How To Talk To Your Daughter About Her Body
“I’m just trying to save you from those calories.”
The second I heard those words, I spun around and hissed. Swear to God, you could practically see my head flare like a cobra’s. The sentence came from the mouth of my sister. Talking to my beautiful 16 year old niece. My sister continued eating the purlioned dessert, unaware that I and my other two sisters were inches away from seizing her dessert fork from her and sticking it up her nose.
Why the red mist of rage that blinded us from one simple sentence? Because it was precisely the same one my Father said to me at my high school graduation party as he took the cake away from me. Though we were all athletic girls–I was on the gymnastics team, in dance club, a skier–we were always reminded that we were (at least, according to my Father) “heavy” or “chunky.” I love my Dad, and he dealt with food and lack of abundance issues from childhood, so I understand his battles now. But at the time, it stuck. And it stung.
Now that my sisters and I all have daughters, how I speak to my 2 year old Zoe about body issues is already front and center in my focus. “WSJ” reporter Jeffery Zaslow interviewed hundreds of fourth grade girls in 1988, and 80% of them were already on diets and concerned about their weight. Following up with 100 of them just recently, Zaslow found that body issues had just gotten worse over the years.
Given the level of hysteria surrounding eating disorders, childhood obesity, self-harm issues, increased promiscuity and drug use that accompany a poor body image, it’s easy to freak out. But more savvy mental health professionals and health writers are recommending a completely different approach.
- Don’t talk to your daughter about her body’s appearance, other than to explain how it works.
- Make compliments non-weight related. “I love how your eyes are sparkling!”
- Don’t ever, ever let her hear you talk about how crappy your body is, how fat you are, how much you hate your thighs.
- Physical activity and weight loss are never connected. Field hockey, mountain climbing, gymnastics are for fun. To be strong. To rule the world. Not to “get super skinny!”
- Don’t make unfavorable comments about women in the media. “Oh, she’s too fat for those pants.”
- Social Media in particular has been shown to be particularly powerful in shaping body issues. So, while on the computer re-focus your daughter’s attention to the huge variance of body types. Get her to read about strong, amazing women–not the ones that got famous off a sex tape.
- Do things that are kind of tough, like moving furniture, fixing the fence, putting together an unwieldly, heavy tent. Deliberately do not ask your husband, her brother, a boyfriend to help.
- Teach her how to make kale chips, along with Nana’s Gooey Butter Cake. Make sure she knows there’s a wide variety of foods and they’re all wonderful. “Good” and “bad” food labels are destructive.
- Make it a goal to eat dinner together as a family 5 times a week. Teach her that meal time is a pleasurable experience with conversation and laughter and the savoring of good food. Not a shameful, private one of gobbling “bad” foods alone in her room.
It’s easy to get all intense and freaked out about weight and body issues–that’s pretty much the state I exist in as a parent–but the advice now is to be calm. Don’t make it a big deal. Don’t let the family make it a big deal. And should you find yourself parroting your parent’s words or old scripts the way my sister did? Stop. Breathe. Smile. Start again.
There’s a couple of really great books that helped me a lot–take a look if you need some resources.
Body Drama: from a former Miss America swimsuit winner.
Taking Charge Of My Mind And My Body