My 13-year-old is busty for her age and is very self-conscious about it. Boys, and some girls, make fun of her and make rude remarks when she walks by. She tries to cover herself up and hide herself, and has started avoiding people to limit the attention she gets. I worry that she will resent being a woman and I don’t know how to help her “cope” with having this feature that makes her stand out rather than be the center of attention. I don’t ever want to her feel like she has to hide any part of herself because God made her this way.
Several things are tied to the natural, awkward, and difficult age of being thirteen. I tell most parents of thirteen-year-olds that it’s probably the hardest age to be a child and to parent. Kids start pulling away from parents, they are overly self-conscious, hormones and bodies are changing, and the emotional, impulsive chamber of the brain is growing faster than the logical side of the brain. The first suggestion is to let your daughter know that thirteen is a hard age, but she won’t feel this way forever!
Secondly, try to normalize as much of her experience as possible. Not only is she self-conscious about her body, but so are her peers. All girls her age have changing bodies. While she struggles with a larger chest, other girls feel equally self-conscious because their chest still looks infantile.
However, being large-chested is her pain. If you can, privately reach out to adult women who may have been large-chested at her age and experienced similar feelings or reactions from others. They can provide empathy, but also practical tools for you to help her. But please keep her hurts confidential if you do. The last thing your daughter needs is to worry that other people know about her struggle.
When you talk with her about her body, talk in general terms about body shaming that many girls her age experience. For her, shame surrounds her chest size. Other girls might feel shame because of their thighs, short legs, nose, or other body parts on which girls can fixate. Help her contextualize the value of her whole body, not just her chest. Talk with her about messages the media sends to all girls about their bodies and how harmful body shame is. Find healthy articles, apps, or videos you can watch together to help her celebrate her body.
Regarding her anxiety of being around others, and receiving hurtful and rude comments, a broader discussion about any bullying or inappropriate sexual comments is important. Let her know that a lot of kids are say rude, hurtful things to each other. However, being objectified, sexually harassed, or bullied is not okay. How to create healthy boundaries and use appropriate words are important for any girl to learn when receiving unwanted comments about her body. Talk with her about situations she’s experienced and what words or actions she can use that empower her, rather than make her feel victimized. If she is being bullied, assess how to handle the situation and consider reporting the bullying to the school, youth leader, or adult who can help in that situation.
Bullying behaviors are actions intended to hurt, are repeated, over time, with a power imbalance, or they can be a one-time occurrence that is significantly harmful. Comments about sexual body parts can also be considered sexual harassment. If comments are being made by an adult or older teen, it’s a red flag for a potential predator or unsafe relationship.
Teaching your daughter healthy boundaries is one of the greatest skills you can give her. Some powerful boundary words are: safe, unsafe; healthy, unhealthy; comfortable, uncomfortable; appropriate, inappropriate. These are powerful, morally neutral words that she can use with others or to describe how a comment or person makes her feel. Take boundary violations seriously, especially anything that is sexualized. If you feel ill-equipped to teach her boundaries, seek help from a counselor or other professional who can help her with this. Also seek professional help at signs of depression, increased anxiety, or suicidal thoughts. A visit to your medical doctor for an age-appropriate physical exam can also be helpful.
Practically, help your daughter find clothes that make her feel comfortable and good about herself. Equip her to have as much control over how she looks and feels about her body as possible. Let her know you are for her, and that she’ll get through this. However, be aware that breast reduction surgeries and binding breasts are options for some teens. If she suggests these, don’t shame the idea, but talk with her about them. Help her do the research to come to her own conclusions. (Are they healthy for her? Long term or short term? Pros and cons?)
Finally, don’t project worry about a situation in the future that may not materialize. Kids need to know mom and dad are strong when they are not. Your concern that she won’t value her whole self is an adult-sized concept that is too much for a thirteen-year-old to grasp. She really wants to hide her body right now, and validating those feelings is important. Instead, let her know God made girls to grow and develop at different paces, that He’s with her, and that as she gets older, she won’t feel so self-conscious.
Above all, meet her where she is. Normalize much of what’s going on for her age, help her establish boundaries with people who are disrespectful, who may be sexually inappropriate, seek help from trusted adults in situations of bullying or sexual harassment, talk with her about body issues for all girls her age, equip her with clothes that make her feel the best she can about her body, be strong for her, trust in God for her future, and help her develop resilience. Seek professional help if needed.
Kids can be mean. Help her to know how to respond with strength and boundaries.
- “A Young Girl’s Guide to Setting Boundaries” by Allison Bottke
- Research books, movies, or apps, about body shaming, both secular and Christian, to open discussions with her.
- Seek professional help at signs of depression, increased anxiety, hints of suicidal thoughts, or bullying affecting her mental or emotional health.
- Seek consultation from your medical doctor who can give her an age-appropriate physical and talk to her about her changing body.
Standard disclaimer: The suggestions by Brenda L. Yoder are general suggestions for a hypothetical situation. They are not considered therapeutic or professional treatment for real life situations. Readers will not hold Whatever Girls, Brenda L. Yoder, or Still Waters Christian Services, LLC responsible for individual choices made in response to this article.
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