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Girls' Body Image

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Berkeley Parents Network > Advice > Teens, Preteens, & Young Adults > Girls' Body Image


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14yo is overly focused on her looks

April 2012

I am worried about my 14 year old daughter. She seems overly focused on her looks and appearing sexy. To my knowledge she is not sexually active yet, at least not in person. I worry about her cell phone which I know she takes to bed with her (I know, I need to take it away, along with the TV, radio, and internet). I do take these things away for consequences connected to not going to school or grades. I am so exhausted, I am single and have raised her alone since age 2. It is so hard to reconcile with the fact that she is no longer that cute, smart, and funny kid that I loved. Now I am not even sure if I like her sometimes. She complains of losing friends at school and I can see how that would happen with her obsession with her looks. She wears two bras and stuffs them, and two pairs of pants so that they look tight. I also know that she has tried to pad her butt to make it bigger. She takes hours fixing her hair or putting on makeup. She is not allowed to wear much, but what she can wear she obsesses over. She is very pretty and gets plenty of male attention. She has a beautiful body and does not need to enhance it, in my opinion she needs to cover it better. I see boys, and grown men stare at her in public and feel like beating them up. One man asked me if he could take her picture! I said no of course. Please, no judgemental responses. I feel like a deer in the headlights and don't know where to start. We did have councelling, and it helped but have not for 2 months due to an insurance glitch that I have spent hours trying to fix without any result. Her grades are terrible because all she cares about is her looks. Please help! Exhausted Mom


She is pretty but seems insecure about her body shape. Here is my suggestion. My mother put me into a modeling school course at that age. I later went to Barbizon and they run a very good course. They do units on proper nutrition, public speaking, posture, appropriate makeup and hair care. She would probably enjoy it and it would probably improve her self image. You are channeling her interests. You could put out a carrot...if you raise your grades to ... I will pay for modeling school for you. Even though I only worked as a professional model for a few years, it has served me well in public speaking, knowing how to dress and choose good quality clothes and how to apply makeup tastefully. They will nix the padded bras. was a model, now a mom

Pretty 7th grader suddenly attracting attention

Oct 2007

My daughter is in 7th grade. She's coming into her own and is turning out to be pretty. Now she is getting a lot of attention from boys. She's naive and thinks the interest is because she can talk sports, etc. We're working to help her understand puberty from the standpoint of body changes, etc - it's just going to take a while.

We have an unexpected challenge. Her school adminstration is highlighting how boys behave in my daugher's pressence, e.g. she walks by and their eyes pop out. Please understand that she is dressed appropriately. I asked and was told she might flirt a little yet she is acting the same as the other girls her age. She is not brazen. The issue is that there could be an issue because of how the boys are acting.

I'm at a loss. Does anyone have ideas on how to parent give this scenario? Tween mom


Your daughter must be a very sweet, as well as beautiful. She's lucky to have friends and be popular. I'm raising a boy and it's easier because I can just tell him what I expect of him in his treatment of girls. It helps a lot to get to know the other parents. Exchange phone numbers, etc. That way, as she gets older and has more freedom to go places on her own, you'll have help knowing where the kids hang out, and if you trust the supervision there. I think the kids appreciate that you know their friends' parents, too. They're exploring new territory and it's gotta be scary sometimes. I find the schools to be no help whatsoever. Good luck and try not to worry too much. I like to think about the poet Kalil Gibran who said our kids belong to the house of tomorrow and we cannot go there.(A really rough paraphrase, sorry Kalil) barbara henninger
Re: 7th Grade boys

The administration should be working on the BOYS, not your daughter.

You can help your daughter understand the variety of attention she is getting, and try to help her manage it.

Its a powerful thing to be attractive. The attention and control can be exhilerating and overwhelming...combine that with the adolescent drive to develop independence AND to have control over one's life, it would not be surprising if this creates a bit of drama in your lives, but nothing that can't be managed.

She will probably start getting more text messages, emails, etc., so I would be watchful about that, the amount of time spent on computer, staying up late.

Pull the plug on the internet and the phone at reasonable hours, set reasonable limits on behavior, going out, the mall, curfews...

You've raised her well....you'll all be fine.


12-year-old girl often mistaken for a boy

March 2006

Greetings - Would really appreciate some insight on this issue from this community. Our daughter, now 12 1/2, has always been - for lack of a better descriptor - a bit of a tomboy. She has always dressed in a way that was very casual, not especially feminine, and the older she gets, the more androgynous her wardrobe (sweatpants every day, baggy sweatshirts, tshirts, sneakers). She has curly hair that she rarely brushes. Instead of getting haircuts, she just trims her bangs. She goes to a local public school that's very informal so her dress there isn't an issue. She has never identified with the fashionistas there and can't relate to their values, which she sees as full of vanity. Her friends dress in a way that is also casual but unmistakably feminine (earrings, ponytails).

She's recently gone through some dramatic physical changes: gotten breasts, hips, and her period. Here's the issue: she is often mistaken for a boy. Every time this happens, I can just feel the sting move through her. She bows her head and withdraws and I know it is embarrassing if not humiliating. Yesterday, her teacher related an episode in class in which this happened with a guest lecturer, and how hurt our daughter was but how equally unwilling she was to say anything about it. After school, as we were driving, I said that I knew this was a painful area and saw two options for her in this regard: 1)simple changes to her wardrobe to look more feminine or 2) do nothing and continue to be mistaken for a boy, and learn to accept that people make mistakes and that is no reflection on her as an emerging woman. She yelled at me and told me to mind my own business. I told her she was stuck with a mom who would not back off from discussing difficult issues while still respecting her right to privacy. However, I'm actually quite concerned that she is internalizing this and identifying less as a female these days (whatever that means - I'm no psychologist and not really sure how to articulate this issue as well as I'd like). Also, I recall how confusing this age can be and know that my own life went haywire at just about the same age.

Finally, out of the blue, my mom was talking about taking my daughter shopping for some new clothes and suddenly suggested that she thinks her granddaughter might be growing up to be gay. That's a whole other conversation, and in my heart of hearts all I want is my daughter's happiness, and whether that comes from a union with a man or woman is just fine, as long as he/she is good and loving to her. But it did catch me off guard, and inserted a whole other dimension into the discussion that I wasn't prepared for. So I don't want to look at my kid through a lens in anyway distorted by my mom's comment, but I find myself influenced a bit nonetheless.

It's not that I suddenly want my daughter to start dressing like Hillary Duff or Britney Spears (maybe Raven would be nice) but I do need better tools to respond to her with and give her some guidance. I always know the area of dress is so personal and one of her few vehicles for self-expression, and I want to give her a wide berth in this area. But I also know these hurts can be lasting. She is a gorgeous kid, an emerging young woman, folks comment on her exotic looks and she can really look fabulous with just a little shifting of her gears. Clearly, I'm a bit lost and share in her suffering. I'd really appreciate some insight and advice. Thanks. Getting used to adolescence, wanting to be helpful


I know you don't want your daughter to suffer in anyway and you are trying to help her. I feel the same way. I think we do have to let them figure out some stuff by themselves though. If your daughter is bothered by being called a boy long enough she will get her ears pierced or somthing like that, or tell the person off. If you just reinforce that people can be ''so dumb sometimes'', that it's not that big of a deal, then maybe she will relax about it. Be glad that she's not a fashionista! What pain, and how expensive. I have a very hard time with the word ''tomboy''. It says that a girl is like a boy when she is not fitting into the stereotype of a ''girl. But in fact, girls come in all shapes and forms. We can wear whatever we want now. Thank god we don't have to wear bows and corsets anymore! My mother reminds me of how liberating the bohemian 1950s were for her, black tights, flats, and long hair, instead of nylons, garters, high heels, and those silly little hairdos with a bunch of hair spray, and of course those bras that make your breasts lift, seperate, and point!. I guess you can tell where I'm coming from... Clothing ARE an expression and can be lots of fun. If you are bothered by her sweatpants and t-shirts, give her some money to go to Buffalo exchange or Crossroads Trading and get some new wild clothes. Maybe she just needs to know that she can still be who she is, she doesn't have to fit into some rigid mold of what a girl is, and at the same time she can change. It's great to be a girl! Good luck! mother of a girl
My daughter also went through a very androgynous, baggy, unfeminine stage. She's now a very feminine (though very non-conforming) 21 year-old. She had some painful times, but took comfort in being herself and not competing with the girly girls. I might have approached my daughter--not by saying ''I know this is painful''-- but by asking the question, ''Is this difficult for you?''

This could give her more room to tell you what's going on and how she feels. My daughter ended up leading the way for other ''non-conformists''...she was the first of her peers to shop at thrift stores and go without make-up (but then she also conformed by going through a goth period!) The other saving grace was sports. She wasn't a super-star, but she found a leveling field, where she could relate to other girls regardless of how they dressed or otherwise fit in at school. Her unwillingness to follow the common path has really served her well as she's gotten older, and I admire her and am very proud of her. Best of luck to you. I know how difficult this time can be...but you, too, will get through it. (And it CAN work out for the best.) Norma


Well, I'll get right to my point, because it's easy to go on and on about this subject. I encourage you to clarify your role as Mom, grandma's role and your daughter's role around this subject. Your daughter needs to be the one to discover who she is and how she wants to relate in the world. You can't do it for her. And, she needs the space to do it. (From your posting I believe you know this and I say it to reinforce it.)

Mom's role is to make that protective space for her, to let her know she is accepted for whomever she is, to provide an emotionally safe, nonjudgmental place for her to emerge and practice who she is becoming. This is not to say Mom can't be a part of it. You might try an ongoing dialogue about the images people project by their appearances, do it in a non-judgment way, use third party examples, look at magazines. How we carry and present ourselves does matter (and I am saying this as an adult who is not crazy about dressing up). Also, you might make an offer ...when she wants to, if she wants to, to take her shopping or to get her hair cut. Let her know it is her decision. Give her some space to make these decisions for herself, so that she feels empowered and in control of her changing self and not forced into conforming to cultural norms, some else’s preconceived notions about who she is supposed to be. She may be feeling that her body is betraying her, and everyone else is too by expecting her to be different from whom she has been. She may need time to get used to her new self.

Finally, I'd say Grandma needs to keep her feelings to herself right now. If Grandma wants to take granddaughter shopping, there should be discussions (maybe brokered through Mom) about how the decisions will be about what to buy.

I am just a Mom of teen girl who has been a strong, active, tomboy. Even through 6th grade, she disliked dressing up, was not terribly interested in her appearance or her personal hygiene. By the end of 7th grade, it was all upside down and opposite. By then, I was concerned about her wearing one of those slinky tops they sell these days and spending way too much time getting dressed in the morning. Middle school is a fluid time. The kids are changing and we are just trying to keep up. So, hang in there, you are along for the ride and be confident your bright, wonderful daughter will sort this out! That she may be hurt by some of this is hard for her and hard for you to witness when you see simple solutions. But for her, ''giving in'' to a haircut may not seem ''fair,'' and so she suffers the embarrassment. This doesn't make sense to an adult, but there is a kid logic in there. Good luck and enjoy life! anon


My 11 year-old daughter is somewhat like yours -- she wears jeans and T-shirts and baggy jackets every day, has no interest at all in fashion or her appearance. However, she does wear earrings & her hair in a ponytail & has delicate features, so looks very much like a girl. I think she is just mortified by the changes in her body (breasts, body hair, periods), and is trying to be as invisible as possible. She avoids anything that would draw attention, for instance she has been wearing the same sneakers & jacket all year at school, even though they are literally falling apart, because to wear something new would cause people to notice her. I think this is fairly normal for girls who are taking puberty hard (my daughter is appalled at the idea that she will keep having periods for the next 40 or so years!). I think she will eventually get used to her new body & not feel the need to hide it so much. In the meantime, I'm annoyed by the way she dresses, but that's my problem, not hers. I'm not sure from your posting if your daughter has a problem -- is she unhappy about her appearance? Of course it would be irritating & embarrassing to be mistaken for a boy, but as you pointed out to her, that's something she'll have to put up with occasionally if she chooses to dress in such a way that people can't tell she's a girl. There's a price to pay for being unconventional, even in an open-minded area like this. Only she can decide if the price is too high. Got a boyish girl too.
First, if you haven't read ''Reviving Ophelia, Rescuing the Selves of Adolescent Girls'' by Mary Pipher, don't walk, run to the store and get it. It will give you a very good perspective on your teen daughter's world (and perhaps even bring back memories and help with understanding your own life at that age).

Since you will not back off from discussing difficult issues with your daughter (good for you by the way), dive right into this one. Tell you daughter that despite what you may have told her, and wanted to believe – “a girl can be anything she wants to be”, this is not true if our society has anything to say about it. She is bombarded with that reality every day, on TV, in the news, at the checkout stand, everywhere. Depending on what she wants to be, she may face a struggle. She may have already figured this out.

If your daughter is anything like I was, she may be pretty damn angry right now at the undisputable and undeniable fact (period, hips, and breasts) that she is female. I was. I did not begin to identify less with my femininity at that point, it came crashing in on me and I had to accept it. All my childhood I wanted to be a boy, but it was not about sexuality, it was about everything boys could do or have that I could not (in the -60s). From my perspective the differences between boys and me amounted to a penis, haircut, clothes and the way people treated us. At 12 it became much more and I was spitting mad. I retreated further into denial before acceptance.

What helped me was going to live with my father in a blatantly male chauvinistic country when I was 13. Women were expected to marry, bear children, agree with their husbands and they made no bones about it. Women had pretty much the same access to education but they had to prove themselves and work harder, expectations and roles were more limiting. Suddenly it was out there in my face – the truth, the whole truth and it was refreshing. I knew my challenge, I could point to it, name it, face it and fight it. I went to an all girls school where, though we had to learn to make baby clothes by hand, we also had to learn trigonometry and you could be the best in the class without making any boys feel dumb. There was no illusion of equality, no “politically correct” this or that, there were crude jokes and groping and whistling on the street. This is where I learned to carry a hat pin on my school bag to stab the hands of gropers on the bus, and to boldly confront them on the street. I was empowered. I never felt like a victim. This is where I discovered the real friendship of women, where I became whole and at peace with my gender.

If anyone is under the illusion that things are different here, wake up. Our daughters are bombarded, from the day they are born, with images of women in women’s roles. Sure, the mom that serves a healthy breakfast to her family in the commercial is no longer standing in an apron at the door waving goodbye. Now she’s standing in a suit by the door holding a briefcase in one hand and a breakfast bar out to each of her charges (including her husband) as they pass by and she runs out behind them to work. But it is still the mom serving breakfast. All you have to do is count the number of women that are Supreme Court justices or president, or the ratio of women involved in making laws that rule our lives, or read the article about our women soldiers that died in Iraq from dehydration in their sleep because they were afraid to drink water lest they have to go to the latrine at night and be raped by their fellow american soldiers (although you may have trouble finding it under the rug where it was swept), to know that what we’ve got here is a new coat of varnish on an old piece of furniture. Our girls see right through it, but it doesn't apply to them until suddenly, growing body parts and periods make it clear that the women on the covers of magazines, in ads, on TV, dressed in skimpy “sexy” clothing or holding the latest and greatest cleaning product, represent what society wants and expects from them. It is not that they become members of the Supreme Court or CEOs or president. If they want to do any of that, they will have to fight for it, but everyone is pretending otherwise.

I came back here in high school and was constantly slapped down for being smart. To this day, my work in a technical field is hampered by the fact that my opinion is often not given the same value as my male co-workers, but god-forbid anyone should ever admit that behind this is male chauvinism. They are ever so politically correct, but I still make less that men who do half the work I do and have been here half the time. And many of my good ideas are credited to the men who hear me and repeat them.

Oh, I'm most definitely heterosexual and from my perspective, that is neither here nor there. It is only one more way in which people stereotype and do all of us a diservice. I would also not trade being a woman for anything in the world.

So tell your daughter the whole truth about what it means to be a woman. Tell her what she's going to have to look out for and how to deal with it. Then welcome her into our world and tell her the ways in which it is wonderful to be a woman (and I bet not one positive thing you list will be ''you get to wear frilly/pink/sexy clothes and shoes that will ruin your feet'').

One last thing. I learned this lesson late. After my own daughter was full of anger at my betrayal. It was a long road back. I hope to do better by my granddaughter.

OK another last thing. My blatantly male chauvinistic country just elected its first female president. That should say something. a woman.


For the flip side of the issue of adolescent girls who don't dress ''girly'' and are mistaken for boys, you might be interested in how a similar situation worked out for our son. In middle school, his hair was very long, and it was beautiful. Although he dressed like a boy, often when we went out he was addressed as ''Miss''! When it first happened, we were pretty shocked, as his behavior was never feminine. We asked if this bothered him, and he said it didn't. So, we stopped saying anything to him when this happened. This went on for a fairly long time. Eventually (probably a year later), despite the fact that his friends all thought his hair was great, he decided to get a short haircut. The reason? He was tired of being taken for a girl. I feel that he had really good self esteem to take it for as long as he did. Sounds like your daughter does, too. If she gets tired of it, my guess is she'll make some kind of a change in her appearance. anon
I don't have girls, but I remember so clearly being a girl who liked to dress like a boy, hang around with boys, be one of the guys. I would have liked my family to support me in being myself rather than spending so much time discussing fashion, weight, and make-up. I try to support my sons in being who they are, although that is at times rather difficult. The key may be in trusting our kids to make good choices. And to be their lifeline if they start sinking. I really enjoy reading the intelligent, thoughtful postings here. Patti

Quotes from the Internet about girls' body image

Forwarded by: ann (10/98)
Something to pass on to your teenage daughters (and sons)
Did you know....

* If shop mannequins were real women, they'd be too thin to menstruate.

* There are 3 billion women who don't look like supermodels and only 8 who do.

* Marilyn Monroe wore a size 12.

* If Barbie were a real woman, she'd have to walk on all fours due
to her proportions.

* The average American woman weighs 144 lbs. and wears between a size
12 and 14.

* One out of every 4 college aged women has an eating disorder.

* The models in the magazines are airbrushed - they're not perfect!!

* A psychological study in 1995 found that 3 minutes spent looking
at models in a fashion magazine caused 70% of women to feel depressed, 
guilty and shameful.

* Models who twenty years ago weighed 8% less than the average woman, 
today weigh 23% less.

-- Unattributed, but all over the Internet, usually
titled "The Shape Women Are In" and often followed
by a Maya Angelou poem.


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