13/06/2011 16:23 BST | Updated 22/05/2015 10:12 BST

Mums, We Should Love Our Looks - For Our Daughters' Sakes

Mums, we should love our looks - for our daughters' sakes Rex Features

by guest writer Tanith Carey

It's a sobering fact that even before our daughters have learnt to read, they're already looking at their reflections in the mirror - and deciding they don't like what they see.

Half of three to six year old girls say they worry about being fat, according to studies published in the British Journal of Psychology.

As they grow older, the heartbreaking fact is that our children only learn to hate their bodies even more.

By their seventh birthdays, seven out of 10 girls want to be thin. By nine nearly half have been on a diet.


At a time, when they should be learning, playing and developing, our daughters are already trapped in a maze of fairground mirrors – with a distorted idea of what it is to be normal.


So how do even young children so quickly get the message that in this society, thin is in, and fat means failure?

Painful though it may be to admit, the first lessons our children get about their bodies are from us.

A big part of the reason our girls are so unhappy with their own appearance is that we, their parents, set them on a path of endless dissatisfaction with our own quest for perfection.

As they observe us skipping meals, trying the scales, obsessing about weight, and criticising our bodies, girls quickly cotton on to the fact that we don't love how we look.

Considering that a recent experiment found that the average adult woman thinks about body image every three minutes, it's hardly surprising our daughters pick up on this preoccupation – whether we try to hide it or not.

As mothers, we need to give ourselves a break. Because if a girl learns these messages at their mother's knee, she will soon step into the outside world, and see them reinforced in a society where negative ideas about diet and body image are all around her.

Instead of feeling like failures in the catwalk of life ourselves, we need to be there, with a clear head, to give our daughters the down-to-earth perspective they need to fend these influences off for themselves.

It may not be easy - but let's start looking at our reflections – and learning to like what we see. Not only for our own sakes, but for the sake of our daughters.

Tanith Carey is the author of Where Has My Little Girl Gone? How to Protect Your Daughter From Growing Up Too Soon, price £7.99, available on Amazon and from all good book shops.

What you can do to encourage your daughter's healthy self image

When it comes to food, the most important things are what we don't say:

Stop making food an ongoing topic of conversation in your household. Even if you think you are spreading healthy eating messages, you are making food a big issue. Instead without a fuss or fanfare, quietly make sure a good range of nutritious good food is available in your home.

Keep in mind that there are no "bad" foods. What is bad is when we don't eat them in a balanced way. The best thing you can do for your daughter is to make eating normally no big deal, just a part of life.

Never mention the word "diet":

Overhearing endless conversation with your friends about the latest diet regime can make girls think it's a woman's lot to starve herself. If it's brought up by other adults in front of your daughter, quickly and quietly change the subject.

Don't use food to feed your emotions:

Don't express regret or guilt over food, How many of us have groaned after dinner: "I wish I hadn't eaten that" or "I deserve a treat after the day I've had." Don't talk about "fat days". Stop sending the message that food is something to feel guilty about.

Don't reward your daughter with food:

Look for other ways to say well done, like stickers, trips, books and special time together.

Tanith Carey is the author of Where Has My Little Girl Gone? How to Protect Your Daughter From Growing Up Too Soon, price £7.99, available on Amazon and from all good book shops.