Swimsuit season is here, and for many women, that means negative self-talk in the mirror. You might turn around in your summer clothes and say, “I look fat” or “I look ugly.” We’re all guilty of it from time to time, but have you thought about who is listening?
That’s right — your daughter.
A recent CNN article breaks down the effect that mother’s have on their daughter’s emerging body image. They point out that five to eight-year-olds who believe that their mom’s are unhappy with their bodies are more inclined to dislike their own.
“Any time that we are criticizing ourselves, acting negatively or saying negative things about ourselves or engaging in dieting behaviors or other kinds of unhealthy eating behaviors, our daughters are watching this, and then they internalize that message and feel badly about their own bodies in return,” Laura Choate, professor of counselor education and author of Swimming Upstream: Parenting Girls for Resilience in a Toxic Culture, said in a statement to CNN. “So one of the best predictors of whether a girl will have negative body image is if her own mother has negative body image.”
In the United States, men and women spend billions each year to achieve their ideal body. For example, women who shave will spend over $10,000 on average and nearly two months of their lives removing body hair. And according to DoSomething.org, about 91% of women are unhappy with their bodies, and diet to achieve their ideal image.
Choate told CNN that young girls who see their mothers dieting and putting themselves down are going to internalize that directly.
“If you in turn are talking negatively about yourself and she sees you engaging in dieting behaviors and acting critical about yourself constantly, then she, no matter what you say to her, she is going to feel badly about herself,” she said.
One mom recently made national headlines for defying this standard and explaining healthy body image to her young daughter. Teen Vogue reports that self-help author and speaker Allison Kimmey was at the pool with her children when she told her daughter it was time to get out of the pool. The young girl angrily told her brother that their mother was “fat.” She retold the story on her Instagram, explaining that the word “fat” is not an insult in their family.
She writes that she told her kids, “The truth is, I am not fat. No one IS fat. It’s not something you can BE. But I do HAVE fat. We ALL have fat. It protects our muscles and our bones and keeps our bodies going by providing us energy…”
Kimmey goes on to say that it is the job of parents to be a positive influence for their children’s self esteem. While people judge a stranger’s trustworthiness in a tenth of a second on average, it is important for mothers to show the importance of self-love and acceptance, rejecting the importance of external validation.
“It is our job to continue to be the loudest, most accepting, positive and consistent voice they hear,” she writes. “So that it can rise above the rest.”