How girls think about their bodies is subjective, but their perception is heavily influenced by a variety of external factors—including their own parents. And, as a result, we may be passing down body image issues unintentionally, with a simple turn of phrase. We asked Dr. Helen Egger, child psychiatrist and co-founder of children’s mental health app Little Otter, to explain the one thing she begs mothers to stop saying around their daughters.
The phrase: “I’ve been so good today.” (Specifically, in regards to food.)
Don’t Associate Food Choices with Self-Worth
Maybe you’ve prided yourself for being “good” and not getting dessert. Maybe you fault yourself for being “bad” and finishing the potato chips. Bottom line: If you say these types of things enough in front of your daughters, you’re demonstrating a negative relationship with your own body and aligning your self-worth with what you eat, Dr. Egger says. “Not eating a certain food doesn’t make you a good person,” she says. In fact, all food is fuel, so you don’t want to play into the idea that your self-esteem hinges on your dietary choices.
Instead, Prioritize Showing Compassion for Your Body
“Healthy food, physical activity and the joy of being a fully rounded person who is so much more than their appearance helps model a more neutral relationship with your body,” Dr. Egger maintains. In other words, maybe you celebrate the fact that your body now feels full after eating pizza or you think about all your body did (and can do) leading up to and after a certain meal. (“I never could have made it through that line at the post office without such a great breakfast!”) Basically, if you’re going to say anything about your body and the food that’s going into it, keep it positive and factual. That said, if you do find yourself often feeling “naughty” or “bad” in regards to food—it could be indicative of emotions like self-doubt or sadness, says Dr. Egger, and you may want to consult a professional for help processing those feelings.
Bottom line: Our daughters will face pressure about their appearance everywhere. The more conscious we are of our own role, the better.