Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Yes! You CAN Raise a Daughter Who Loves Her Body!

[Note: This is a guest post from an amazing woman I met via twitter. I'm super excited to share her writing and her message! I think it is a CRITICAL message for everyone who has a daughter. Give Hilary a shout out via twitter or in the blog comments if you agree!]

If I had read the title of this post a few years ago, I would have had two reactions: ‘that’s not possible’, and ‘tell me more.’ I would have been split down the middle between believing that we exist in a world where loving our bodies as women is nearing impossibility, and wanting desperately to know that it didn’t have to be that way.

But all of that doubt changed a few years ago. When trying to pick a topic for my master’s thesis, I kept coming back to the fear that I would one day have a daughter who struggled with her body in the same way I have. So, my supervisor and I set out to find young women who loved their bodies, and learn from them and their mothers what went right.

Over hours and hours of conversation with these women, and their mothers, we learned two very important things.

First, it is possible for young women to love their bodies, and their mothers absolutely had a role to play in that.

As it currently stands in North America, women who love, or even tolerate their bodies, are in the minority. The overwhelming research suggests that most women (most statistics hover around 90%) now dislike or even hate their body. In order to turn this tide, each of us as individuals, and as collective body of girls and women, need to work together for our own good and for the good of those we love. In order to do this, we need to believe it’s possible.

Second, there are specific things that mothers can do for, and with, their daughters that make that body-love possible.[1]

Work on your own relationship with your body, and be honest about it.

Every daughter in our study loved her body, just as it is, but that was not the case for the mothers. The moms thought they did a good job of hiding their dissatisfaction with their own bodies from their daughters, but their daughters thought differently. In fact, the daughters could recall times when they heard their mom say negative things about her body, words that just ‘slipped out,’ even when the mom had no memory of this. What made a big difference is when the mothers were honest about it with their daughters. For example, “I’m struggling with loving my body, but I want to learn how, so I can show you that you can love your body, too”. 

You cannot give your children what you do not have. One of the best things you can do to help your daughter love her body, is learn to love your own: as is!

Give her opportunities to be powerful, in her mind and body.

In the girls who loved their bodies, they’d been given opportunities to feel strong. This happened usually in two ways:

1 - in their bodies by doing things like playing sports, hiking, and gardening.

2 - in their minds by valuing their opinions, and making sure they felt like their ideas mattered, even with small decisions that seemed insignificant.

It’s important to show your daughters that it’s okay to be powerful, to have opinions, to take up space, both literally and figuratively. It’s also important to show your daughters that feeling your physical strength can help you have fun, learn, and experience the world around you.

Communicate to your daughter that ‘you, and your body, are GOOD!’ Plan a time to do something physical with your daughter, like go for a bike ride or a hike. And, even if you’re afraid of what she might say, ask her what she thinks, and show her that her opinions and ideas matter.

Let her know her know it’s OK to be who she is.

In our study, the daughters always felt their mothers loved them, just as they were. This doesn’t mean that the moms always approved of or liked every decision their daughters made, but they always communicated that their daughters were ‘enough’ and didn’t have to earn their love by behaving well, getting good grades, or being a certain weight.

Feeling secure of a mother’s love makes a difference in how young women are able to live their lives in the world. It helps them know that they are valuable, even if they don’t look like the model in the magazine. Because they learn from their mothers that they are beautiful just as they are, they’re not as likely to try and do things to earn love or beauty, like extreme dieting, or giving in to pressure to have sex. Remember that even though your daughter might make choices you disagree with, she needs to know your constant and unconditional love you have for her.

Media literacy is critical.

The link between viewing media with images of thin women, body dissatisfaction, and eating disorders has been proven repeatedly. And since we cannot escape media, it’s important that girls know how to interpret media, learning to see through the illusions.

In our study, all of the young women knew how to critically interpret how media portrays women’s bodies. They were able to identify things like how ‘photo-shopping’ of images is used to make women look thinner than they really are, or how images of thin, usually white women, do not accurately reflect the diversity of the female body. Their mothers helped them do this by engaging their daughters in critical conversations about how women’s bodies are portrayed. Some of these young women chose not to buy certain magazines, as a way of protecting themselves, in their own acts of personal resistance.

If your daughter can ‘think for herself,’ especially about media, she is less likely to develop an eating disorder. It can sometimes feel awkward at first, but talk with your daughter about the messages the media is giving about women’s bodies.

As a mother you have an important role in your daughter’s life; some might even say the most important role of all. One of the best things you can do for her is to dream of a world in which she can love herself, exactly as she is, and take small steps every day to create this.

Here’s what you can do:

Work on your own self image.

Help her experience her own strength.

Be sure she knows you love her just as she is.

Teach her to think critically about the media.

By doing this, you are not only giving your daughter a gift of security and freedom, but you are participating in something bigger: you are helping to create a world where it’s possible for women to love their bodies.

Hillary L McBride is a therapist, researcher, speaker and writer from Vancouver BC, Canada. She is currently finishing a book she is writing on how mothers can help their daughters develop a healthy relationship with their bodies, based on innovative research she started during her Masters, and is continuing during her PhD in Counselling Psychology. Follow her on twitter @hillarylmcbride for updates on writing, research, and speaking.

[1] Mother-daughter relationships are incredibly complex, and vary tremendously based on the personalities, strengths, and experiences of each mother and daughter. If you have further questions, or are struggling in this area, contacting a therapist who has experience working with these issues is a good idea.  

And here's ANOTHER great post on this subject with more excellent links and resources: 8 Ways to Empower Kids to Love Their Bodies 


  1. This is all so true! I also think it's important to talk to our husbands and fathers and sons about how they talk about women's bodies. And when we talk about our bodies and our daughter's bodies positively, we need to think about how those comments will effect them when their body changes.

    1. Excellent points - thanks so much for sharing this! the influence of male comments, especially males that matter to them, is powerful. We need to pay attention to their words.

  2. There's also this unspoken rule that when you're around other girls or women that you are supposed to trash yourself. You know, "I'm so ugly, I'm so fat, I look so gross" because if you like the way you look then you're somehow stuck up and vain. It's 'supposed to' make other people feel better. Like if I say I look awful then your flaws are ok too. That's a thing that needs to stop.

    1. Truth. It needs to stop. I don't know why we women feel this need to sabotage ourselves and hence, our daughters.