Her Image of What Her Life Should Be
Your teen girl probably has as many externally suggested images of what she should be like as you do. Teens today are assaulted by more advertising images than ever before. For an insecure teen girl (and is there any other kind of teen girl?) it can all be a bit overwhelming.
For as long as Barbie dolls have marched off the production line — and perhaps even longer than that — girls have been assaulted with mixed messages of what their bodies should look like. They should be rail thin, yet have round and perky breasts. Their skin should be clear. Their hair should be highlighted with some sort of glimmering color, and they should always be put together.
Trying to even be one tiny part of this impossible picture can be both physically and emotionally damaging to adolescent girls.
What do I do if I find my daughter is stuffing her bra?
Don't freak out. Instead, use real life examples of how many wonderful and successful people have many kinds of body shapes. Encourage her to let her own unique shape shine.
In the early years, these issues often come in the form of girls wanting to be more grown-up. Bra stuffing is alive and well, and with today's “miracle bras” and padded bras that will make a girl look larger earlier, it's even easier to pull off. While such actions certainly have no physical implications, think of the emotional consequences: allowing your daughter to feel, at a young age, that she needs to alter her appearance for acceptance is a dangerous message.
Any young woman — and any person at all for that matter — needs to grow up loving themselves for who they are. Acceptance of things like bra stuffing as “just normal” works directly against that goal.
And then there is today's bra stuffing: breast implants. It's true. Teen girls are considering — and in some cases parents are allowing — breast augmentation at an early age. Parents need to know that, according to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons, the Food and Drug Administration has not approved breast augmentation for youth under age 18. There are more reasons to say no to this than psychological (what are you saying to your child if you tell her she needs to go under a knife for acceptance?). There are physical dangers as well.
Remember when you were her age and all you knew of makeup was Loves Baby Soft and Bonne Bell clear lip gloss?
Makeup companies market directly at younger teen girls today, and it's hard for our girls to resist. A good idea is to find a quality spa in your area and do a “junior facial.” Ask the aesthetician ahead of time to help your daughter learn to care for her skin and look lovely without makeup for these early years. Make the investment in good skin care products and encourage her to let her wonderful, changing self shine through.
It also may be a good idea to accept that there is a good chance your daughter is going to want to wear some makeup. Rather than having her sneak it (the girls bathroom of the middle school can be a haven of makeup application moments), show her the correct way to use makeup and how and when to remove it each day. Make sure you purchase her quality products that will help and not hurt her delicate skin.
Girls grow up with dreams of their lives just as you have dreams for them. For many girls, the reality can seem harshly different than their dreams. They find, quickly, that they are not indeed Paris Hilton or Beyoncé, or maybe not even the sports star or queen of the school they so wanted to be. Helping your daughter understand who she is and what her wonderful strengths are is a key job for Mom in these years.
There is the rare girl who grows up happy to be in the skin she is in: cliques, sports teams, certain parties; none of it matters to her. But most girls do struggle in these years with how they want their social worlds to be. Some of this might come from you, even if you don't realize it.
For the mom who was unpopular as a teen girl, this can be a chance at what seems to be redemption. The cool girls shut her out, but now her daughter will be the cool girl, she thinks. Your child is smart enough to catch onto this, and that can be harmful.
If you had a particularly difficult adolescence and you can still feel the acute pain of it today, it's a good idea to check in with some counseling for yourself. Truly doing what is best for your child means putting aside — and working out — what was broken in you in the past.
Even in their most difficult years, girls love their mothers and want to please them. If your daughter senses you want her to be the star and she does not make it there, she'll feel a double whammy: her disappointment and yours.
It's a good idea at this age too, to let your daughter know a simple truth: no one wants to peak in middle school or even high school. Be honest with her about things that were rough for you too; show her how you and others she knows got through these years and came into who they are over a long period of time. No one, in other words, is trapped in her middle school or high school image.
The girl who can truly understand this (and there are few) is the one who can deal with this difficult time of life with grace. Your assurance that even though she was not invited to Perfect Paula's end of year bash, she'll still grow to be a beloved and successful person might be met with tears and a “You don't know!” but inside, those words will resonate. Be sure to assure her constantly.