YOU HAVE TO SAY I'M PRETTY, YOU'RE MY MOTHER! (How to Help Your Daughter Learn to Love Her Body and Herself)

Stephanie Pierson & Phyllis Cohen, CSW

Simon & Schuster, May 2003.

Eating disorders can be deadly. But even more dangerous to a teenager is a faulty body image. Authors Stephanie Pierson and Phyllis Cohen explain why. Their book “You Have to Say I’m Pretty, You’re My Mother” (How to Help Your Daughter Learn to Love Her Body and Herself) contains a myriad of templates, checklists and suggestions for working with daughters going through difficult transitions.

We must build effective communication patterns with our daughters. Yet how many of us as parents have said something completely well-intentioned, only to feel we need to take cover from the resulting teenage angst and fall-out? You Have to Say I’m Pretty teaches how to avoid these communication issues. Be forewarned: the authors do not mince words. But they also teach parents to avoid self-blame and they provide simple communication “do’s and don’t’s”.

Ms. Pierson’s daughter struggled with both anorexia and bolemia, and Ms. Cohen is a psychotherapist with a private practice in New York City. Although they do address eating disorders within You Have to Say I’m Pretty, they also explain that even when eating disorders stop, the underlying cause of self-disgust may continue, which can result in even more challenging problems. They address how to successfully help daughters in such situations. In fact, I would heartily recommend this book for mothers of pre-adolescent daughters, to help avoid the very situations mentioned in the book.

The most intriguing part for me was to read the teen survey the authors conducted with girls scattered throughout the United States. The girls’ responses were candid and eye-opening. Some of the questions the teens answered were:
* Do you feel that you can tell your mother personal things?
* If there was one thing you would like your mother to realize about you, what would it be?
* What does your mother say about your body and weight issues that drives you crazy?
* Does your mother have her own body image issues?

Overall, the book was excellent and illuminated essential knowledge for all mothers of teenage girls. Whereas there were many important sections and checklists, two of the most essential checklists I found were “What Not to Say or Do: A List For Your Husband” and “How to Talk to Your Daughter About Her Sexuality and Sense of Self.”

My only quibble is the authors’ suggested approach to sexuality. Some parents have a more definitive structure regarding sexual activity than what the authors seem to recommend. I did find excellent suggestions regarding “how” to talk to your daughter regarding sexual changes and sexuality, but felt troubled that the authors seemed to infer leaving the decision about intercourse up to the daughter, even if she is only thirteen or fourteen. There are some who would disagree, stating that children are too young to have the burden and consequences of this decision placed entirely on their shoulders, as the authors seem to imply.

Fortunately, the authors at least state:
“When your daughter is anchored in solid values and knows what the rules are, life is easier for her.” In my opinion, our daughters learn values and rules from us; therefore, it behooves us to feel free to teach what those rules are and expect that they be followed. That is where the communication skills taught in this book can still help us: we can teach the expected standards in a way that our youth will not be offended. Instead they will be aided by both effective communication and the standards we share with them.

All in all, this is a book to read and re-read often, especially when your daughter leaves you speechless... and completely angry. Instead of yelling back, retire to your bedroom clutching You Have to Say I’m Pretty. The results will be much better!
The first two respondents will receive a free copy of YOU HAVE TO SAY I'M PRETTY! Email me at!

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