The effect of mother-daughter “fat talk” on girls’ body image


Research now shows what many have long suspected—mother-daughter conversations about weight can negatively influence how young girls view themselves.

Researchers from the University of Georgia recently surveyed 199 mother-daughter pairs about how much they talk about body weight (“fat talk”) and about looking old (“old talk”). They also asked each participant about how they feel about their bodies. The study, published in the Journal of Family Communication, found the following:

  1. Mothers’ “fat talk” is related to bulimic tendencies of their daughters
  2. Mothers’ “old talk” is related to their daughters’ body dissatisfaction

In other words, it is not healthy for daughters to hear their mothers talking about appearance.

In an interview with USA Today, Dr. Leslie Sim of Mayo Clinic’s eating disorders program said that mothers should never talk about dieting or weight with their daughters. Not about their daughter’s weight, and not about their own weight.

So, now that we know what some research says about what we should not say to our daughters, what should we say to our daughters about their bodies. I’m not a child psychologist, but there is no shortage of advice (such as this advice from experts at PBS) on how parents should talk with their daughters about their bodies. In our family, these conversations tend to take the shape of maintaining “healthy” and “strong” bodies, rather than bodies that look a certain way. Some might suggest that we shouldn’t have any conversations with our daughters about their bodies, but with the way media consistently portrays the female body, I think it’s our job as parents to combat those messages by helping our daughters focus their efforts on the type of person they want to become, rather than the type of person they want to look like.

Parents, what do your body-related conversations with your daughters look like? What do you say? What do you not say?


  1. I just had a conversation the other day on this with my 8 year old son. He was talking about a boy in his class who has big muscles, and my son said he wanted his muscles like him. My son is small and thin compared to most other kids his age.

    I told him that in his life there would be a lot of people and magazines and things telling him his body needed to look a certain way. I told him that the only thing he needed to worry about was keeping his body strong and healthy.

    I mentioned that “strong and healthy” would look different at different points in his life. I pointed to my 38 week pregnant belly and told him that right now even though I was really big, my body was strong and healthy because I was growing a baby. (I was particularly grateful that my 5 year old daughter was listening in).

    I hope these conversations shape how he sees his own body as well as other people’s. I want to emphasize that we keep our bodies strong and healthy because they are a gift and a vessel in which we can do great things.

    Liked by 1 person

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