How to talk to your daughter about her body

How to talk to your daughter about her body, step one: don’t talk to your daughter about her body, except to teach her how it works.

Don’t say anything if she’s lost weight. Don’t say anything if she’s gained weight.

If you think your daughter’s body looks amazing, don’t say that. Here are some things you can say instead:

“You look so healthy!” is a great one.

Or how about, “you’re looking so strong.”

“I can see how happy you are – you’re glowing.”

Better yet, compliment her on something that has nothing to do with her body.

Don’t comment on other women’s bodies either. Nope. Not a single comment, not a nice one or a mean one.

Teach her about kindness towards others, but also kindness towards yourself.

Don’t you dare talk about how much you hate your body in front of your daughter, or talk about your new diet. In fact, don’t go on a diet in front of your daughter. Buy healthy food. Cook healthy meals. But don’t say “I’m not eating carbs right now.” Your daughter should never think that carbs are evil, because shame over what you eat only leads to shame about yourself.

Encourage your daughter to run because it makes her feel less stressed. Encourage your daughter to climb mountains because there is nowhere better to explore your spirituality than the peak of the universe. Encourage your daughter to surf, or rock climb, or mountain bike because it scares her and that’s a good thing sometimes.

Help your daughter love soccer or rowing or hockey because sports make her a better leader and a more confident woman. Explain that no matter how old you get, you’ll never stop needing good teamwork. Never make her play a sport she isn’t absolutely in love with.

Prove to your daughter that women don’t need men to move their furniture.

Teach your daughter how to cook kale.

Teach your daughter how to bake chocolate cake made with six sticks of butter.

Pass on your own mom’s recipe for Christmas morning coffee cake. Pass on your love of being outside.

Maybe you and your daughter both have thick thighs or wide ribcages. It’s easy to hate these non-size zero body parts. Don’t. Tell your daughter that with her legs she can run a marathon if she wants to, and her ribcage is nothing but a carrying case for strong lungs. She can scream and she can sing and she can lift up the world, if she wants.

Remind your daughter that the best thing she can do with her body is to use it to mobilize her beautiful soul.

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1,401 thoughts on “How to talk to your daughter about her body

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  4. There are many issues that can get jumbled up here.

    –Helping kids learn healthy habits and self esteem,
    –Parental guidance versus judgement,
    –Learning independence from peer and societal pressure.
    –Taking care of body and fitness, as opposed to covering over oneself to just look good.
    –Taking healthy pleasure in the body and eating.
    –Learning, and experimenting with what is healthy for you individually.

    There are subtle points we can miss such as: avoidance or denial of, or outright lying about facts and feelings–I do not think is healthy. I would rather engage my daughter and son in a deeper conversation about what they are seeing and feeling as opposed to the onslaught of opinions, pressures and judgments arising externally, and how these can interact. I like the idea of commenting when a child looks healthy and reinforcing healthy habit. I like the idea of commenting when the child is happy. I have always told my kids they are beautiful, when they glowed, and also the days when they feel terrible. I do note when they are in especially good shape–have been working hard to eat healthy, get enough sleep and exercise. I say “you look great” to my son as well as my daughter. I say “It is good to see you.” It is not all about the body, generally it is the psyche I am connecting with more. At the same time, we do have bodies and they are beautiful. I think denying any aspect of reality makes us less than whole.

  5. Disagree with almost everything in this completely. I’ll talk to my daughter about being healthy weight before some bitch pre-teen girl or stupid insecure boy makes her feel less than beautiful. I’ll teach her that eating healthy is not a diet, it’s just better for you, I’ll teach her all about carbs and sugar and their negative affects, but will also reach her to occasionally indulge in them anyway, a little won’t hurt. Call me a shallow bad mom, but my Bristol will know that while inner beauty is important, what’s on the outside matters too. I’ll teach her that when you feel good about your body it does reflect on your happiness. I’ll teach her that she is beautiful to me, but I want her to be beautiful to herself as well. I’ll teach her that some kids will be mean no matter what, I had a friend who got picked on for being chubby, those same kids tormented me for being too skinny. I’ll teach her that if that happens to her, it’s not about her, it’s about them. I’ll teach her that if she ever mistreats someone for their appearance, she is in the wrong. And mostly I will teach her to be informed and aware, not to turn a blind eye to the way the world is just because she may be upset by someone elses oppinion. I will teach her to be, strong, healthy, smart and beautiful. Inside and OUT.

    • Amber, curious that your first line is you “disagree with almost everything in this completely.” And, your second line has “bitch” in it. I expected it to get worse from there, but it actually got better. In fact, your last line is moving and beautiful, in my humble opinion.

      It seems your and Sarah’s paths may be different, but from what I glean from each of your writing, the intention behind the method is the same. Sarah’s encouragement of healthy living through outdoor activities (rock climbing, mountain biking, etc) and sports (soccer, rowing, etc) is what leads to a fit and healthy (outer) body.

      Perhaps next time you feel the need to voice such a strong opinion, consider where the anger is coming from and whether you are directing it a way that lifts others up.

    • The articles intention is to live a healthy life and teach healthy habits. I definitely agree that beauty is on the inside AND the outside, and we need to also teach how to take care of the outside as well as the inside. I didn’t think the article advised us not to teach how to look and feel our best, and be supportive of other people looking and feeling their best. Mothers (and fathers)
      have a slippery slope to navigate here.

    • I have learned that inner beauty comes to from how we judge others. your feelings or other peoples kids seem to be a little ugly. Not beautiful at all. I have learned that using words like stupid and idiot and such just breeds hate. We can surely disagree with others in a beautiful way.

  6. Reblogged this on taherehbarati and commented:
    This article shares my view on the importance of mother- daughter relationship in all aspects; particularly, when it comes to self-image. The relationships between mother and daughter have been affected by patriarchy. This article suggests and encourages us to change it. Enjoy.

  7. Today, I went to the beach with my children. I
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    LoL I know this is entirely off topic but I had to tell someone!

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  10. Beautiful! The only time we should talk about our bodies is if there’s an actual health issue (and then only in a productive way). My daughter is still a baby, but I want to raise her to be healthy and unself-conscious!

  11. The entire article was ruined when I got to the “Prove to your daughter that women don’t need men to move their furniture.” part.
    So what you are saying is that instead of asking for help because you cannot do something, you are better off hurting yourself.

    • I agree it’s good to ask for help when you need it, but who says a woman can’t move furniture? Are you actually suggesting that all women who try to move furniture are going to hurt themselves?

    • How could you let such an awesome article be ruined by one sentence. The sentence about the furniture was just another way to get her point across that we can help our daughters to feel strong, healthy and capable. People that pick apart things like this will never learn anything or grow as a person because they will always look for a flaw in everything. Piece of advise, look for the good in things and in people. Learn something from everyone you meet. Take what you want from an article and leave the rest. This will allow you to grow and enjoy life.

  12. I love this article and agree with everything except for not needing a man to move their furniture. I have no problem asking a stronger person, man or woman to help me move a heavy piece of furniture. It does not make me weak or less than a man. I love pieces that empower girls, I don’t think they need to put men down in the process. Good people sending positive messages to girls -including good men – can help with this empowerment process.

    • I love this article too and also agree with Mdp that men shouldn’t be put down in the process of raising women up. I love me a good strong person to help me with heavy stuff :). But everything else is right on!

      • Yes. Reminding ourselves not to bash or demean men when we’re helping women develop positive habits for the benefit of their daughters is totally radical. Men are not our enemy – why shouldn’t that be said?

    • I don’t think the author is saying a girl CAN’T ask for help. I think the author is saying a woman doesn’t necessarily NEED to ask for help. I don’t see how it puts down men to say “women don’t need men to move their furniture.” I have no problem asking a man to help move my couch if I’m going to hurt myself. I can certainly move it out of the way to reach an outlet behind it. Jeepers, people…

  13. Great post! As a dad of two little girls, I am amazed by how much other people comment on my daughters’ appearance. We got some family pictures done last month, and the photographer kept saying “Hey, pretty girl!” whenever she wanted one of my daughter’s attention. Everywhere they turn, it seems, people are drawing attention to their appearance. I don’t see people doing that with my son, and I certainly don’t remember people doing it to me as a kid. No wonder so many girls have body image problems!

    I blog about raising tough, adventurous girls here:
    Let Her Eat Dirt

  14. Best thing I have read in, well, forever! I need to show this to my husband as we have 3 daughters all of different shapes and as lovely as he is, he just doesn’t understand how detrimental commenting on our larger daughter’s body could be to her future happiness/contentment/mental health/achievements. This should be shared EVERYWHERE! Thank you!

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  16. Reblogged this on thisphenomenalworld and commented:
    A friend’s daughter, Lo had been saying for a while that she didn’t want to be a girl. Being a sensible liberal woman my friend, did not put pressure on her after all it was 2013 and most people of our generation recognise gender and sexuality are fluid, not binary, and there could be many things going on in her head. But eventually Lo came out with the fully formed thought, that she did not want to be a girl because, girls can’t do anything. Which was a heart breaking thing for me to hear second hand as I love this little girl so much, I can’t imagine how her mum felt. Fast forward to 2014 and after a concerted effort Lo has finally said she likes being a girl! She’s bright and energetic like all children should be, playing football and attending judo lessons every week.

    It’s a scary thing that we can’t protect our loved ones from the ridicullous ideas of what it is to be a girl or a boy, but we can give them other options and make sure every little girl know’s it’s ok to want to be Luke Skywalker when she grows up just like Lo.

      • Really? Firstly, the article is about empowering girls, which you seemed to have missed. Secondly, the young girl, Lo, that she spoke of was not transgendered but disappointed because she felt that there were limitations with regard to what is expected of her as a female, according to social “norms”, that didn’t allow her to pursue the activities that she finds fulfilling. I just thought you needed to be informed as your comment seemed unnecessarily snarky.

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  18. Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell applied to body issues ? While it is true that you shouldn’t teach your children to judge people on their physical appearance, you should also teach them how the world works so they can understand it and defend themselves against its unceasing assaults. To make a vaccine, you need to study the virus.

    Your children will (it’s a certainty) be called fat, ugly, get told her/his hair, face, nose or ears are terrible – because people are naturally inclined to being mean to each others, as a defense or offensive mechanism. If you haven’t talked about that subject countless times with your kids, your children will desperately try to build their own defenses, try to understand why that person said that, they’ll try to decipher what is a genuine statement and what is a mean lie. They’ll fall in a pit of doubts and will live with that for the rest of their lives.

    If, instead, you teach them the importance of knowing what is deemed important in the current society, why people value something over another, why people discriminate (and not just “it is bad, don’t do that honey” – the real psychological/sociological reasonS, there’s hundreds of them, and they’re all interlaced), why people say hurtful things, and finally, what we currently know regarding the medical aspects of growth, weight, nutrition and physical activity (because it matters TOO), then, and only then, they’ll have all the basic “tools” to build their own mental image of the human body.

    Sure, don’t drop all that on them like an ACME anvil on The Coyote (ouch !), go smoothly to let them live a world of carefreeness and easy happiness as long as they can, basically don’t rob them of their childhood by turning them into cynical kids, but make sure to progressively give them all the assets they need to understand the world they live in.

    Only in this case they will be able to know what is important for them, and be able to defend their self-image when they’ll interact with other humans. Keeping them in a “positive” bubble forever (nb: it never last, really) will only make their first contact with the harsh reality even harder to handle, and might even prevent them from accessing to social integration and happiness.

    Just like with drugs, violence, love, sex and all the important choices in life, just as the topic appears in the child’s life, a parent should make the question as clear as possible, in order to make sure the child knows what is the actual, real, issue at hands – children aren’t dumb when you’re being serious with them, they know when it’s no longer a game. Self-esteem is not a game anymore when your kid start going to school and start making friends/”enemies”, and the most serious question during adolescence. Don’t dodge the question.

    So yes, empower your kids, but don’t forget to address the negative side of self-esteem. Why ? Because their one-in-a-childhood crush will reject them and call them ugly/fat/short/tall in front of everyone, because they’ll overhear their “friends” making fun of their limited physical ability, because they’ll get picked last when making teams during sport at school, because they’ll realize their sister/brother/cousin keep getting told they’re pretty, fit, smart and intelligent while they rarely get a compliment. They observe and remember everything (subconsciously if needed). Refusing to acknowledge this is refusing your role as a parent.

    The main reason I found to explain why parents often refuse to do that, is the extremely difficulty to do that at the right time (only one chance – miss that one and it’s gone) and how scary it is to end your own children’s carefreeness joy, being the adult that will make them no longer smile and jump around, the one that will make them “grow up” permanently. If only we could keep them happy and nice forever, it only last a handful of years, it’s too short… but you have to, the enjoyment of the rest of their lives depends on it.

  19. And teach her that the most rewarding part of womanhood is giving life to her future children! There is nothing more amazing or rewarding than being a mom, except maybe becoming a mom with the love and devotion of a great husband!!

    • April, while I’m inclined to agree, and I think it’s very relevant to think about when talking about body image (from a mom who has plenty of stretch marks despite plenty of lotions and butters). But… I think it’s important that we affirm the beauty of motherhood while acknowledging that not every woman will become a mother, biologically or other wise. That affirms them as a whole person by their own merit, loved by God for the child of God they are. Then in the event that they do become mother, they can experience the grand joy, but in the event that they are not able to have children or choose not to, they are burdened with additional expectations that can leave them filling like less of a person. I personally struggle with finding ways to affirm that when I deal with people on a fairly regular basis whose path did not lead them to a Godly mate, whose biology did not allow them to conceive (or their partner died before they were able to), or who don’t want children. Just a thought to add to how we care for our children throughout their lives.

      • Thank you, Megan, for your post. I was thinking this same thing & so glad to keep reading & see you very nicely put message here. Thanks again &, yes, this is a big important part of this talk with your daughters.

    • Seriously? Way to promote the most misogynistic expectation of women that their purpose in life is to marry a man and have children. Women don’t have to have children or get married to be accomplished.

  20. Thank you.

    I was sent to a dietician when I was 7. I have been dieting on and off ever since. I am seriously overweight – am that gloriously depressing category ‘morbidly obese’ – and hate my body and myself for my inability to loose weight and keep it off.

    When we had our first child, we talked about ensuring she thought of exercise as fun and not an ordeal to endure. This was a positive start. Five years on, we did the same with our son. They love being active and playing outside. This makes me happy.

    What makes me sad, on reading your blog, is that a further four years on my beautiful girl (who I’ve always told she is beautiful like a stick of Brighton rock – inside and out) is 9 and SO aware of body image already! She compares herself to other girls at school and mimics those she sees on tv. We do tell her that she is healthy and strong. However, we then moan about our weight, talk constantly about whichever diet we are on or about how bad we are for eating that delicious cake. So our efforts to be positive about being healthy, happy and strong are being undermined by our own negative feeling about our bodies.

    Your blog has made me aware of a different way to help ensure our children grow up to be happy, healthy people.

    Thank you.

  21. @Sally

    Start teaching her the fun Science in making food – and start making delicious, healthy choices! Ask her opinion in things, get her interested in food as a concept. And show her that something that takes more time than a candy bar can taste better, too!

    If she’s seven, also, being PROUD of her for being able to cook will be HUGE for her! And she’ll start learning to like better food, just through a feeling of power over it.

    Go outside with her. Throw a ball around. Invite her to go ice skating. Start going running yourself, and show her, personally, how good it feels to move. Play with her, outside, every chance you get. Teach her soccer. Teach her yoga. Give her opportunity to like movement and sports as something FUN, not something scary and forboding. Show an interest and support in her curiosity to join sports teams – but show interest and support in her love of artistic or otherwise endeavors as well. When she finds something physical that makes her happy the way running makes you happy, tell her how happy you are that she’s finding what makes her feel strong and happy. Happy she’s making choices. Period. Not good choices. Just choices. She chose basketball. How independent, how powerful, how great.

    It’s easy for YOU to tell her she should be frightened. It’s easy for YOU to just tell her she’s overweight.

    It will do nothing for her. It will make her fear your judgement. All you will accomplish is pushing your fears onto her.

    Give her an EXAMPLE of what she could be. It’s harder for a reason. It’ll actually work. Guide. Teach. Invite her to do as you do.


  22. So what if your 7 yr old daughter is showing signs of obesity? Don’t talk about it? Shouldn’t she be able to talk about healthier eating choices?

    I have been overweight my entire life and I wish someone talked to me earlier about it.

    Your thoughts?

    • Sally, I’m in the same boat. I think where it all went wrong was when my grandmother and doctor pointed out that I had a problem with my weight. They were the first to associate guilt with my body image and eating when I was a little girl. Had my mom taken me out of ballet which I had zero interest in) and enrolled me into a sport, things might have been different. Also, if she’d have fielded my grandmother’s comments and had weight discussions with my doctor instead of in front of me, that might also have been a different little girl that remained confident.

      Now I know for my kids.

    • I’m confused by this too. Why is it ok to talk to our kids about grades and the best way to do well in school and scold them when they don’t do their homework, but if, as Sarah says, a doctor just mentioned her weight, it immediately spirals into a life-long problem? Weight is simple, calories in vs calories expended. Sure, some people burn more or less than others, but math is math. If you are “morbidly obese”, it is because you are eating a heck of a lot of food, it isn’t because you are big-boned, whatever that means.

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