Dr. Jennifer Powell-Lunder

As a mom to a teen girl, I have no idea how to fix this, how to comfort her without offering platitudes. I’m really at a loss here. 

The author of this post wishes to remain anonymous.

More to Read:

This is Why I Keep Knocking on My Daughter’s Door

About Grown and Flown

Mary Dell Harrington and Lisa (Endlich) Heffernan are the co-founders of Grown and Flown the #1 site for parents of teens, college students and young adults, reaching millions of parents every month. They are writers (Lisa is a New York Times bestselling author), moms, wives and friends. They started the Grown and Flown Parents Facebook Group and are co-authors of Grown and Flown: How to Support Your Teen, Stay Close as a Family, and Raise Independent Adults (Flatiron Books) now in paperback.

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