How Not to Talk to Girls About Their Bodies

How Not to Talk to Girls About Their Bodies

Growing up in a weight obsessed culture was a constant battle for me. Not only did I get labeled as “gorda” (fat), but I was faced with a never ending series of comments and judgements about my weight.

Throughout my life, I have been anywhere from a size 8 to a size 14 allowing people many opportunities to comment about the changes in my size – “You’ve gained so much weight!” or “You look so good. How did you lose all the weight?!”

How Not to Talk to Girls About their Bodies

In college, I loathed my visits home because I knew that with every “fat” comment I received my self-hatred and insecurity would grow. I never wanted to go to the movies or the mall in my hometown because I might run into people I know. I just didn’t have the energy or willpower to smile and pretend like their comments were okay and didn’t cut deep.

But I wasn’t safe at home either. Family stopping by to see me would immediately talk about my weight. And when I say immediately, I mean that it was the first thing out of their mouths, as if it hadn’t even occurred to me that I had gained weight. I do occasionally pass by a mirror. And I do notice when I have to go up a size in clothing, but thanks for the memo.

My own parents focused more on my weight in college than my grades. My father’s jokes centered on my size, while my mother seemed to always offer her services to help me lose weight. “Nutrisystem is on sale! Want me to buy it for you?” she would exclaim in random phone calls like it was the most natural thing in the world. They were never aware of my crippling self-esteem. They never saw the countless tears I shed or the way I tried to cover my body with layers of clothing.

At my slimmest I was a size 8 and worked out 4-5 hours a day due to sports, but still my grandfather would say, “You need to lose 10 more pounds and then you’ll be okay. ” You see, this wasn’t just a random weight obsession that started with my parents. This was a cycle that was continuing through my family and in our culture.

When she was growing up, my mother was the “gorda” in her family, despite having been slim and fit. So as an adult she couldn’t help but focus on diets, cutting carbs, and helping me reach the “right” weight. No one ever told her that you are more than just a number on a scale or a clothing tag; that your worth and beauty are not tied to the size of your waist or the fullness of your cheeks.

Now that I am a new aunt, my biggest fear is that this cycle will continue with my niece and the future generations of women. Because of this, I want to call attention to this issue. I want to scream from the rooftops that beauty comes in all sizes, that we are more than just our appearance, and that it’s okay to look different.

So today I thought I would share some tips on how to talk to girls about their bodies:

1. Don’t talk about her weight, ever.

It would be much better to compliment her on her talents or personality than to focus on her appearance. Girls are much more than just pretty little things. They are smart, funny, athletic, and more. Encourage the growth of her mind and interests instead of focusing on her beauty.

If you must compliment her appearance, don’t mention her size. Don’t compliment her on losing weight or focus on her weight gain. Instead, tell her she looks strong or happy. Always remember to nourish her self-esteem.

2. Don’t focus on your own weight.

Now I’m not saying that you should avoid eating healthy or working out, but you should avoid talking negatively about your weight or food in front of young girls. They will pick up on this and develop your same insecurities.

Here’s a video of a poem by Lily Myers entitled “Shrinking Women” that can explain this so much better than I can:

3. Encourage girls to be active.

Encourage them to run or work out because it’s a good stress reliever. Encourage them to play sports because it’s fun and they can learn about leadership and teamwork. Encourage them to go hiking, swimming, or surfing because it’s nice to enjoy nature. Don’t encourage them to be active because they need to lose that baby fat.

4. Eat healthy.

Don’t count calories or focus on good or bad food. Promote eating healthy because the food is delicious and will give you energy.  This will help develop good eating habits without developing a negative or warped relationship with food.

It took me a long time to feel comfortable in my own skin, but now, at the age of 28, I own it! Most days. So should you! And we should not let the next generation of women grow up feeling like they have to fit some absurd standard of beauty and weight. Eff that noise! Let’s teach them to be proud, confident and self-assured women.

How do you talk to your daughters or nieces about their bodies? Should anything be added to this list? Leave me a comment and let me know!

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  • Lauren Gardner

    Absolutely love this post. In high school I was a size 2 & a cheerleader, but guess what? I was so unhappy; constantly counting calories, & feeling badly because I wasn’t the smallest cheerleader. Since I quit cheerleading & just started exercising, eating right & not worrying – I’ve gone up to a size 8. But honestly, I don’t care. Sure, every once in awhile I’ll see a little gut in the mirror & think, “damn it!” But really, I’m happy, I’m healthy & I’m okay with myself. I’m glad you’ve come to this conclusion as well. Change begins with us – & hopefully it will spread to future generations.

    • I think we all have those moments in the mirror where we see some flaw staring back at us. It’s an ongoing battle when it’s so ingrained into our society, but what’s important is that most days we love our bodies. 🙂 I’m so glad that you have found that confidence and self-acceptance!! I hope that more women and girls are just as lucky.

  • Wow, i actually burst into tears reading this. I am where you were and i hate it. 2 family members have had me in tears this month, including last night, after making comments about a diet that is “brilliant, you should try it”. One even went as far as researching to see if it was in my town. Tell me, how am i not supposed to want to kill myself?!

    • I’m so sorry that you are currently going through this. I don’t think people realize how hurtful it can be to say those kinds of things. Just know that these are their issues, not yours. There is nothing wrong with you or your body. And you do not need “brilliant” new diets. You are beautiful just the way you are. 🙂 Perhaps, you can try explaining to them how much it hurts when they say such things. Or you can always direct them to this blog for some insight. I hope things get better!

      • Charlene Fitzgerald

        Oh I had a big emotional freak out last night so I think I made myself clear enough!

  • I burst into tears reading this. I’m going through the same with my family. I received two sneaky “try this diet” comments in the past few weeks. Last night the person making the comment even checked to see if the slimming club is in my town. How can i not want to kill myself after comments like that?!

    • oops, thought the first comment didnt go through there!

      • Heh. No worries! I actually did the same thing on a blog I commented on this morning too. 🙂

  • Thank you so much for this post. I am always so conscious of this when talking to my own daughter who is 2 1/2. As someone who grew up with (and still has) terrible body issues, I am hypersensitive to the messages I am sending to my own daughter.

    • I think it’s great that you are so conscious about the messages you are sending to your daughter. I think we all want the next generation to be free of our own insecurities. 🙂 I hope that you are also able to find that confidence and self-love that you want to instill within your daughter. You’re gorgeous! 🙂 And I think the best example you can give your daughter is by loving and accepting yourself. I also think it’s the best gift we can give ourselves.

  • I just wrote about a similar topic on my blog. I had a stranger in a store tell me that I could be pretty if I wore makeup, right in front of my three year old. I’m am so careful what I say about myself in front of her because a lot of my own body image issues stemmed from things I heard my mom say about herself.

    This is my letter to that stranger, if you are interested:

    • Wow! I can’t believe a stranger would actually say that to someone they don’t know. I think it’s awesome that you are trying to shield your daughter from the “accidental inheritance” of body image issues. And from your letter it seems that you are doing a great job at dealing with yours! You are a beautiful writer and I loved everything that you said. One of my favorite parts was:

      “Maybe it’s time we, as women, start seeing our bodies as a vehicle for our unique human experiences instead of a part of ourselves upon which we precariously balance our worth, starve ourselves to perfect, and spend precious time finding new and inventive ways to cover. ”

      Very powerful stuff. 🙂 Thanks for sharing it with me!

  • You’re right–pressuring women about their weight and making girls (kids!) feel bad about their appearance is a vicious cycle. Like you and others in the comments, I got a lot of positive reinforcement from my mom whenever I lost weight, and occasional cutting comments about my appearance when I gained it. She is extra sensitive about weight after being teased as a kid, and, in her own way, I think she was trying to protect me. Eventually I stared her in the eye and very pointedly told her that I will worry about my own weight, thankyouverymuch, and it really hasn’t been an issue since.

    Thanks for offering the great positive action steps. I recently started working in a daycare and I’m always trying to be conscious about the language, tone, and body language I use with both boys and girls, and I looove complimenting kiddos on their excellent choice of board book (Little Blue anyone?) or adept block-stacking skills. We can do the same for adults, no appearance-related comments needed!

    • It took my mom a long time to understand, but she did finally come around also. I’m glad yours did too. 🙂 And I completely agree! We can definitely do that for adults! We can choose to focus on their sparkling and beautiful personalities, amazing talents, charming wits, and their gut-busting sense of humors.

      P.S. Working with kiddos must be both challenging and awesome!