A reader of You'd Be So Pretty If... contacted me recently with a sticky situation. Her middle school-aged daughter had confided in her that a group of her peers -- girls with whom she was developing a new friendship -- made it a habit to exclude girls they deemed "fat." This reader was horrified, naturally, and wondered what on earth she should say to her daughter.

I completely understood her horror. If that were my daughter, my first instinct would be to tell her not to be friends with those mean girls -- end of story. My next instinct would be to tell her to reach out to the girls being shunned. After all, don't we all want to raise good-hearted kids who don't hurt people that way?

Of course we do. But imagine, just imagine for a moment, that you are that reader's daughter. Close your eyes and remember what it felt like to be 12 years old. To be in a new school and trying to find your place in a new social structure. To be unsure of yourself, and of the face you feel you need to wear in order to fit in.

Kind of heartbreaking all around, isn't it?

I told this reader that I thought the fact that her daughter confided this was a testament to the strength of their relationship. And I was glad that this mother didn't freak out (though she certainly would have been justified) and demand that her daughter drop her new friends. One of the best ways to keep girls talking is to simply listen -- and to do so in a way that lets them know that they won't be "in trouble" for what they've told us. I think the fact that her daughter was deeply troubled by the behavior of these girls was also a good thing.

But how could she help her daughter be true to her own values -- to the way she wants to treat people -- without ostracizing herself?

Most of the middle school-aged girls I know want to be seen as grown up. So I encouraged this reader to have a conversation with her daughter about judging people, but to approach it from the perspective that judging people on what they look like is "immature" -- that "grown up" people look past a person's outward appearance and know that getting to know who people are on the inside is what's really important (we all know that's not always true, but that's a post for another day!). My hope was that talking to her daughter about how mature people don't judge others on their appearance would give her the strength to be an example within her new peer group -- and open the door to further conversations with her mom on this topic.

I think it's a good approach. How about you? What would you say to your daughter in this situation?

About the Author

Dara Chadwick

Dara Chadwick is the author of You'd Be So Pretty If… :Teaching Our Daughters to Love Their Bodies—Even When We Don't Love Our Own.

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