Do you ever feel like you have no idea what to say when it comes to making your daughter feel confident and beautiful? Do you feel like what you say won’t matter given the media-saturated life she leads? Have you ever said something about her appearance that she took the wrong way?
We got together with Harriet Brown, author of the newly-released Body of Truth: How Science, History, and Culture Drive Our Obsession With Weight – And What We Can Do About It, to bring you some of the do’s and don’ts of body image conversations.
Here’s a guide to some of the most common comments girls will make about their weight and appearance, along with Harriet Brown’s suggestions for and explanations behind the most effective responses.
Next time your daughter casually asks if she needs to lose weight, you’ll be prepared.
“I need to lose weight.”
“I want to go on a diet with you.”
“Tell me more about why you want to go on a diet.”
“Give me more information.”
“Don’t worry about it.”
“We’ll take you to Weight Watchers and get you fixed up.”
If your daughter is upset about her weight, the best thing to do is to listen. Weight may be only a small part of what’s bothering her, or a stand-in for other problems like anxiety, depression, or social issues. If your daughter is genuinely distressed about her weight and/or appearance, arrange a visit with your pediatrician and talk about it all together. Listen and be supportive; don’t try to come up with a quick “fix” for your daughter’s distress. What she may need most of all is reassurance.
“Someone called me fat.”
“Tell me how that felt.”
“You’re not fat!”
“You’re pleasingly plump, not fat!”
Your daughter lives in a social milieu where one of the worst things anyone can say is “You’re fat.” It’s important to acknowledge that yes, we live in a world where we are constantly judged on our appearance, and that such criticisms can hurt. But it’s also important not to validate those kinds of criticisms by engaging with them. Instead, talk to your daughter about how words and criticisms can be used to bully. Encourage her to talk to you about her feelings about the friend or acquaintance or frenemy who made the critique, and help her put it into perspective.
“Do I look fat in this?”
“The color goes so well with your eyes”
Anything about weight or fat.
What she’s really asking for is reassurance, so offer it. Reassure her that you love her, approve of her, love spending time with her, and so on. Avoid commenting specifically on her appearance, and when you do, make it weight-neutral. Emphasize the other aspects of her that you love and appreciate.
“I’ll never look like her.” (a friend, an actress, a sibling).
“No, you are not going to look like anyone else.You are going to look like you.”
“No one says you have to look like so and so.”
“There are lots of ways to be be confident and powerful.”
“You don’t have to model yourself on ______’s example.”
“If you’d lose 10 pounds you might.”
“How about a nose job?”
Girls are bombarded with feedback—nearly all of it negative—about their looks. Your daughter doesn’t need any more from you. Instead, remind her that she’s unique, special, and loved, and that she has talents and passions that have nothing to do with appearance.
Communicating with your daughter about her physical insecurities isn’t about making quick comebacks that will make her feel better right away. Instead, focus on starting and having informative conversations about weight, appearance, and health. What you learn from her may surprise you. And she will benefit from being exposed to a supportive, healthy perspective on body image, one she may not be getting anywhere else.
For more from information and strategies from Harriet Brown, visit her website or get a copy of Body of Truth!