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Body Image

Moms: What Will Your Body Image Legacy Be?

Top five strategies for promoting positive body image in your daughter

Source: Dave

I recently watched the video “Legacy,” part of the Dove Campaign for Real Beauty ( As a mother of a 10-year-old daughter (and 12-year-old son), the video provided a vivid wakeup call about the daily influence I have on my daughter’s developing body image. The truth is that, whether we realize it or not, we are all passing along a body image legacy to our daughters. Our daughters are observing us, emulating our attitudes, and for better or worse, they are following our example.

Here is the reality: It can be damaging to our daughters if we are critical of our own appearance. I know this is a sobering thought for all moms. One of the best predictors of whether a girl will have negative body image is if her mother has negative body image. A girl absorbs this negativity from her mother and in turn believes it must be normal for girls and women to feel negatively about their bodies. So she then develops a self-critical eye. Research shows that no matter much you shower your daughter with compliments about her weight, her shape, or her appearance, she will still likely feel negatively about herself if you have a negative view of yourself.

No matter what age our daughters are, it is never too late to pay attention to the messages we might be sending about ourselves. For example: Does your daughter see you looking in the mirror, disappointed in what you see? Does she overhear you complain that you need to lose weight before attending an important event? Does she notice you seeking out the next fad diet, skipping meals, or exercising excessively in order to burn calories? Does she hear you frequently criticize yourself or other women on the basis of your weight and appearance?

If the answer to any of these questions is yes, then consider trying some of the following strategies:

  1. Accept your weight, shape, and overall appearance. This of course is easier said than done, but it is well worth the effort to learn to appreciate your strengths and become comfortable in your own skin. The truth is that if you want your daughter to believe she is beautiful both inside and out, then you first have to value your own beauty!
  2. Avoid unhealthy dieting behaviors. Girls whose moms frequently diet are far more likely to start dieting early and are at risk for negative body image. Know that dieting in girls is also a leading risk factor for the development of eating disorders.
  3. Model a balanced, healthy lifestyle. Instead of dieting, let your daughter see you making healthful food choices. This should also include physical activity that you enjoy so that she sees you exercising for health and wellness rather than for the purpose of burning off extra calories.
  4. Avoid talking excessively about your weight or appearance. Instead focus on other topics. Speak with confidence about yourself and the many things you are doing that have nothing to do with your weight or appearance. If you do say something about your appearance, make sure it is positive!
  5. Avoid talking about others’ weight or appearance. Instead talk about their strengths in other life dimensions. All your daughter hears in the media is that women are valued only if they look like the hot-sexy-thin-beautiful ideal. Show her that women don’t have to strive for this ideal in order to be loved, accepted, and valued.

National surveys reveal that over half of the women in the US say they are dissatisfied with their bodies, so I realize that conveying a positive attitude can be a challenge. However, like it or not, we are our daughters’ mirrors in terms of how they will learn to view themselves. If we can value ourselves for our inner and outer beauty, then this will go a long way in helping our daughters do the same.

More from Laura Choate Ed.D., LPC
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