Fostering a Healthy Body Image in Your Daughter

Having a healthy body image is something many women struggle with. We look in the mirror and see all the imperfections, some real and some imagined. We think our legs are too fat instead of noticing how strong and muscular they are. Wrinkles, pimples, flabby arms, too tall, too short, too thin, too heavy – you name it, we can find it. Negative thoughts build, leading us to unhealthy habits, like yo-yo dieting, overly restricting our food choices, or overeating.

Is it any surprise that our young daughters often feel the same way about themselves?

In fact, around 80% of 10-year-old girls fear becoming fat, and many of them have already dieted to try to lose weight. They diet, not because they need to, but because of a flawed view of themselves – a poor body image.

I’ve struggled with it myself. From the time I acquired the nickname “Chubs” as a child to well into adulthood I thought of myself as fat or heavy. As a teenager I tried many diets. The thing was it didn’t make me feel any better about myself. But I’ve gotten older and become more comfortable in my own skin as my faith has grown.

So as a parent of two daughters, it’s always been important for my husband and me to raise them with a healthy body image, and we took steps to try to accomplish that. But, now that they’re eighteen and twelve, I wanted to know how they truly felt about their body. So I asked them.

My twelve-year-old feels good about her body because she’s healthy and can do the things she wants to do, like play basketball and have fun with her friends. My eighteen year old answered similarly about being healthy and active. But she also mentioned that, because of her interest in graphic arts and knowledge of Photoshop and Illustrator, she’s not influenced much by what she sees on magazine covers and ads. She knows the photos don’t accurately depict what the model looks like because they’ve been changed – wrinkles erased, thighs slimmed down, waists made smaller. The mom in me was so glad to hear what they had to say.

Since then it’s been on my heart to share what my husband and I did to help our daughters have the healthy body image they have today.

Tips to Foster a Healthy Body in Your Daughter

  • Focus on health – While I want my kids to eat a healthy diet and maintain a healthy weight, I don’t want them to be consumed with dieting and weight. Our focus is on being healthy, not attaining a certain weight. Remember – weight is a measure of health and not a measure of who you are as a person.
  • Be an example – Even though I struggled with a poor body image, I was careful not to obsess about my own weight or appearance in front of my girls. Our kids watch us and hear what we say. If we’re constantly thinking our own bodies are flawed, our kids will pick up on that and imitate us by thinking their bodies are flawed.
  • Watch your words – We try hard not to allow our kids to say snide remarks about one another’s weight. If they do, we talk about it and discuss it. Remember – words are powerful.
  • Limit the media – Media is a huge influence in the lives of our kids. When they see extremely thin models on magazine covers or ads it makes them think they need to be like that. It feeds the desire to be thinner and stirs within them a dissatisfaction with their own body. So get rid of those magazines and find more positive influences. Show them videos of how photos of models are changed so they know what they’re looking at isn’t real. Godvine has one here showing how four women were Photoshopped to look like models and shows their reaction when shown the photos.
  • Keep communication open – Talk with them about the changes going on in their bodies during the adolescent years and even before that. Always invite them to talk with you about any concerns they have about their bodies. Ask them how they feel about themselves and their bodies.
  • Give them affirmation – Your girls need to hear they are beautiful because of who they are inside, not based on what they look like. Go ahead and tell them they’re beautiful when they’re all dressed up, but be sure and tell them they’re beautiful when they’re all messed up too. Emphasize that beauty comes from within – because it does.
  • Reinforce their identity – As parents we’ve always stressed to our kids how important they were because they were made by God. They are special and beautiful because they are made in His image and God doesn’t make mistakes. They should take care of themselves and respect the body God gave them because He loves them and wants them to be healthy. Their identity is in Christ – not in their weight or what they look like.

Fostering a healthy body image in our daughters takes thoughtfulness, action, and a lot of prayer. These are things my husband and I have done (and still are doing) to help our daughters grow and mature into adults with a healthy body image.

How do you help your daughters navigate their way to a healthy body image? Please share your thoughts and comments below. I’d love to read them. If you’ve enjoyed this post please consider sharing it on Facebook or Twitter.

Thank you for sharing!


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  2. This is something I think about a lot, as I am a mama to 2 girls as well. It’s so important for us to be aware of everything we say and do around these precious, and moldable, littles. Found you through the Titus 2 linkup- glad I did! I’ll be following along. 🙂

    1. They sure do pick up on things so easily, don’t they. If we can tame our own tongue and watch what we say we’re one step ahead. Thanks for visiting!

  3. I think too many girls worry too much about what they look like size wise and such. I believe that my girls should be confident in themselves because to me “confidence is what makes you sexy” not to give the wrong idea I do not ever want my girls to be “sexy” lol but it is a good way to get them to see themselves. The more confident you are in who you are and the way you are the more attractive you will be.

  4. Marie, it is so true that we must watch our words in front of our children. Words are a force, and whether we want the responsibility or not, the next generation looks to us to nurture their beings. The human condition is so delicate. Nice post.

  5. A very important post! I especially love #1 and it really worries me when I hear moms who are always talking about “calories” and “low fat.”

    1. Julie – I agree. So many people obsess about what they eat instead of just eating a healthy diet and enjoying it. Obsessing over it takes all the joy out of eating and doesn’t send a positive message about health to our kids. Thanks for visiting!

    1. Oh yes, boys can have body image issues to deal with too. Theirs may a bit different in that they’re often trying to obtain the muscular look that’s so often portrayed by male models. It can be just as damaging. Sounds like you’re doing a good job with your boys! Thanks for visiting.

  6. Yes, yes, yes! I don’t have girls, but I have seen #2 played out with some friends of mine. One mom is particular is always obsessing over her body and dieting and trying new things to lose weight. Her (VERY thin) 12-year-old daughter has started dieting to lose weight. Just where she is going to try to lose it from, I’m not sure. When I was 12, an aunt told me that my butt was huge. I was wearing a size 4 at the time. Looking back, I can’t believe I believed that lie! I was NOT fat! At the time, though, I was horrified and thought it was true.

    I’m SO glad your daughters have a positive perspective on their bodies. That is huge!

    1. Amy – I find it so sad when young girls think they need to diet . . . and twelve is so young. They need good examples of what healthy eating and a healthy lifestyle look like, and not be told things that lead them to unhealthy eating patterns. Thanks for stopping.

  7. Thank you for this! My daughter is 4, and she has been “exercising” some with me, or at least watching. I try to be careful with my words about why I am working out, and this post gave me several great ideas on how to encourage her overall self-image.

  8. This hit home. I look at myself and see so many things that I wish I could change. It really is a mind thing. Sometimes I am okay with my body and then other times I am not.

    1. Hi Jennifer – It really is a battle, isn’t it? Praying you can overcome the times when negative thinking presents itself. Thanks for visiting.

  9. Hand in hand with the broader concept of self worth. So much of life is online nowadays and projecting this image of what you want to be rather than what you are fully and completely. We’ve been handed a bag of lies that says that only the perfect and polished is worthy. Good self image is key to being able to fully develop a deep appreciation for your full self worth.

    1. Exactly. We’re hit by so many lies about what is worthy and what is not in terms of body image. That’s why it’s important to limit and monitor media, and point out to our kids what’s true and what’s not. Thank you for your thoughts!

  10. Hi Marie! This was truly an insightful post. It’s heartbreaking for us moms to see our girls struggle with what our culture and present generation’s definition of beauty. I completely agree that we should be role models for them and assure them that real beauty comes from within. Thank you for sharing!

    1. Shelah – The definition of beauty has really changed, hasn’t it. I find it interesting to go back, not even 100 years, and you see such a difference in what people considered beautiful. Ultimately, though, it’s who we are inside that counts. As moms we can choose what kind of role model we’ll be for our kids. Thanks for your sharing your thoughts!

  11. I have some issues with my body, I have gained weight for the past years. I try my best not to complain about my body or appearance in front of my kids. I have 3 boys and my youngest son is the one affected about body weight issues. He does not want to eat a lot because he doesn’t want to get “fat”. I had to explain to him that it’s not about the weight, it’s about being healthy. Media has indeed influenced the mindset of the people on what is beautiful and sexy. As parents, I try my best to teach kids not to judge people based on their appearance.

    1. Kids hear things about body image and weight from many places other than their parents. Keep influencing him with your words and actions about the mindset of being healthy. Sounds like you’re doing good and working on it while he’s young.

  12. We have found tip #1 along with exercise to be key in how we perceive ourselves. If we feel good, due to healthy food and exercise, we think positive thoughts!

    1. Good job, Audrey! Exercise is definitely beneficial. I know I always feel better about myself when I’m exercising regularly. It reminds you that you’re healthy and strong. Thanks for visiting!

  13. I love these ideas! I so agree. My sister and I grew up in an atmosphere that stressed beauty and thinness. We were seriously obsessed with it! I find for myself that the more fit I am, the less I notice my shape in terms of how it looks. Rather, what I notice is how I feel, my good posture, or how much stamina I have in a day….all b/c I got up and rode the bike before our family’s day started. My 11yo has started riding the stationary bike now too. It might be too “boring” for him but I read a read-aloud to him….so we both have fun!

    Good for you. Your girls are starting out from such a healthy place, thanks to the wisdom of their parents!

    1. Being fit impacts my self-perception as well. I feel better and have more energy. Great job in modeling to your son a healthy lifestyle and attitude. Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

  14. Awesome! I love that video! (Shared it on social media, too.)
    I have two little girls and I’ve always struggled with my weight growing up. This yr, something in me snapped and I am taking control of losing this weight and living a healthier life so that I can be a great model to my girls. Thanks for the great tips!

    1. Jasmine – I liked the video as well. Media has powerful presence in our lives and it’s important to share positive ones like this with our kids. Good for you on living a healthier lifestyle this year!

  15. As a mom of 2 girls, I found this post intriguing. I love the tip of telling them their beautiful when they are a mess. Though I get a sarcastic, shy look from my oldest when we compliment her, she really does enjoy the attention.

  16. So important!! Also, powerful words we should be applying to our own lives. There are so many adults that still struggle with these same issues that our daughters do.

    1. Yolanda – I agree. Many adults, women and men, struggle with these issues. Thanks for the reminder to apply them to ourselves as well!

  17. Your words are so true. Numbers 6 & 7 especially, even though I really believe all of them are equally important :-). I’ve never been thin, so many of these things I wish I had heard and learned long ago. I have tried to teach my daughter differently than what I believed about myself. Interestingly enough – she didn’t believe me until I believed these about me.

    1. For our family, numbers six and seven are key as well – though all of them are important. Like you, I found that their self perception seemed to change along with mine. Thanks for sharing!

  18. Although I try to keep my words in check when I’m around my daughter, I can’t say the same about the people around her. It’s disturbing to hear other people comment about my daughter’s weight. Though most of the comments were spoken in jest, calling a toddler fat or heavy is upsetting. In a way, it’s similar to being pegged as naughty, rowdy, or inattentive. The only thing I can do is reaffirm her that she’s beautiful no matter what and set a good example by not obsessing about calorie counts.

    1. Unfortunately, people don’t always “think” before they comment about something like that. But you have a greater influence on your daughter and it sounds like you’re doing a great job. Keep it up and encourage a healthy lifestyle. Thanks for sharing!

  19. My children are four year old twins (boy and a girl). I do try to make sure the term “fat” isn’t used around them. I don’t talk about myself in a disparaging way and we encourage the idea of eating healthily. Thanks for sharing the makeover video. I think the participants expressed their perspectives very well.

  20. Wow. This is great–especially since I struggle with body image. I don’t have kids yet, but defiantly don’t want them to grow up with my same struggles. Thanks for the advice!

  21. i love this post especially about nurturing the identity of a child. This is where there sense of being comes from

  22. I have two daughters and agree with all the points you made. It’s all about balance and communication. So long as you can all talk about things that concern you then you can help them deal with how they see their bodies and any issues that may arise.

    1. Keeping communication lines open is so important in helping them work through all the negative influences in their lives. Keep talking with them and asking open ended questions too. Thanks for visiting!

  23. As a mother to a little girl (8 yrs) it astonishes me when she comes home from school declaring she is fat–even more disturbing because she is a toothpick. We talk often about how it is more important to be healthy than anything else. I think as parent, and especially mothers, we need to continue to foster healthy body image in our girls. There is so much in the media etc. that can steer them down really unhealthy paths.

    1. Oh, I agree. It amazes me how young the girls are when they start contemplating their own body image, thinking they are overweight when they’re not, and wanting to diet already. Childhood doesn’t seem to last very long anymore. Thanks for sharing.

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  25. These are great tips! My daughter is 2 but I have already begun to think of the future and how to foster a healthy body image for her. I have always struggled with it and have suffered an eating disorder. I definitely want my daughter to have different than I did. We already watch what we say around the kids and try to foster a healthy lifestyle.

  26. Oh my can I say I really love this article??? I really love this! As a mother of 3 young girls and one who has CONSTANTLY struggled with body image… I really appreciate this. I am pinning it for the reminder! Thank you for giving very good steps and thoughtful insight!

  27. Young girls should not be concerning themselves with their body image. Hopefully their parents are instilling the proper values in them and teaching them healthy eating habits (from a health perspective).

    Rachel recently wrote Using the Oreo Cookie to Get Clients

    1. I agree. They shouldn’t be focused on body image. Unfortunately, there are a lot of messages out there in the media and from friends that tell them they need to be concerned about it. So being proactive as a parent is definitely needed. Thanks for stopping by!

  28. I don’t have any kids yet, but I remember, when I was nannying, some of the body images the young girls had and I remember them telling me it was because of either movie or a book or hearing their mom say negative comments about her own bodies. As adults, I think it can be easy to forget how much children look up to us and soak up from us and how much we really need to lead by example and watch our words.

  29. I grew up slightly overweight as a child (I didn’t find out that I had a thyroid problem unitl I was 27!) But, I was always self-conscious. I definitely didn’t want my daughters to grow up with that. My mother used to put my brother and I on the same diet every time she went on a diet. That began love/hate relationship with food. Plus, the extended families loved us with “sugary foods” for rewards, gifts, etc. I eat really healthy now, and don’t struggle with my weight at all. The most important things that I did were teach my girls that God is love, and food is not. And I also didn’t create a space of judgment about eating “bad foods vs. good foods”. I always framed food choices in the context of whether eating it would give life to their bodies, and make them feel good or whether it’d make them feel bad/sick.

  30. I have one daughter and I hope and pray that she’s as wise as your daughters. She’s going on 4 years old. I’m also very careful about what I say around her and I am working hard at being healthier to set a good example for her.

  31. I’m not a mom yet but I love this post! Thank you for asking your girls and for being a positive role model for them. Glad your graphic artist realizes that magazine covers are NOT reality and that your younger one is happy and healthy. Beautiful post!

  32. Back when my daughter was around 6 she told me she had to go on a diet. While I have always talked about weightloss and healthy eating, it’s never been referred to as a diet. I was devastated. Thankfully it was just a learning experience for me to pay more attention to how we talked about food.

    In high school she wrestled and boy did I have to watch how we approached that. Our coaches are amazing but it’s still a sport that is all about the scale. I’m blessed that between my fitness training degree, husband that is into sports and kick butt coaches she has a very healthy view of food and exercise. The second year she decided that wrestling up a weight class was a much better idea. It takes a village!

    1. Oh my, six is so young. But it sounds like you really helped her through that – nurturing a healthier view now. Well done. Thanks for sharing!

  33. What a great conversation! I completely agree that the way we think about our bodies in terms of health is so important. I have always struggled with my weight since the birth of my kids, I never lost my pregnancy weight…and then I added more. Prior to my kids, I never had an issue with weight and really didn’t appreciate how challenging the idea of weight can be. I am just now getting comfortable with the idea that I have something other than a size 2 figure and that it’s okay. This article is so helpful!

  34. My girls are small but I don’t think it’s ever too early to start. I tell them that they are beautiful and encourage my husband to do the same. We also constantly remind the girls of the great things that are special and unique to them.

  35. It is very important to be a healthy example to children. My fiancé has a 10 year old boy and even he is self conscious about being “fat”. I can’t even believe a boy that young is thinking like this already! It’s because he hears the adults around him talk like that and even gets comments from some of them about being chubby. That breaks my heart. It really shows how our society needs to take care when addressing this issue.

    1. Yes, boys can have body image issues too. I have a 10 year old boy and he picks up on what others say too. It’s a constant battle to counteract all the media and talk from others. Thankfully, he’s very healthy and seems to have a good view of himself too. Thanks for sharing!

  36. Thanks for the great tips and reminders. My daughter is only five, but I think this starts early. If we work on a healthy image now we won’t have to work on reversing things in the future.

  37. I agree! There are so many things telling young girls nowadays how perfect they have to be – magazines, tv, ads, etc. I tell my girls often that they are beautiful and that I love them just the way they are.

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