There is no question society puts pressure on females to be beautiful and thin. Although these concerns are not limited to females, the ratio of disordered eating among females is threefold compared to males. Research shows dieting and body image concerns can start as early as 6- years-old and continue throughout a lifetime. A negative body image and subsequent low self- esteem are positively correlated with several mental health concerns, such as depression, anxiety, and eating disorders. As with any areas of concern, early-intervention is key and having conversations with our daughters can be a source of prevention for many of these issues.

Here are some ideas on how to help your daughter have a positive relationship with body image and eating:

  • Model a healthy relationship with your own body and food. If you are struggling with this, monitor how often you may be talking about food or weight, and attempt to reduce the frequency of these comments. Continue to have regular, balanced meals, and provide desserts to teach that certain foods are not all-or-nothing, “good” or “bad”, but rather nourish our bodies in different ways.
  • If your child makes negative statements about her own body, listen carefully, empathically, and nonjudgmentally. For example, describe specific situations or behaviors you have observed that may be of concern, rather than responding to content. For example, if she says, “I am fat… I don’t want to eat that,” responding by saying, “That’s not true, and you need to eat” may be a justified response, but also invalidates her concerns. Instead, a response could be, “I’ve noticed you have been focused more on your body lately and are eating less. I am concerned.”
  • Educate your child on healthy living rather than focusing on weight or size. It is often better for a parent to be open in sharing honest, accurate, and direct information with their child, rather than having them learn it on their own from peer groups. Talk about goals of healthy eating and exercise/movement for health versus to lose weight or ‘be thin.’
  • Focus on other topics of conversation instead of food, weight, exercising, and body image (e.g. sports, schoolwork, friends, extracurricular activities). Emphasize different areas your daughter has strengths in, and support a more complex identity and self- worth.
  • Do not put certain body types on a pedestal. Focus more on the health and strengths of women of all body types, so as to show your daughter that all bodies are beautiful and strong in their own ways.
  • Do not monitor your child’s eating, hide certain foods, suggest or insist she finish her plate. This does not help individuals develop skills of self-regulation and identifying fullness, which are important skills in having a positive relationship with food.

Finally, accept your limitations. Remember you are not the only person that can affect positive change and it takes a village to raise a daughter. Recognize if the preoccupation with weight, body image, and low self-esteem is increasing in frequency and intensity overtime. Sometimes a professional is warranted for extra support, and the earlier the intervention, the better.