The Most Important Message Women Can Send Their Daughters

American media outlets, from print to television, are often riddled with thin, perfect looking women.

There are countless media stories about dieting and women being unhappy with their appearance, especially as they age.

But there is a dire consequence in the messages women see about how they should look and feel — and it begins at home.

Studies show eating disorders and anxiety over physical appearance are at an all-time high in our nation’s girls, from teens to kids as young as kindergarten age.

Though media portrayals of women are partly to blame, it is found that a mother’s attitude and actions are the greatest influence on a daughter’s body image and self-esteem.

USA Today reported:

Because it’s not the media or skinny, out-of-proportion Barbie dolls or even peer pressure that is the No. 1 cause of body issues for young girls.

It’s their mothers.

“Moms are probably the most important influence on a daughter’s body image,” said Dr. Leslie Sim, clinical director of Mayo Clinic’s eating disorders program and a child psychologist. “Even if a mom says to the daughter, ‘You look so beautiful, but I’m so fat,’ it can be detrimental.”

Women’s bodies change after having children, and often mothers struggle with body image and self-confidence more than any other demographic in the United States.

Mothers who talk about dieting, complain about their appearance, or excessively focus on how they look are doing a major disservice to their daughters.

Eating disorders are on the rise in young girls, as well as using potentially dangerous weight-loss medications, drinks, or even smoking to be thin.

 The Harvard Crimson reported on recent findings:

The findings confirm the influence of parents’ words and actions on their children’s attitude toward body image. 

“While it’s less likely that parents are directly saying something about their children’s weight, a mother’s desire to become thinner can directly impact her children’s attitude,” Field said.

Field also said that the study showed a surprisingly large number of mothers who had a strong desire to become thinner. Nearly 54 percent of mothers were unsatisfied with their weight.

“We often see weight as being an issue for teenage girls, but this study shows that mothers are often more concerned about weight than their children,” she said.

And CNN Health reported:

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Mothers play a “huge role” when it comes to affecting their daughters’ body image, a much larger role than most moms realize, said Laura Choate, a professor of counselor education at Louisiana State University.

“Any time that we are criticizing ourselves, acting negatively or saying negative things about ourselves or engaging in dieting behaviors or other kinds of unhealthy eating behaviors, our daughters are watching this, and then they internalize that message and feel badly about their own bodies in return,” said Choate, whose experience includes more than 15 years as a licensed professional counselor. “So one of the best predictors of whether a girl will have negative body image is if her own mother has negative body image.”

Even if we as mothers constantly praise our daughters, telling them they are beautiful and that they shouldn’t worry about what other people think, if we talk negatively about ourselves, that is the message they are going to receive.

Pediatricians and psychologists alike agree that while mothers should make their children aware of the importance of eating healthy and exercising, they need to focus on feeling healthy and strong, and not the effect those actions have on their physical appearance.

Mothers should let their children know, in word and action, that all women are valuable and do not need to fit a media-portrayed role.

By being open about the normal changes young girls’ bodies will go through, and focusing on healthy living rather than appearance, we can help our daughters feel self-confident.