My 12 Year Old Daughter Thinks She Is Ugly

Updated on January 26, 2017
J.M. asks from Manasquan, NJ
15 answers

my daughter just turned 12. she is thin but has a nice figure. she isn't gorgeous but she is definitely pretty esp in comparison to her circle of friends. she has an 11 year old "boyfriend" (all they do is text) who tells her she is beautiful often. she has had other boys tell her they like her and ask her out this year as well. not that I want boys opinions to affect her, but its not like she is thinking she is ugly because of boys(as she does have some friends that do). her main complaint is her skin is uneven, she has bags under her eyes, she gets pimples and blackheads, and her face is just ugly. I did say that for her specific complaints, many girls/women feel that way about their skin and just use makeup to cover blemishes. that her friends are using makeup and filters, to not compare herself to them. but I really don't think its that. she says she hates makeup and doesn't want to wear it. she just got Instagram in November and posted selfies occasionally, but now never. I would like to blame Instagram for this, but honestly her friends do not post great pics and usually just post funny ones where they look awful. she now tells friends not to tag her in pics, doesn't send pics to her boyfriend in snapchat even though he sends them all the time- even pictures where she honestly looks outright gorgeous- she wont post and says she looks awful. now I am not saying I WANT her to post pics everywhere on social media and care about how many likes she gets, but I am seeing this as a symptom to how insecure she is. she says it regularly and has cried a few times just this week. she is great at making friends and is very outgoing and funny. i know the boys notice her because how confident she is when talking to them. but this is so not confident. i have talked about all the basics of looks, inside is what counts, how everyone has different opinions, other great things about her. i just don't know what else to say.

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So What Happened?

I only addressed her looks, as if she was truly unattractive in the scheme of things, I would better understand where it was coming from. But the normal triggers of social media, boys, friends, etc just didn't seem to exist, so I had no idea how to address it, not knowing the sudden cause. I'm not sure if it was something that happened, or hormones, but it passed the next week and has not returned.

As for social media I can say my daughter is in it less than anyone we know, and has the strictest restrictions. While I wish it didn't exist, it does and will not be leaving anytime soon.

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answers from San Francisco on

Start getting her to a good aesthetician for some facials. She doesn't need to have pimples and blackheads.

3 moms found this helpful

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answers from Boston on

I think it's totally normal for kids her age with changing bodies, complexions and moods.

I do think it's a very VERY slippery slope to say she's "pretty especially in comparison to her circle of friends." She's part of this "let's compare and compete" thing that happens to girls and women, and it's so incredibly damaging! You say also that you focus on the confidence and what's inside, but the you fall back into the same thing that many of us do in this society, looking at appearances and talking about whether boys notice her. Stop participating in it, please! And teach her to stop as well. Time to redefine what it means to be "gorgeous" of "have a nice figure" - we are perpetuating old standards that so few kids (and women) can meet.

I think you might consider limiting some of this technology - Instagram, Facebook, texting, etc. - it just invites comparison AND it creates a distance between kids. It's only based on appearance and nothing else. If kids (and adults) can talk to each other and look each other in the eye, there's a much better success rate for relationships and friendships!

If she has bags or dark circles under her eyes, she either isn't getting enough sleep or she has allergies. Or both. Time to look at much better hydration. And kids need so much more sleep than what most of them get.

Skin care is important - time to get a good regiment going (expensive products not necessary) with a few affordable products and decent showering/exfoliation.

Play up what you said about being well liked and being confident, being a good person and a good friend.

5 moms found this helpful


answers from Washington DC on

it's a pretty common phenomenon at this age. it's nice that you're encouraging her to look beyond the surface but your post is alarmingly riddled with looks-focused judgment.
she's pretty 'esp in comparison to her circle of friends'? really?
and you seem to take a lot of pride in how much the boys like her.
it's not a one-and-done fix. it's an ongoing dialogue that parents are constantly pursuing, tweaking and shoring up. it's about instilling confidence, and that goes way beyond telling her that beauty is just opinion, or telling her how great she is other than her prettiness, especially compared to her homely friends.

4 moms found this helpful


answers from New York on

There have been studies that show the more often girls read fashion magazines the uglier and fatter they think they are. They are comparing themselves to fake bodies and airbrushed beauty. Something like 85% of the pages in a magazine are advertisements. Ads target our insecurities so we will buy their product. Now they can access magazines online even if they're not bringing them home. Then there's contemporary music - have you every read the lyrics? Even if they don't think they're listening to the lyrics it is impacting their hearts and minds. Social media is another thing that is affecting our young people - they measure their personal reality by the tiny slice of life that others want us to see of their own life. Teens used to be able to come home and escape but now it comes into their bedroom through social media.
They spends hours and hours exposed to media, and 20 minutes exposed to the truth we tell them. It's a tough battle - I think limiting internet access is key at this age.
Does she have something at which she excels & loves? Dance, sports, music, volunteering? I let my kids try out as many things as they wanted to until they found the thing that clicked. For my daughter it was dance and teaching others to dance, for my son it's computers. They tried numerous sports, musical instruments, you name it. Finding that thing, loving it and excelling at it is a huge confidence builder.
All I can say is that this is so very common at this age. Just be there. Guide her, remind her of the beautiful intelligent person she is, be there and be willing to listen, Use long car rides to talk - it's a good place to pour your heart into hers - she needs your heart. Kids don't seem to want to be around their parents. but they do want their parents around when they're ready. Find out your child's love language - do they respond to words of affirmation, to touch, to acts of service, to gifts? My son really responds to word of affirmation. When I tell him how proud I am of him, when I tell him about the positive attributes he shines and blossoms.
Society wants to tell our girls they are inadequate, unlovable, not good enough, etc. Christianity tells us that we are loved, that we are made in the image of God, that our names are written on God's hands, we're told we have invaluable worth, etc. So if you have a Christian background find a church that you can go to together. There are many that have contemporary music, the pastors are "cool", they have youth programs, etc.
Good luck mama!

4 moms found this helpful


answers from Springfield on

She's 12. Of course she thinks she isn't pretty ... otherwise she would think is isn't smart or isn't athletic or isn't popular or isn't (insert something else really important to a 12 year old).

That's what it's like 12. Most 12 year olds are very insecure. Their hormones are going crazy and they desperately want to fit it, but they are convinced they don't.

Weren't you highly when you were that age? I know I was. You're not going to talk her out of it. You're not going to "fix" this by proving to her that she's pretty or comparing her to her friends. She's 12. She's supposed to be insecure.

You need to love her. Reassure her that she is pretty and just know that she's not going to believe you. But she needs you to say it and she needs, you to be on her side. She needs your unconditional love and support.

4 moms found this helpful


answers from Atlanta on

It seems like you are part of the problem. You have changed your post. I distinctly remember seeing you state that her friends weren't lookers.

You are a walking contradiction. You state you don't want her to feel like beauty is only skin deep, but you go on and on about boys telling her she's beautiful.

Ask her why she feels she's not beautiful. If she is having acne issues, help her fix her diet and routine for facial cleansing.

If she keeps on going on about being ugly? Consider a therapist for her.

3 moms found this helpful


answers from Santa Fe on

My mom doesn't realize it but she has a fixation on how people look. Every single time I watch TV with her she comments on each person. Especially if they are beautiful. Every single time. She does this while out and about. She really notices and admires beautiful people. It's annoying. And you know what...this is really and truly not what matters in life. What matters is being kind, having goals and dreams, practicing your skills, having passion about something, doing good for others. Do you model this for her? Do you focus on your looks each day? Do you strive always to be more beautiful? Or do you focus on your passions, work, volunteering, helping, kindness? Keep modeling this truth to her and surround her with people like this. Don't buy magazines or watch tv show focusing on looks. Get off social media for the most part and be busy doing real things. A therapist for a little while might be really helpful. PS - I tell my 12 year old I don't care if other kids are doing it you are too young for a girlfriend. You can be friends with girls for now. Maybe high school is old enough but really you need to be focusing on your studies and other things in life. That is more important. PS - Does she have too much free time on her hands? Can you make time for her to start volunteering?

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answers from Beaumont on

Goodness. My boys never went through this. This has to break your heart. I think a lot of girls feel this way. Our culture doesn't help with this at all. I'd be careful with the social media. I have 2 boys 16 and 15 and they aren't on snapchat or Instagram or facebook at all. They don't seem to miss it and I certainly don't encourage it. She sounds like she has great confidence, is outgoing and makes friends easily. She's light years ahead of most teens. You're doing great Mama!! As my dad would say "this too shall pass".

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answers from Chicago on

Oh, poor girl. I remember being 12 and thinking I was so awkward and unattractive. I know I wasn't, but that age is definitely tough. Everyone, boys included, go through that insecure stage as puberty hits. It is not an easy time. Just keep reassuring her she is pretty, but also mention other attributes as well such as her confidence, caring, smarts, etc. so she does not revolve her self-worth around looks alone. At 12 it does sound like she is too engaged in the social media maelstrom. Perhaps she should be cut back some at this age. Many adults get too wrapped up in that, so I believe it should be heavily monitored at this point. It is normal for her to go through a don't-photograph-me stage as well. If you really think this is impacting her life too much, I would consider counseling as well.

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Denver on

This age is so hard! I agree that not feeling pretty is normal for this age. But I would change your focus- don't try to find ways to convince her that she is pretty. Shift your focus to other things- point out times when she is showing a great sense of humor, or wittiness, or kindness, or intelligence. You get the idea- talk more about her -and others- qualities that have nothing to do with looks. And make sure to not comment on your looks around her, I have to make a great effort to pretend I don't notice a wrinkle, zit, or whatever when my daughter is around!

Some of the other things you mention her doing are a little concerning. Not knowing the whole picture, it could be part of this age and hoping people reassure her, but it could be something more. Keep an eye on signs of other problems- depression, etc. Not diagnosing here, just pointing out that you might want to keep an eye out.

When my daughter was this age, I read the book Between Baby Dolls and Boyfriends. There was a whole section about girls and body image, and how they are affected by looks and what's around them. It was a great book in general, but that part might give you some perspective. Good luck!

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Milwaukee on

Thanks for taking the time to write some of the specific details of your daughter's thoughts & behavior. It is normal for both boys & girls to struggle with their bodies during this age, as they are going through puberty & that comes with hormones, changing body shape & appearance, and a transformation of who they are as people, & how they self-identify.

That being said, there are some things you mention that have me concerned this might be more than the normal adjustment - crying, not wanting to be tagged in photos, not acknowledging the positive attributes she has. Sometimes people struggle inside with processing information, and get stuck in a "loop", which prevents them from gaining perspective & understanding what other people see or experience. This can happen in people with depression, for example. Things in their life may be going well, but they cannot focus beyond what they identify as not going well, & need help.

In no way am I trying to diagnose your daughter, and it may be that she is just more sensitive & will come out of this on her own. But given the very real issue of body image distortion, especially in young girls, which can lead to issues as they get older, such as anorexia, I want to suggest that you reach out to a professional counselor and have them meet with your daughter, to find out if she needs help in other ways beyond the encouragement you are giving her.

Best of luck to you & her, I hope she is able to find a healthier perspective on this. T. :)

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Binghamton on

I took your explanation as an attempt to put your daughter's appearance and feelings into context and show you were trying to be unbiased. And let's be honest. Looks do matter sometimes! It's a fact of life and human nature. Even babies are attracted to pictures of people who are considered conventionally good looking. I think all you can do is keep reassuring her. Show her pictures of movie stars who blossomed. And of course emphasize good looks do not buy happiness anyway. ive shown my girls pictures of wealthy or rich men who married super smart women vs an arm piece. I encourage them to work towards being a package. And 12 is so young for all this! 12 year olds around me aren't dating at all. Sorry you have to deal with that.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Miami on

Why not focus on other things that are valuable -- kindness, intelligence, empathy, and have her focus on those? And sorry if this offends you, but your post seemed extremely shallow -- it kept going on and on about her appearance and others' appearance by comparison. Please stop, and do realize that telling her to wear makeup to hide blemishes is essentially telling her that she DOES have blemishes, NEEDS to hide them, and further feeds her insecurity about looks. Again, stop. There is a lot more to a person than their appearance or comparing their appearance to others. Social media and the Photoshopped images on magazines do her no favors. You can show her how all these celebrities are also flawed, and look like you and me without the professional makeup and beautiful clothes, even show her photos of their awkward high school yearbook years so she can see that we all go through our awkward years till we find our groove.

I was insecure about my looks around that age too. Though I was blessed with great skin, I had crooked teeth, frizzy hair, severe bangs, braces, and large breasts. I was always called weird (actually, I still am, but now realize it's actually a positive thing to be called eccentric, it just means you're creative). I guess that although I noticed those things that were "wrong" with me physically, I felt they were out of my control, whereas accruing knowledge was not, so I became more of a nerd. In reality, people making fun of your daughter and others are extremely insecure and in most cases, jealous. I realize that now and eventually, she will too. Tell her she is beautiful, and find something else to focus on rather than dwelling on her appearance or how it can be improved. If she starts saying how Katie is gorgeous with flawless skin and a great body, tell her that perhaps this is true, but Katie may not be as kind or as talented at basketball as she is, so she realizes that we all have our positives and our negatives, plus you are then emphasizing kindness and talent over looks, which is the message you want to get across without being catty and saying Katie is ugly or has a fat rear end and tiny breasts.

This phase shall pass as she matures and gains confidence and security with herself, but if you feel it is getting worse, she is being bullied, or she cannot function because she is so focused on her looks and feelings of inadequacy, then by all means have her speak to the school counselor or seek a therapist. The therapist will be able to get down to the bottom of why she feels this way, why she is so focused on her looks that she cannot see her other positive qualities, and why it is important to develop the other qualities that matter most.

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answers from Norfolk on

Why is she so concerned with her looks?
She is 12 - and for many - they don't have the maturity to use social media.
These are just the sort of problems that can pop up with using that stuff.
Since she's having a self image problem - first thing you do is get her off the internet/social media.
Revisit it's use again in a few years.
She has a boyfriend at 12 yrs old?
Whole other can of worms with that situation - but again - she lacks the maturity.
I know some parents think "Gee, my kid is 12. I'm done parenting them now!".
My sister is one of those.
Um - no - you're so NOT done - and it's a lot better if you keep a hand on the reins to steer a bit through the teen years.



answers from Denver on

I think every teen girl thinks they're ugly! Wow, I really thought so at that age and my own dd who is 13 says the same thing. If she truly is having problems with acne, one of the easiest ways to control it is to use a mild soap like Dove (harsh soaps stimulate oil glands) with a rough sponge like Buff Puff.
I let my dd wear make up and she has her own money (which I gave her) to buy on clothes that she really likes that she feels confident wearing (as long as they fit the dress code). I have also invested in many waaayyy too expensive shoes. But she really does like them and again, it helps her feel more like part of "the crowd". The other thing that is really important is how they wear their hair. I help my dd curl it or braid it. I'm not the greatest hairdresser, but I do my best. If she likes the way her hair looks, she feels more confident. I don't think its shallow to focus on their looks or what they wear. At this age, if it helps, I do it.
Anyway, I think kids are really way too young for "boyfriends" at this age. It creates a competitive environment and they are way too young and immature to navigate all the things that go with it.

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