Mom and Dad are their kids’ models on how to relate to their body and how to eat. What do your kids learn from watching you? Research shows that if a mother is dissatisfied with her body, her daughter’s more likely to be dissatisfied with hers.

So, I’m going to ask you to take a loving, but real look in the mirror and look at what’s going on inside you. This isn’t for any kind of judgment or blame -- we’re all trying to do the very best for our kids. This is about figuring out how we can provide our kids with most loving home environment possible around body image.

Your body imageMom and daughter in mirror

So, how do you think about your body? Most of us women raised in the early days of diet culture don’t necessarily navigate these waters well. Just like for our kids, I think it is not our fault.  We were also born into an increasingly appearance focused culture.  It was the water we were swimming in growing up, too.  

  • Do you assume that you need to weigh a pretty specific number on the scale?
  • How do you feel about yourself when your weight varies above or below that number?
  • Are you afraid of gaining weight?
  • Do you compare your appearance to other people’s appearance?
  • Would you be able to like yourself at 20 pounds heavier?

In thinking about this, you might become aware that some of your feelings for your own body are actually more conditional than you might have thought. Could you like yourself if you gained weight?

If we don't have unconditional body love or ourselves, it's hard to teach it to our children.  Brene Brown has said, "We can't teach our girls what we ouselves don't know." And, Rachel Simmons, girl-empowerment writer and author of Enough As She Is, says, "We can't give our children what we don't have."

Unconditional Love

I have an extreme story about a mother's conditional body love for her daughter. I work with a mother who knows all the ups and downs of her 20-year-old daughter’s body history. She’s been monitoring this girl’s weight since puberty. This mother could tell you what her daughter weighed each month of her freshman year in college. Her discussions with her child revolve around the girl's body and the men she is seeing. 

The mother is not being careful about what she has made important in her home. It is not surprising that the daughter doesn't want to come home from college on her school breaks, especially since she's gained the dreaded Freshman 15. I call this an extreme mother story, but many women my age tell me that some version of this happened to them in their homes growing up. 

This hyper-focus on the daughter’s appearance and the men in her life is common in today’s mother/daughter relationships, even in 2018, in card-carrying-feminist households.  I talk to mothers all day who tell me that they spend quite a bit of time biting their tongues -- trying not to say the appearance comments that they are thinking to their daughters.  Why do you think this is?

Whatever the reason the mother needs to do this, it deprives her daughter of an oasis where she can feel loved for who she is, and not for what she looks like. We certainly know that Kardashian Culture isn't doing that for them. Our daughters are told a million time a day in many different ways that their appearance is the most important thing about them.

Loving her for who she is, not how you want her to be

Part of the job of parenting, and this is ofter hard, is to see your daughter and love her as she is, which is not always as you want her to be. With regard to her developing sense of herself, you can think of a million things you love about her that don't have anything to do with her appearance.

Mother and daughter

The irony of this story, is that when you love your child unconditionally, that’s actually HOW your child learns to unconditionally love herself. Loving herself is WHY she respects herself and WHY she takes care of her WHOLE SELF well – which includes eating right.

Diane Neumark-Sztainer who studies adolescents and eating disorders at the University of Minnesota, found that “Adolescent girls who love their bodies actually gain less weight over time than adolescent girls who hate their bodies.” 

 "You take care of things you love. You don't take care of things you hate."

--Renee Engeln, Beauty Sick, 2018

  • Linda Bacon and Lucy Aphramor, Body Respect, 2014.
  • Carolyn Costin, Your Dieting Daughter, 2013 (2nd edition).
  • Renee Engeln, Beauty Sick, 2017.
  • Judith Matz and Ellen Frankel, Beyond a Shadow of a Diet, 2014 (2nd edition).
  • Rachel Simmons, Enough As She Is, 2018.
  • Julia V. Taylor, The Body Image Workbook for Teens, 2014.
  • Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch,Intuitive Eating Workbook: 10 Principles for Nourishing a Healthy Relationship with Food, 2017.