My Troubled Body Image Must Change For My Daughter’s Sake

girls body image Every girl has that “girls body image” moment. Mine was in high school when I lost four pounds over a week of summer charity work and when I returned, my envious school friends said I looked “really skinny.” For my sister, it was in the fifth grade, when she developed early and was bullied for her looks by an adult yard monitor. I wonder and worry what my daughter’s moment will be, the first moment she realizes her body is on display to the world.

I spoke with Drury University Professor of Spanish and Chair of the Department of Languages, Dr. Elizabeth Gackstetter Nichols. Nichols, who is raising a confident 14-year-old daughter, says her main strategy to address body image issues is that she has kept an ongoing dialogue with her daughter throughout childhood, focusing on health over appearance. She’s also a very involved parent: she has helped her daughter join in with cooking via stepstool since she was very little, and they now do yoga together—but the focus isn’t just on physical fitness.

“She sees, I think, that yoga helps with mental and emotional health,” Nichols explains. “I was helping her fill out an application for something not long ago, and one of the questions was ‘how do you deal with stress?’ She wrote, ‘yoga breathing.’ This made me very happy.”

I bring baby to my apartment’s fitness center a couple times a week while I lift weights and dream of the day when she’s old enough to join me. But as for cooking together, I’ll have to make a serious effort to educate my daughter about food and provide a healthy variety for her. It’s not that we eat a lot of junk food, but I tend to stagger between extremes — eating no sugar and a gazillion greens one week to eating obscene amounts of dessert the next. I don’t want to blame my mother for these habits, but growing up she was the Paula Deen type, thinking a balanced meal meant mostly carbs and a meat dish (and a little, or a lot, of dessert never hurt anyone).

And I do remember my mother trash-talking her figure, something she still does. I don’t get it. I always thought she was beautiful with her long red hair, freckles and petite frame. But she’s a 1950’s housewife reincarnate, replete with an hour-and-a-half beauty routine in the morning even on days when my dad is the only person she sees.

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  • MommyK

    I applaud you for realizing what a powerful role model you are for your daughter, and for working to show her a healthy body image and self-esteem by example. I wish my mum had done the same. She said most of the right things to me, but her words to me were different than her words about herself and others. But positive words don’t matter if they are not backed up with positive actions.

  • Blabby

    The fact that you are conscious that your daughter is always watching you and learning from you is half the battle. I too want to impart a healthy body image to my daughter as she grows, and I know that I am her most powerful example. My mother always TOLD me I was beautiful, but I watched her criticize and pick herself apart my whole life, and I internalized that self-loathing and accepted it as something that came with puberty and being female. I know that if I want my daughter to love herself, it starts with me loving myself first and letting her see that.

    • MommyK


  • Kimberly Riggins

    Awareness is key. And just starting makes a difference. Don’t beat yourself up over whether or not you are too late. You should be so proud that took notice and shifted your own behavior knowing that it will impact your daughters. Not every child is as lucky.

    I loved this statement.

    “It isn’t just that we must model love for our own bodies, but we must also teach our children that each person is unique and no one deserves to be harassed for their uniqueness.”

    So true! Could you imagine if everyone understood this?

  • Kristen

    I love your article. I have an 8-month older daughter, so it is super timely for me. And I agree that everything we not only say but also model will speak to our girls. I’ve thought a lot about what I eat and how I treat myself, but your emphasis on how we speak about others seems important too. It reminds me of a friend of mine who talks about finding the beauty in everyone. What if we were to reflect this to our daughters–physically and non-body related? Not in an unrealistic, everyone is perfect way, but truly finding and focusing on the good. Hmmm…sounds like a wise goal indeed.

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  • K.

    Tell your daughter she’s beautiful. Tell yourself YOU are beautiful. Keep mum when it comes to judging other people’s appearances–we have enough of that noise in today’s culture as it is. What we don’t have is a whole lot of talk about women’s accomplishments. Spend more time doing that: talking about your daughter’s character and acknowledging her real accomplishments.

  • heather

    so often this debacle becomes charged with feelings about size. some people take the approach of instilling the fear of becoming fat, while others take the angle of do what you because you are beautiful no matter what- both approaches are well intended- but often backfire. health is a better focus. we can tell our children that they are beautiful no matter what size they are, but beauty isn’t everything, and they will feel good and be healthy if they treat their bodies with physical and emotional respect. you can embrace a healthy lifestyle without fat shaming, and you can teach your children that all bodies can be beautiful without encouraging unhealthy habits. focus on how you feel, not how you look.

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