Girls always give us insightful feedback about their dads when we talk to them during our Father-Daughter Summit events. Usually, their comments focus on two areas: they’d like to spend more regular one-on-one time with their dad, and they want to be able to share more with him and know that he’ll listen and not get angry.
At a recent event, we were surprised by how many girls commented on issues related to body image. Because of the research on daughters and body image, that topic is always on our radar, but the responses at this event were overwhelming. Many of the daughters said they felt unloved by their dad because of all the comments he made about watching what they eat and exercising, and even making occasional jokes about their figures. In an age where many influences in our kids’ lives—TV, movies, magazines, and their peers—glorify women who are thin, many daughters are being lured into all kinds of insecurities and disorders.
As dads, we do need to be concerned for our children’s long-term health and help them adopt good eating and exercise habits—and our modeling is a big influence here. But we must also be very conscious of how dangerous it is to criticize our daughters in this area. When it comes to how our daughters look—and how they feel about that—we have a much greater influence than we probably realize. It may seem like your teenage daughter doesn’t care what you think, but you’re still a very important man in her life, and your words and what you communicate through your actions do make a difference. Research has confirmed this feedback from daughters.
Our first thought with a daughter, before anything else, should be to affirm her as unique and beautiful, highly valued because of her inner beauty—her emotional strength, sense of humor, loyalty, intelligence and courage. We can also compliment her for how attractive she looks, as long as we never send the message that she has to look a certain way to earn our approval. We love her no matter what, and work to create a strong relationship through lots of powerful affirmation.
- Make a commitment to do something physical with your child on a regular basis: jogging, tennis, swimming, hiking, basketball—something he or she enjoys. Keep the focus on fun, not results.
- It’s tough to bring up “body image” with your daughter without sending the wrong message. So use this e-mail as your reason: “I was reading today about girls and body image, and I wanted to know how I’m influencing you in that area.” Be ready to listen, and let her know you’re available to talk if more thoughts come to her later.
- Help your children read between the lines with advertising. Discuss how media images are often touched up, some models and bodybuilders use dangerous drugs, and the lives of many athletes and movie aren’t as great as they may appear.
- Start good habits when your children are very young: intentionally look for and affirm positive character traits that you observe.
- Ask your children what changes your family could make to have a healthier lifestyle.