How to talk about body image with your daughter
13 September 2021
Rebecca Sparrow is Suncorp’s #TeamGirls ambassador and a best-selling author, columnist, podcast host and passionate advocate for teenage girls. Rebecca regularly visits high schools to present to students, and has developed a range of resources to help girls navigate their way through their formative years.
What to say when your daughter says ‘I’m the fattest person on the team …’
This is the moment every parent dreads.
And it has nothing to do with wins on the field or goals achieved on court or even PBs (personal bests) in the pool.
Nope. Instead, it’s the moment your daughter comes home and says with tears in her eyes, ‘I don’t want to do this anymore. I’m the fattest person on the team …’
And you have absolutely no idea what to say next.
Let’s be honest. This is a tricky moment.
So first let’s talk about what NOT to say.
1. ‘You’re NOT FAT! You’re so skinny! Amelia is bigger than you!’
I totally understand how parents end up saying these words as they try to reassure their daughter. But the fact is the subtext to this message is that our body shape IS important and skinny is best. We’re also shaming a teammate in the process. We’re making body shape and weight front and centre of our response.
2. ‘Okay, well if you feel that way maybe you just need to stop eating so much fast food and commit to more exercise …’
Ouch. Again, this isn’t the way to go as it confirms in your daughter’s head that there’s something wrong with her body shape and that you are in fact agreeing with her.
So, what should parents say in this tricky moment?
I would hug my child and ask them what’s lead them to suddenly feel that way today. Maybe a fellow teammate or the coach has commented on their shape. Or maybe they’ve just become self-conscious when comparing themselves to other girls.
Next, I would point out the power of our self-talk. The truth is every human-being has fat on them. It plays an essential role in keeping us warm, protecting our organs and helping our body absorb nutrients.
You have fat, but you can’t BE fat.
Next, I would take your daughter’s hands and tell her what you see when you look at her e.g. “When I look at you, I see someone who is strong and fierce and kind. I see someone who is incredibly generous and loyal and curious and brave. I see someone who can smash me at Trivial Pursuit, who is a terrific team player on your netball team and who has the ability to inspire and rev up your teammates. I see someone who has a smile that lights up a room.”
From here, I would get out a copy of Goodnight Stories for Rebel Girls (a book full of inspirational women). Talk about (or Google) images of amazing women who have achieved incredibly things and who are loved and respected and whose success has nothing to do with being thin or pretty or hot – Malala Yousafzai, Gretel Bueta, Ellyse Perry, Abby Wambach, Jess Fox, Alli Brigginshaw, Alyssa Healy Michelle Obama, Serena Williams, Sam Kerr, Tayla Harris, Ash Barty, Karni Liddell, Turia Pitt, Poh Ling Yeow, Jessica Mauboy and Tia Claire-Toomey.
You’ll notice with female sports stars that the focus of their bodies is STRENGTH not thin-ness. The goal for your daughter is not to take up less space in the world.
Talk about how the media (internet, TV, social media, movies, music videos) has been working for decades to convince women the most important thing about them is their looks. Point out the sexism in TV commercials, TV shows, movies – mention how long it took for women to even be granted the vote. Remind her that as women we were not put on this earth to be looked at. To be pretty! Or skinny! Our bodies are instruments not ornaments!
Remind your daughter that her body is great. It allows her to run around and play/dance/play sport/walk the dog/turn the pages in her book. Our bodies are just what carries us around. It’s very hard not to focus on our looks in our society but focusing on the outside means we have less time to focus on the inside – to develop our gifts, talents and characters.
Remind your daughter that how she looks is the least interesting thing about her because she has so much to offer the world with her ideas, enthusiasm and energy.
Tell her that the goal is to feel strong and that’s what sport does for all of us.
For further help with issues surrounding eating disorders or body image concerns head to The Butterfly Foundation.
This content includes the views and opinions of a third-party, and does not necessarily reflect the views of Suncorp. Information is intended to be of a general nature only and any advice has been prepared without taking into account any person's particular objectives, personal situation or needs.