For Parents Sibling body image issues

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workingtitle

New Member
Aug 6, 2009
6
Hi, I'm a first time poster, so maybe I should introduce myself before soliciting advice. My name is Marie and I am the mother of two wonderful daughters. My eldest, Sarah, is 17 and my younger daughter, Jen, is 15.

My problem kind of surrounds my two daughters. Jen has always been extremely physically active (she started gym at a very young age), while Sarah is less so. I don't mean to imply that this is a bad thing, just that Sarah's hobbies tend to be more along the lines of reading and painting (she's an amazing artist!) They get along great and we have been very supportive of the pursuits of both, and very careful to be relatively equal in the amount of attention we give to both.

My issue involves body image issues which I have recently noticed in Sarah. Sarah is by no means 'fat.' She's 5'7 and weighs 135 pounds, while not particularly athletic she does exercise occasionally and her diet is pretty healthy. She does have a little bit of a belly so she is particularly self-conscious of her stomach, but really I think she looks great. However, recently I have noticed her getting self-conscious around her sister. Jen looks very much like a gymnast. She's tiny, about 5'1" and 115 pounds, though she looks like she weighs less than that because she's so muscular. Seriously there is not an ounce of fat on that girl. She's very ripped all over the place, but especially in her abs (I think she's had a six pack since she was about 11). Anyway, now that Jen is growing into 'that age' where she has started noticing boys (and boys notice her), the sibling rivalry (which I'm not sure existed before because their interests were so different) has really grown and intensified.

Jen often displays her body, though not really in a show-off sort of way. For example, she will do conditioning in a sports bra and gym shorts around the house, or lay out by the pool. The fact that we live in Arizona doesn't help as it is sunny year round and often just more comfortable to wear less clothing, especially when working out. The worst case is probably when Jen recently played personal trainer to me and her father and Sarah ended up joining in as well. It was a pretty hilarious scene actually, we all looked pretty pathetic as we failed miserably to perfom even basic conditioning drills while Jen breezed through it, chastising us on our form the whole time-but I guess that's another story. While my husband and I laughed it off-we know we're far from "gymnast shape," I can see how it could have been discouraging for Sarah.

Anyway recently Sarah has started to spend more time in her room when Jen is around, is very reluctant to finish her food at dinner, and sometimes makes harsh comments about her sister either to me or under her breath. This is especially true when Jen wears something revealing her mid-section such as a sports bra or swim suit, which I think has to do with how self-conscious Sarah is about her own stomach (and it doesn't help that Jen is always getting compliments on her abs). I reassure her that she is beautiful or tell her how great she looks, etc... but I'm not sure what else to do. I'm afraid that trying to help her lose weight will make it seem like I think she needs to lose weight-which I don't. I can see how it might not be fun to have to look at your ripped little sister all the time, but I'm not sure it can be avoided. I don't really want to talk to Jen about it because I'm really pleased that she's proud of her body and hasn't developed any negative body image issues (which unfortunately you often read about in gymnastics). And since she isn't really showing off or flaunting her body, I don't really think she's doing anything wrong.

Has anyone else encountered this? Any advice?

Thanks and sorry for the long post.
 
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BlairBob

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I'm not a parent but I do have an interesting POV as I have two brothers that are similar. In fact, the one who has gotten in shape used to be pretty sedentary till HS and the slightly younger one was in decent shape till then before videogames took over.

They don't complain about it but the younger one does show some signs of it especially as he always used to be more active than the other.

I think because you are dealing with females, especially young impressionable young girls/woman you have to possibly be a bit more careful than if we were talking about a young woman in her early 20's. Then something simple like tighter diet and more physical activity.

I would go about seeing if there is a physical activity that she enjoys and finding one. Try keeping less sugary stuffs in the house and less carbs on the plate. Alter breakfast foods from cereals to something other. Less grains and carbohydrates. Probably not such an issue for the gymnast daughter who is probably burning calories like wood in winter.
 

workingtitle

New Member
Aug 6, 2009
6
I guess I will try to improve the quality of the food in the house, at the very least my husband and I could certainly benefit from that :)

I'm just afraid of making the situation worse. I kind of feel like I'm walking on eggshells because this is such a sensitive time in their lives and I'm afraid of damaging the self esteem of either (including making my younger daughter self conscious of her muscularity). At the same time though, I feel like something must be done. Seeing Sarah barely eating at meals kind of freaked me out.

If I am to intervene and bring this issue up I'm really not sure how to talk about it. What if my older daughter just denies it? Should I talk to my younger daughter? If so should I discuss this with them together, or separately?

Sorry for all the questions, but I'm quite confused.
 

NotAMom

Active Member
May 27, 2009
894
Region 6 (Northeast)
If I am to intervene and bring this issue up I'm really not sure how to talk about it. What if my older daughter just denies it? Should I talk to my younger daughter? If so should I discuss this with them together, or separately?
You're right. Accusation will not work, especially with teenage girls. I too have two girls, although much younger in comparison to yours.

How about just pointing out to the younger one that her sister is uncomfortable being the less fit of the two and have her be a bit more sensitive to her sister's feelings. To start, just ask her to cover up more around the house. A normal T-shirt will probably work well. Then have them spend more time together doing stuff they share (like the girly nails, hair and such for instance).

If they truly are close and care about each others' feeling, that is the least a good sister can do. Of course, this is a clueless father talking.
 

Aussie_coach

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You need to be very careful here, the fact that she is not wanting to finish meals and that sort of thing is often the first step in an eating disorder. At this stage it may not be too much of an issue but keep a close eye on it. If she starts to lose weight significantly or stops eating in front of you frequently claiming that she ate something somewhere else then involve a doctor.

At this age there is a lot of sensitivity about body image. They are becoming adults, and their bodies are developing into adult bodies, this is a strange concept to them. Even though its probably been many years since puberty, the body goes through a lot of changes in the late teens in order to better prepare it to have a baby. And this can make girls very uncomfortable.

One thing you can do is point out to your older daughter the difference in her feminine body. Your younger daughter may be very muscular but many boys don't find this to be particularly attractive on girls. Many prefer a softer more feminine body, and very few want a girlfriend who is stronger than they are. So while your young daughter has a positive body image which is great, you can paint a picture in your older daughters mind of how it isn't necessarily ideal.

Perhaps its also a good time to find a physical activity your older daughter enjoys. 17 can be a difficult age because many girls stop participating in sports in favor of more study and many will then go onto to their adult lives and never do sport again, as its not as easy as it was when they were in school. This is a good age to find a sport she can enjoy as an adult in the hope of encouraging her to stay active all her life. If she is not so sporty why not look for something a little out of the box and untraditional. Synchronized swimming, martial arts, hip hop dancing, ice skating, horse riding, badminton, handball, water polo, 10 pin bowling anything that could give her a chance to feel good about herself as an athlete.
 

v1hebrews11

Member
Mar 16, 2009
61
I guess I will try to improve the quality of the food in the house, at the very least my husband and I could certainly benefit from that :)

I'm just afraid of making the situation worse. I kind of feel like I'm walking on eggshells because this is such a sensitive time in their lives and I'm afraid of damaging the self esteem of either (including making my younger daughter self conscious of her muscularity). At the same time though, I feel like something must be done. Seeing Sarah barely eating at meals kind of freaked me out.

If I am to intervene and bring this issue up I'm really not sure how to talk about it. What if my older daughter just denies it? Should I talk to my younger daughter? If so should I discuss this with them together, or separately?

Sorry for all the questions, but I'm quite confused.

If they are small, gradual changes here and there, they will be much less noticeable, and yes, they will benefit everyone. Start by eliminating soda. That ALONE will make a huge difference. Even if you don't eliminate it, only buy it for birthdays and holidays. Once everyone is used to the change, replace snack foods with fresh fruits and vegetables and maybe something fun to dip them into. We keep plenty of peanut butter and ranch dressing in the house!

My third daughter is a gymnast, and her older sister (my second) has been having the same trouble. We turned off the direcTV (to save money) and right away she dropped 6 pounds without even trying. Each day she has to finish her chores, schoolwork and read a chapter in whatever book I assign before she can even ask for computer or movie time (we netflix now). We are trying to cut back to TV only on Friday nights now, but it's a process. We don't buy soda anymore and snacks are pretty healthy, but we still make desserts for after dinner once or twice a week. Now all those new clothes I had to buy my daughter are falling off of her! She and I take walks together, just to be together and I don't bring up weight loss unless she does. I'm really proud of her, because she IS trying but with a healthy attitude and she's seeing results!
 

v1hebrews11

Member
Mar 16, 2009
61
You're right. Accusation will not work, especially with teenage girls. I too have two girls, although much younger in comparison to yours.

How about just pointing out to the younger one that her sister is uncomfortable being the less fit of the two and have her be a bit more sensitive to her sister's feelings. To start, just ask her to cover up more around the house. A normal T-shirt will probably work well. Then have them spend more time together doing stuff they share (like the girly nails, hair and such for instance).

If they truly are close and care about each others' feeling, that is the least a good sister can do. Of course, this is a clueless father talking.

I have to agree. Most of the popular magazines won't help either. I would keep those to a minimum or only buy those of a craft/nature/learning sort. If you are able to cut out more TV as I mentioned before, it will go a long way toward also cultivating a more healthy body image. These are not easy changes, and your daughter may fight you. If she does, use another reason as ammunition. "You know the economy is not great right now, and we all have to make sacrifices to cut expenditures."

Anyway, gradual changes are key and I agree that everyone in the family should look out for each other. My gymnast keeps her stomach covered. Friends are there for a while, but sisters are for life.
 

workingtitle

New Member
Aug 6, 2009
6
If she does, use another reason as ammunition. "You know the economy is not great right now, and we all have to make sacrifices to cut expenditures."

That's really good, not to mention true. Thanks for that suggestion!

My gymnast keeps her stomach covered.

Is that something you talked about with her? Or is it just her decision?

Thanks for all the feedback/suggestions everyone! I'll try to make the whole house healthier, hopefully if it is the whole family she won't feel like she's being singled out. I can always just say that I want to lose weight and I don't want any temptation around :) Also, I'll definitely try to find something fun for us all to do (like getting our nails done) this weekend and see if it helps.

Again, thanks everyone!
 
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v1hebrews11

Member
Mar 16, 2009
61
That's really good, not to mention true. Thanks for that suggestion!



Is that something you talked about with her? Or is it just her decision?

Thanks for all the feedback/suggestions everyone! I'll try to make the whole house healthier, hopefully if it is the whole family she won't feel like she's being singled out. I can always just say that I want to lose weight and I don't want any temptation around :) Also, I'll definitely try to find something fun for us all to do (like getting our nails done) this weekend and see if it helps.

Again, thanks everyone!

We talked about it briefly, but it really wasn't a big deal. I know it wasn't nearly as big an issue in our house as it would be in others.
 

Linsul

Active Member
Sep 19, 2008
876
Pripyat
What really stands out to me is that Sarah is 17, which is close to 18...college, moving away (possibly) etc. I would take this opportunity as a parent to let her know that it's ok to what to make lifestyle changes that improve health. Point out to her that if that's the case, she needs to look at herself objectively and NOT in comparison to ANYBODY. Not her sister, not magazine models, just herself and make a decidion on whats good for as a healthy (almost) adult. It's important to take of yourself, I'd just keep on that subject and make it a family effort.

My sister was older as well, and not a gymnast. We never were competitive in a physical sense though. At least not that I'm aware of lol! She was an amazing musician, and she played the piano so well. Our parents always held us 'hostage' to each others meets and recitals and such, we had to be very complimentary or face the wrath of our mother! My mom was always up in our business as far as what we said to each other about activities. No sniping each other, find somehing nice to say (we did not have the option of keeping our mouths shut lol!). My only advice for you as far the younger gymmie DD is concerned is what my mom said to us growing up: Honor your family, celebrate their talents because if you're mean you'll be grounded for a week!
 

workingtitle

New Member
Aug 6, 2009
6
My only advice for you as far the younger gymmie DD is concerned is what my mom said to us growing up: Honor your family, celebrate their talents because if you're mean you'll be grounded for a week!

I'm only reluctant to talk to my younger daughter because she doesn't show any negativity towards her older sister. She is actually very supportive and encouraging of her. The only thing she does that is problematic really is walk around the house in workout attire that can be a bit revealing, but I always figured that was common for gymnasts because they do so much conditioning, etc at home (is that uncommon amongst other gymnasts?). In any event it couldn't hurt to ask her to cover up a bit more.
 
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