Smart moms know not to talk about our weight, not to bring home certain magazines, not to point out physical flaws in our daughters, and so on, in the name of bringing up strong girls who are comfortable with their bodies. Whether you pick on her body or yours, as a mom you probably already know that your words, looks, and actions can do a lot of damage to your daughter’s body image. But here are three things you may not know about your daughter’s developing sense of body image:
1. Moms do not have the greatest potential negative impact on a girl’s body image. The winner in this category is the media, followed by her peers, with moms ranking third in ability to negatively influence how your daughter feels about her body. If you tend towards guilt, like I do, you probably just breathed a small sigh of relief.
2. On the flip side, moms do rank number one for the ability to engender positive body image in their daughters. Hooray for this one! OK, so we know what not to do…now focus on what you can do. By demonstrating a healthy, loving relationship with your own body you can be the best role model for your daughter in happily accepting her own body. Until her later teen years.
3. When a girl reaches the late teen stages of life, her father becomes equally important, if not more important than mom, in maintaining positive body image.
Dads, you have a golden opportunity here. Your daughter will begin to look to you for cues on how women should be treated, what men value in women, what men find attractive, and what will help her be successful in the world. With great power, comes great responsibility.
A few things every dad should do to protect his daughter’s body image:
1. Praise your daughter’s non-physical attributes. Don’t tell your daughter she is beautiful all the time, just some of the time. If the majority of compliments you pay her (or your wife) center around how she looks she will believe that her physical package is what matters most. Applaud her intellect, bravery, humor, compassion, and effort far more often than her skin, hair, and clothing.
2. Don’t comment on other people’s bodies, good or bad. When you joke about the overweight person in front you at Walmart, she may laugh, but she also registers that her body is open to some one else’s humor, too. When you remark how beautiful an actress, teacher, or bank teller is, she understands that her appearance is open for evaluation in a man’s world. Show her by example that it is no one else’s business how attractive she is.
Show her how a girlfriend should be treated. Engage her in intellectual debates, perform tasks side by side as equals, play, show affection, argue respectfully, and encourage her point of view.