5 Things Fathers Can Do to Help Shape Their Daughters’ Body Image

A lot of attention is placed on what moms can do to help daughters with body image.  Dads can help too.  Recently, I read this article a colleague posted highlighting some myths about father-daughter relationships and the impact on body image.  I commented on it, which prompted it to pop up on my husband’s feed.  He reads the article and comes bombing up from his makeshift office in the basement to say “thank you for your comment because it was more helpful to me than the whole article.  I was looking for something specific I can do and you named it”.  Here was my comment:

“It would be helpful if they highlighted ways dads could proactively help shape positive [body image] in daughters by…. not objectifying or criticizing women’s bodies, making “fat” jokes, commenting on and/or comparing (to daughters), mothers’ bodies.  It’s good [that the article] breaks down some of the myths about father/daughter relationships and emphasizes that they “can” play a role, just as mothers do.  This is a good start.”

He thought other fathers might benefit from this and suggested I write a blog post on it.  Here it is!

5 Things Fathers Can Do to Help Their Daughters’ Body Image

Praise your daughter for her talents and qualities outside of appearance. It’s absolutely ok to let your daughter know how beautiful you think she is, just make sure this isn’t the ONLY thing you’re complimenting her on.  She will receive PLENTY of attention from others regarding her appearance and you have an important role in helping her see all those wonderful gifts she has that have nothing to do with luck and genes.  She will internalize messages you tell her about herself so here’s your chance to let her know how impressed you are with the things she works hard at – mastering her cartwheel, a beautiful painting, making a card or doing something kind for a friend or neighbor, studying hard, showing courage, etc.  There are countless ways to compliment without commenting on appearance.

  1. Praise your daughter for her talents and qualities outside of appearance. It’s absolutely ok to let your daughter know how beautiful you think she is, just make sure this isn’t the ONLY thing you’re complimenting her on.  She will receive PLENTY of attention from others regarding her appearance and you have an important role in helping her see all those wonderful gifts she has that have nothing to do with luck and genes.  She will internalize messages you tell her about herself so here’s your chance to let her know how impressed you are with the things she works hard at – mastering her cartwheel, a beautiful painting, making a card or doing something kind for a friend or neighbor, studying hard, showing courage, etc.  There are countless ways to compliment without commenting on appearance.
  2. Avoid commenting on other people’s bodies (including your own). Young ears listen well.  When your daughter hears you criticizing someone’s appearance, she absorbs that and thinks to herself, “I don’t want dad to think about me that way”.  She wants to make your proud and to shine in your eyes.  As she begins to internalize societal messages about beauty and feel pressure to conform, you have a great opportunity to help her see beauty in many different ways; to help her learn to appreciate and respect different body shapes and sizes.  The predominant message girls (and boys) hear is that there is one type of body that is beautiful.  For girls, this is often a body that represents how they may look pre-puberty.  Your daughter’s body will change and in ways you cannot be sure of.  You can help her embrace these changes more easily by not making derogatory comments about other bodies.
  3. Mind how you talk about her mother’s body. Again, going back to point #2, she’s always listening.  Make sure to avoid negative comments about your daughter’s mother’s body.  Regardless of whether you are in a relationship of not, this needs to be a ‘no fly’ zone.  You can take it a step further and talk about qualities you love about her mom outside of appearance, making sure to mention her body’s miraculous ability to birth and/or care for her children.  This may be a step outside the comfort zone for some dads but if you’re reading this post, my guess is that’s not going to stop you!
  4. Call out “fat” jokes. Unfortunately, fat jokes are as ubiquitous in our culture as technology.  They are in cartoons, movies, kids’ books, educational materials and frequently pop up at parties and family gatherings.  Some may find it hard not to laugh at these commonplace and seemingly innocuous jokes, let alone call them out.  Who wants to be that guy?  You do and here’s why.  Ridiculing body size is no different than ridiculing race, religion, sexuality and/or ethnicity.  Although it can be hard to be “that guy”, a gentle nudge to the offender can be so valuable, especially if your daughter is within ear shot.  A “hey dude, not cool!” or “fat jokes are so passé” will suffice.  Later, you can check in with your daughter acknowledging that these jokes do come up but that they are not ok because they hurt people.
  5. Spend time with her. There’s no replacement for spending quality time with your daughter.  This is especially true as she’s going through puberty and her body’s changing.  Find time to do the fun things you’ve always done together.  This will help her see that you love her even as she’s becoming a woman (and no longer your “little girl”).  Get outside.  Take her to the mountains, the ocean, the lake…. go on a bike ride, a walk, a hike, pick apples.  Help her see what her body can do.  Plus, car rides and engaging activities are an opportunity to talk.

Still looking for more.  Here are some 10 tips to stay close with your daughter through adolescence.