It was a typical day in church. I was wearing a new top that sparkled and flared about me, making me feel happy. I greeted a familiar face, one of the church ladies I had known from young. She returned the greeting, glanced at my waist, and the corners of her mouth curled up in a smile.

“So, you have a tummy too, huh?” 

My heart sank, and I felt a fluster of emotions—from embarrassment (“Did anyone hear what she said?”) and shame (“I want to cover my tummy from her eyes right now”) to guilt (“I should have done something about my flab”) and finally, insecurity (“I shouldn’t let anyone else see me in this top”). About 15 years on, I can still remember how I felt that day.

 

Give Us This Day 13

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What the World Tells Teen Girls

Teenage girls have a lot to worry about—grades, friendships, boys—but perhaps none more than their body image. As I disciple and counsel girls over the years, I’ve found that almost every girl has something they can’t accept about their bodies.

What’s there to dislike, you may ask? Everything. Their less-than-full chests, flabby tummies, “fat” arms, “too Asian” features, “thunder thighs”, stretch marks, “big bum”, height, acne marks, unibrows, single eyelids . . . you name it, they hate it.

Today, teenage girls are constantly exposed to underweight, digitally altered, and unrealistically beautiful women on social media, in movies, and on TV. And they all serve to tell her one thing: “You’re not pretty enough.”

A study in 1995 found that after just three minutes spent looking at models in a fashion magazine, 70 percent of women reported feeling depressed, guilty, and ashamed of their bodies. Chances are, things have become worse over the past three decades or so. 

Today, teen girls are even more exposed to images of pretty girls on Instagram, TikTok, YouTube, celebrity websites, and so on. It is not uncommon to see girls use well-toned models or celebrities as their lock screen wallpaper on their smartphones, to serve as motivation for them to get in shape.

Almost every girl has something they can’t accept about their bodies.

How does this epidemic of poor body images affect their lives? The most pretty, tall, and confident-looking girls have confided in me that they count calories, weigh themselves daily, exercise like crazy, or even become anorexic. Those who seemingly do nothing are actually struggling with jealousy or low self-esteem.

They may become preoccupied with clothes and makeup, and constantly take selfies to garner as many “likes” as possible on Instagram. They may turn to food for comfort, or seek relationships with guys to answer their innermost question, “Am I lovely?” 

It doesn’t matter how the girl actually looks—if she believes she’s too fat, too short or too ugly, she will constantly battle with poor self-image.

So, what can we parents do?

Speak Life

Proverbs 18:21 says: “The tongue has the power of life and death.” 

As adults, we have a powerful role to play in shaping a girl’s confidence. We can use our words to build up a girl’s esteem—or end up tearing it down. 

Unfortunately, many a time, a girl’s confidence is destroyed by insensitive remarks from adults. If the lady from church had not commented on my teenage body, I probably wouldn’t have struggled as much with accepting my tummy. 

Sadly, many girls—and grown women, too—remember what a classmate, friend, or relative has said, even teasingly, about their bodies, and they remain insecure about that body part till this day. 

Remarks like, “Your thighs are too fat”, “You’ve put on weight”, or “You should do something about your pimples”, are far too common.

As adults, we have a powerful role to play in shaping a girl’s confidence. We can use our words to build up a girl’s esteem—or end up tearing it down.

The younger generation has often been accused of being too sensitive. Ever wondered why? It’s because they are constantly bombarded by images of beautiful women wherever they go, which heightens their self-consciousness and makes it hard for them not to be sensitive when anyone says anything—anything at all—about their bodies. 

Whether you’re a parent, aunty, or uncle, your words to a teenage girl can mean life or death to her. Praise her when she gets a new hairstyle, tell her what you like about her face or body (when appropriate), and encourage her when she dresses up for big occasions. She will remember exactly what you said, and it will do wonders for her confidence.

A Word to Dads

We cannot underestimate how important a father’s words are to his daughter. God has made daughters in such a way that they look to their dads to affirm their beauty. 

From the time they were little girls dressing up as princesses, they were always asking their fathers, “Am I pretty?”. As they grow older, they will take this question with them. 

God has made daughters in such a way that they look to their dads to affirm their beauty.

When fathers keep silent on this topic, their daughters may miss the much-needed affirmation, and may take this need to other men or unhealthy places. If you’re a dad to a teenage girl, be encouraging, be generous, and most importantly, be active in your role as her father.

A Word to Mums

Teenage girls need role models to show them what it means to like and to be comfortable in their bodies, despite their perceived flaws. When parents, especially mothers, complain about their body, it’s very likely that their daughters will subconsciously think, “That’s my body, too.”

If a mother doesn’t like the shape of her nose, and her daughter has inherited the same nose shape, it doesn’t do much for her confidence when her mother openly puts herself down. 

But if her mum accepts her nose with joy and serenity, and praises the Lord for making her fearfully and wonderfully (Psalm 139:14), her daughter will learn where and in whom to place her confidence.

Where Beauty Comes From

The devil knows to distract and attack girls from a young age with the question: “How do I look?”

But if we can encourage and model godly confidence for the next generation that is anchored in God’s Word, then we will see an army of young women standing strong and doing great things for God. Our daughters can be great instruments for God’s kingdom. 

Let us endeavour to tell and show our daughters where beauty comes from:

Your beauty should not come from outward adornment,
such as elaborate hairstyles and the wearing of gold jewelry
or fine clothes. Rather, it should be that of your inner self,
the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit,
which is of great worth in God’s sight.
For this is the way the holy women of the past
who put their hope in God used to adorn themselves.
—1 Peter 3:3–5
 

 This is the second part of a two-part series on teenage girls and body-image. Read Part 1 here.

 

​​This article was originally published in Impact Magazine, vol. 38 no. 3.
Adapted with permission.

 

Quek Shi Wei serves as the Director of Kallos, and holds a Masters of Divinity from Singapore Bible College. Kallos is holding a parenting webinar, What I Wish My Dad Knew, on 26 May 2022, for fathers to better meet their teenage daughters’ emotional and spiritual needs. Find out more here.
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