Moms are powerful when it comes to influencing their daughter’s body image and satisfaction. But let me be clear, this is not a blog about blaming moms. It is about our influence and how to use it properly.

One of the biggest influences regarding body image is family dynamics. Moms, dads and siblings all play a powerful role in shaping body acceptance. However, our focus in this blog is on moms and looking at research, but also years of clinical experience dealing with patients with eating disorders and obesity.

Research confirms two things: What and how moms talk about weight matters. For example, a mom who doesn’t talk about her own weight issues, but encourages her daughter to lose weight, will be perceived as being critical. And this perceived criticism deepens body dissatisfaction. Furthermore, a mother’s talk of dieting and encouragement of her daughter to lose weight are linked to the development of bulimic symptoms and other potential eating disorders. In addition, weight concerns in young girls are linked to not only their subjective evaluation of their weight, but also weight concerns expressed by their mothers. Constant talk about weight loss predicts dieting and lower body esteem in daughters. So moms matter in this area of body satisfaction.

And there is more. The way a mom talks about her own body matters too. Regular comments like, “I feel fat today,” “I can’t eat that because it is fattening,” “I hate my thighs (or pick a body part),” or “I need to go on a diet,” bring a focus to body dissatisfaction that daughters pick up on and learn. Mom’s personal weight concerns and over dieting have been linked to daughter’s restrictive eating and body concerns.

One reason moms are so important for body satisfaction is because they are primary models of what it means to be feminine and regards one’s body as female. However, a mom who discusses her own weight loss struggles may allow the daughter to take weight concerns as less personal. The mother-daughter pair may bond over the struggle, creating less personalization and negative effects. But not always!

So what does all this mean? Your words and actions have impact to the growing identity of a daughter.

Here are a 10 tips to help prevent problems: 

  1. Encourage healthy eating and exercise. Do not focus on dieting and weight loss, rather focus on growing a strong body and developing healthy eating habits for life.
  2. Model good eating habits. Teach by doing.
  3. Be aware of the comments you make about your own body around your daughter. Your remarks teach her how to think about her body. Stop the negative comments about self.
  4. Expand identity by focusing less on physical characteristics and more on character. Make comments about others regarding their kindness, integrity, dependability and other traits. Do not focus on physical attributes.
  5. Discuss  unrealistic models of beauty on social media. We know these images are not real but need reminders of this.
  6. Encourage your daughter to present her true self, flaws and all and take lead on this with her friends.
  7. Encourage your daughter to stay off of social media sites if she struggles with body image.
  8. Stay attuned to your daughter’s struggles in this area of weight and body image. Is she being teased on-line, in school, by a family member, etc.? Does she obsess about her weight or a physical flaw?
  9. Discuss with all family members the importance of not teasing or shaming when it comes to weight and body image.
  10. Encourage a friend group that does not obsess on weight and body image.

It is incredibly difficult to feel good about your body in today’s hyper weight loss culture. But your influence as a mom can be used for good when it comes to mitigating negative messages from others and the media.

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