Dads: What's Your Impact on Your Daughter's Body Image?
6 Strategies Dads Can Use That Will Make a Lasting Difference
Posted Jul 03, 2015
If you read my previous blog, I discussed the importance of a mother’s influence on girls’ body image development. In this blog I will now focus on the importance of a father (or father figure) in a girl’s life and how he can also impact his daughter’s body image development in a powerful way. The bottom line is this: Dads, you make a significant difference in how your daughter will feel about her body and appearance, as well as her self-esteem.Consider some of the following strategies to help your daughter maintain a positive body image throughout her girlhood and adolescence:
1. Stay close. Research shows that girls with close father-daughter relationships are more likely to have self-confidence and assertiveness, do better in school, and have greater career advancement, among many other positive outcomes.1 Dads, make a conscious effort to spend one-on-one time with your daughter so that she feels valued and loved. If she doesn’t perceive that she has your approval, she will seek it from other men and will try to please them instead. That is not what most fathers want for their daughters!
2. Keep hugging. Many dads become uncomfortable as their daughters’ bodies start to change and mature. If you have always been affectionate, this is not the time to stop hugging your daughter or to push her off your lap just because she has grown a little (or a lot). She will take this change as a rejection of her developing body, and she is looking for your approval during this time in her life. Keep showing her appropriate physical affection, as she will definitely notice if you seem to pull away.
3. Watch your words about women’s worth. Pay attention to the kinds of comments you make about women in general. Your words can be harmful if your daughter learns that the only thing you value in women is their physical features. If you make frequent comments about women’s appearance (“That Kelsey is the most attractive attorney on their staff!”) but never mention other strengths (“Kelsey is one of the brightest attorneys on their staff”), your daughter will internalize the message that you value women only for their attractiveness. Instead, help your daughter understand that you have respect and genuine admiration for women as complete individuals, including their many other strengths and abilities. It is important to keep in mind that you are modeling how your daughter will expect to be treated by future boyfriends and men in her life.
4. Don’t criticize her appearance. You should make a conscious effort not to criticize your daughter’s weight, shape, or appearance. Even teasing a daughter about her changing body can cause her to believe that you think she is overweight. Commenting on the fact that she has gained a few pounds can definitely be enough to cause her to feel rejected. This is the last thing she needs from her father at this time.
5. Do compliment her appearance. If you remain silent about her appearance, she will interpret this as a rejection and she will believe that she does not have your approval. So do continue to make positive comments about her appearance. There is one caveat: Try not to link your compliments about her appearance to her weight. For example, “You look beautiful wearing that new dress! It really brings out the blue in your eyes!” versus, “You seem to have lost some weight; that dress looks really great on you now!” You don’t want her to feel like she needs to lose weight in order to maintain your approval regarding her appearance.
6. Praise her for her many strengths. While she still needs to hear compliments about her appearance, it is even more beneficial to praise her for her strengths and all the things that make her unique. It is important to acknowledge that you see her as more than just her physical appearance, and that you value her many other positive attributes. Compliment aspects such as her sense of humor, her kindness, her self-initiative, and her generous spirit. These are character qualities that lead to confidence and positive self-esteem. They are also strengths that don’t require her to continuously chase after an ever-changing cultural standard of beauty.
Dads, it is my hope that you understand what a valuable role you play in your daughter’s life. You are her first model for how she should expect to be treated by males in the future. If you show her that she is accepted, valued, and loved just for who she is (not for how she looks), she will not feel the need to desperately seek this approval from others. If she knows she has your approval, what a priceless gift you will have given her!
1 See Silverman, R. (2010). Good Girls Don’t Get Fat: How Weight Obsession is Messing Up our Girls: And We Can Help Them Thrive Despite It. New York: Harlequin.