Girls' Body Image

Parent Q&A

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  • We have a 15 yo teen who is in pain.  She is cutting, suicidal and recently announced she is non-binary.  She has a therapist and is in an outpatient program but I think a lot of this started after she had spinal fusion surgery.  She is beautiful and very creative but has low self esteem.  I'd really like to talk to a specialist who has experience with body image issues.  Thanks!

    I am so sorry to hear you are going through this. It's so hard when your child is suffering :(

    The therapists we know of who work with body image issues in the east bay (we've researched a bunch) are Arielle Trost, Maria Christina Stewart, Elizabeth Burns Kramer, Diana Divsalar, and Vandana Aspen. We needed a lot of names because all of them had waitlists. So many teenage girls have body image issues... in this culture and climate, how can you not. Hang in there and may the force be with you.

    - SA

    Sounds like you have a therapist, but I highly recommend Dr. Sharon Tyson in Albany.  I found her for my daughter through a friend whose teen daughter was suicidal and cutting frequently.  She helped my teen daughter with anxiety and cutting.  She ran an adolescent treatment program for many years.  Perhaps she could offer consultation?  Best of luck to you and your daughter.

  • After searching online and only finding articles about girls who think they are too fat, I am at my wits end with my daughter's struggles with being skinny and hoping to get some advice. My daughter is 9 and cries if she has to show her legs since she feels like they are too skinny and she is embarrassed by them. I type this as she cries herself to sleep. She won't wear shorts to school because she doesn't want her classmates to see her legs. It's impossible to find clothes for her because the right length is often too wide at the waist. She wants baggy clothes to hide her thinness. Sometimes she'll wear multiple layers (like 4 or 5) to look bulkier. I am having a hard time being empathetic, too me she looks perfect and I know many girls struggle with being chubby. Although she is thin, she is not overly skinny and genetically our family is all on the thin side. I try to tell her she is perfect and that she will fill out as she gets older and that many girls would love to be her size but none of it helps. I let her wear her too baggy pants and buy more when those become too short but how do I help her to be more confident? I explained that everyone's bodies are different and there is no perfect shape to have. She wants me to let her eat lots of junk food to gain weight ( I explained why that was a bad idea). We are so conscious in our house to not make comments about people's size (big or little). I am also concerned because she has a little sister who I'm afraid will develop her sisters lack of body confidence. Has anyone else had similar problems with their child? Any suggestions would be so appreciated! Thank you :)

    Sounds like you're doing the right things. At the *most*, she has only a couple of years before she's completely enveloped by the other extreme; in fact it often starts at age 10. Is she in 4th grade?  Lots of times it starts in 5th, certainly by 6th (middle school). She'll likely feel *extremely* lucky once the pervasive body image obsession kicks in. 

    This was me at that age! All elbows and knees, while the other girls seemed "normal."

    Alas, this state of affairs persisted until I was nearly 17. Here's what my mother told me:

    "Honey, I'm your mother, and I know you don't think I know anything, but any girl who has a perfect figure at 13 will be FAT before she's 20!"

    She was soooo right. Already, the girls in my senior class were packing on the pounds when I just... blossomed. I ended up (if I do say so) with a spectacular, willowy figure which I still have to this day (I'm 51). Show her pictures of fashion models. Ask her if she wouldn't mind ending up like them.

    The hard part is the waiting. And kids think "several years from now" is an eternity. Until then, you may have to put up with some eccentricities until she realizes she's lucky. (I wouldn't force her to wear shorts. That would've killed me.)

    And, parents, please don't ream me -- I'm not saying that every girl should look like a model, thereby setting the stage for fat shaming and bad body image. That's a whole other kettle of horrible fish, obviously. This is just about one child's self esteem.


    Could you try and help her focus on what her body can DO vs what it looks like? I really think sports are wonderful for young girls and women. It builds confidence, a social/support network and can help steer girls away from the stereotyped ideals of beauty. My daughter has played soccer for a number of years and has had a number of wonderful, strong female coaches. She's also shared the field with all different body types -- skinny, tall, short, heavy -- and she'll be the first to tell you that you can never tell who's going to be the strongest players by looks. If your daughter's not into team sports, there's always running, swimming, dance, hiking, etc.

    If she was 4 years older I would suggest weight training. Few people really need more fat, but someone who think they are too skinny could benefit from putting on some muscle. At 9, your daughter probably doesn't have the right mix of hormones to really put on muscle.  But to get her primed for when she can, you could suggest biking--serious bicycle riders have muscular and not at all skinny legs. She could do body weight exercises like squats and lunges. If she paired a focused (safe, age-appropriate) exercise routine with a matching increased calorie intake, maybe you could both be happy. If she continues to want to pack on the fat pounds, have her read up on "skinny fat." That's what you don't want.

    You could get her in a sport.  Athletics will add muscle to those legs and help her view her body in a different light; what it can do, rather than how it looks.

  • Body Image in 13yo

    Aug 8, 2016

    My 13 yo daughter has anxiety issues, can be hard on herself, and is very sensitive and creative. Lately she is expressing lots of anxiety about her body and whether she is fat. A couple of days ago she was in tears over whether she has "love handles". To be clear she is not even remotely overweight but has normal (beautiful to me) curves and an average build, not skinny. She's not super active or into sports. I try to tell her she is strong, beautiful, and healthy and that's what's important and that I will support her in eating healthy foods and getting exercise but not in dieting or losing weight. I tell her that most women struggle with feeling good about our bodies and we can't believe the media images we get. What else can I do? Any books, websites, movies or wise words you recommend to help with this? It breaks my heart to hear her so down on herself. 

    This is, unfortunately, an extremely common issue! Try checking out, they have loads of great resources as a starting-point. Good luck!

    This is such a difficult issue for young girls, especially because of the media bias towards certain body types.  There are so many subtle issues that surround this.  I had weight problems and eating disorders when I was a teenager and it took me years of working working with psychologists and then focusing on nutrition and fitness before I was happy about my body. You might ask her what her goals are with regard to fitness and health.  You said she has normal curves, but is not skinny.  Good for you for not focusing on dieting or losing weight and supporting her in eating healthy foods and getting exercise.  One question I have is whether these values are being role modeled at home.  When I was struggling, many people, even my parents, would try to assure me that I was strong, healthy and beautiful.  But the truth was that I was actually 15-20 lbs over weight, had at least 30% body fat composition, and was not fit, because I did not exercise daily.  Given that 66% of the US population is overweight, people might look at someone and think "you look fine" or "you just have curves" when a better goal might be optimum fitness, health and wellness. Maybe you could take her to a trainer who could do some body composition testing and suggest a fitness and healthy eating program.  If she focuses on fitness and nutrition, starts to sees some muscle definition based on what her own body is capable of, then she will not be compelled to compare herself to other people or what the media professes a woman's body should look like.  When I was a teenager and overweight, after I decided to make healthful eating, exercise and fitness a new hobby (mainly swimming, bicycling and running), I felt so much better!  I loved feeling fit and strong, my clothes fit and looked better, and I was super excited when I got my body fat down to about 14-16% and could run 10 miles, swim 1 mile and bicycle 100 miles.  I am now in my mid 50s and feel great, and am still going strong with daily exercise and healthful eating.  It's all about health and longevity and it's really important to develop a lifestyle that incorporates healthful eating and exercise!

    Unfortunately, anxiety and eating disorders often occur together. And the onset of puberty and body changes are associated with the development of eating disorders. If you observe your daughter cutting out and restricting foods to "eat healthy", or deciding to become a vegan or vegetarian to "be healthy", I'd take her to be assessed for an eating disorder sooner than later. Stanford and UCSF both have very good adolescent eating disorders clinics. I wish you and your daughter every good thing and hope she will not go down this difficult and painful path. 

  • Pot belly

    Jul 27, 2016

    I've always had a pot belly, ever since I was a child. Whether I'm overweight or not, I look 3+ months pregnant. I've never had a "flat" tummy for a bikini. 

    Now, my daughter (age 10) has the same pot belly. She's not overweight, she eats well, but her tummy pooches out. Even her doctors point it out & worry. (They've tested her thyroid & gluten tolerance, but both are fine.)

    Is there something I can do to reduce the pot belly? Any reasons that she'd have a pot belly even though she's at a good weight? Thanks folks. 

    This may sound weird, but around that age I remember having to constantly remind myself to tighten up my abs - ie suck in my tummy.  Before that, I had not even worried about my belly pooching out.  But around 10, I became self-conscious, and tightened up my stomach muscles whenever I thought about it.  After some time, I no longer had to consciously tighten, and my stomach was much flatter.  For me, it was just developing and engaging the muscles.   Hope that helps.

    try cutting out or really minimizing wheat, dairy and sugar. I always had a bigger tummy as a teen/young adult, even though I was a normal weight. In my 40's I got sick of it, started a more serious fitness routine that included cardio and weights, and cut wayyyyy down on grains and sugars. Presto, over 6-8 months I lost 18 lbs and my tummy is much flatter. I also rarely have gas anymore. Try it w/your daughter! 

    How physically active is your child (or are you?).  There are many body types and it's hard to say what the issue is without considering family history and talking to a professional.  A pediatrician might not really know, perhaps someone who knows about fitness or diet could help.  Maybe finding some exercises for your daughter to work on the abdominal muscles could help.  As one of the other commenters said, I too had become aware at a very young age of my ab muscles, not wanting to have a pouching belly) and just naturally tightened them (which helped with my posture) and when I met my husband he made comments about how it was unique that I always tightened my ab muscles.   Also, I have read via online searches that over the last 20-30 people have a lot more abdominal fat because of so much hidden high fructose corn syrup that is in processed foods, which causes this.  I notice this a lot when I am out and about "people watching" and wonder if it is a difference from years ago before there was so much processed, packaged food, fast food, etc.  I gave up all gluten and sugar about 2 years ago (I eat only food I make from scratch, whole unprocessed, fruit, veggies, grains, chicken, and definitely no packaged foods) and I have a lot less fat than I used to, especially around the middle. 

    Yeah, "suck in your stomach" is the answer, i.e. change your posture. Some women are just built like this. I can't imagine the amount of weight I would have had to lose in order to have a perfectly flat stomach while slouching -- I was 5'4" and 103 pounds at age 30 and that wasn't thin enough. But I trained myself at about that age to keep my stomach sucked in, and I looked normal (and moved/acted normally) and no one ever mentioned anything about it. Unfortunately my body image was permanently ruined by this genetic luck, and I've worn baggy clothing for my whole life and consider my body ugly and disgusting. I hope your daughter can have a better experience.

    I am surprised that in this Berkeley-centric advice section, nobody yet has pointed out that 10 is a very sensitive age for girls and their self-image. Why would the doctors "worry" about a "pot belly" (even this term strikes me as pejorative) in a healthy child? Why would you? I point this out because my young daughter looks like me in many ways... including her copious body hair, which I have hated on myself my entire life (well, now in my 40s, I'm used to it!). Many times already in her short life, I've come close to mentioning it. But it doesn't need to be an issue for her. Just putting this out there for your reflection... how Berkeley can I be. Good luck. Raising a daughter to feel beautiful is a real challenge in today's society.

Archived Q&A and Reviews

Questions Related Pages

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'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\xc2\x92s 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 \xc2\x96 \xc2\x93a girl can be anything she wants to be\xc2\x94, 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 \xc2\x96 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 \xc2\x93politically correct\xc2\x94 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\xc2\x92s 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\xc2\x92s 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\xc2\x92ve 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 \xc2\x93sexy\xc2\x94 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.