How Dads Affect Their Daughters' Body Image

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redhead father little girl daughter
Fathers have a tremendous impact on body image and self-esteem.

Imagine this scene from your childhood: Your body has just started developing — and you're uncomfortable with the changes — when your father makes a joke about it. Perhaps he is uneasy about his little girl growing up because it makes him feel older, and he says something like, "Wow, you're really getting big! You'd better get some new clothes because that shirt is way too tight and makes you look fat!"

He probably meant that you were ready to buy a larger size shirt, and it's completely normal for girls to outgrow sizes quickly while they're developing. What you heard, though, was a completely different message. You heard that your dad thought you were fat, that form-fitting clothes were somehow inappropriate and that being 'big' would not be something your dad would like.

 

When dads make comments about women's bodies, daughters learn that their bodies and looks are open to comparison — and criticism.

In the scenario above, the dad is confused about his role and how he should treat his little girl now that she's becoming a young woman. He's not sure if he should cuddle, hug and hold hands with his daughter as he has done for the past ten years. He's confused about discussing sexual issues, so he says something inappriate. He may also distance himself from his daughter in order to not put his foot in his mouth.

My research combined with my experience as a parent educator (I'm also a parent of five daughters and two foster daughters) has taught me that dads play a big role in helping their daughters learn to like themselves. If a girl does not hear from her dad (or other significant male adult) that she's attractive before she turns 14, she never completely believes it from another man. When a girl becomes a teenager, the input and approval she does receive from her dad helps her maintain a positive body image. Keep reading ...

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