Good Girls Don’t Get Fat: A Book Review

Dr. Robyn Silverman, author and leading expert in body and self-esteem development

 That’s what we are told, right? Don’t get fat. Almost from birth, it seems, our girls are told only certain body shapes are acceptable. Desirable. Achievable. Researchers are starting to see weight concerns in girls as young as five and six. The average dieter begins her career at the tendor age of 11. Eleven. Eleven years old should be outside climbing trees and practicing piano. Not counting carbs and ab crunches. I’m all for healthy and fit kids, but people, we’ve got problems here. When many feel that girls’ negative body image has gotten out of control, Dr. Robyn Silverman PhD has authored a new book that puts some sanity back into the conversation. “Good Girls Don’t Get Fat: How Weight Obsession Is Messing Up Our Girls And How We Can Help Them Thrive Despit It” has just hit stores in October and is getting rave reviews, from experts and parents alike. See more here.  Whether you are a parent of tween or a two year old, this book is a must read. I work in the business of girl empowerment and self-esteem and the first 50 pages blew me away. I’m the first to tell you that I’m not an expert on disordered eating or full blown Eating Disorders, but I know a thing or two about healthy, self-confident girls. And our girls are being failed.   

 The book is 233 pages of practical advice, tips, talking points, and a resource guide. It covers issues for both mom and dad, siblings, teachers, and friends. “Good Girls Don’t Get Fat” includes help deconstructing media and ads, provides asset builders, and current research. This book, that was ten years in the making, will leave you with the confidence and tools needed to raise your daughter (and son) in a Fat Talk Free Zone where she can shine on to becoming her most healthy, most confident self.   

I was so moved by Dr. Robyn’s book, and the easy way in which she presents some heavy hitting material to parents whom she knows are busy and pressed for time, that I offered to do a t-shirt for her. Our artist, named Melissa (not me, I can’t draw, people) did a magnificent job of capturing the feeling we want EVERY woman and girl to have when she looks in the mirror. Notice all those words in her silhouette? Dr. Robyn provided those, hoping every girl carries each word in her heart. You can find the tee HERE.   

Collaboration tee from Dr. Robyn and Pigtail Pals, comes in four rich, delicious colored Ladies tees.

  SMART ~ CONFIDENT ~ LOYAL ~ AMAZING ~ ACITVE ~ CREATIVE ~ INTUITIVE ~ OUTGOING ~ UNIQUE ~ LOVING ~ FRIENDLY ~ CARING ~ LEADER ~ COLORFUL ~   

TALENTED ~ PASSIONATE ~ SINCERE ~ AMBITIOUS ~ BEAUTIFUL   

I had a couple of questions for Dr. Robyn after I finished “Good Girls Don’t Get Fat”. Dr. Robyn and I are friends, and I knew I could be very frank with her because I was having trouble putting my head around some of the info in her book. Here, read:   

Me: Dr. Robyn, I’ve always known that as girls go through their teens, some of them are extremely, maybe overly concerned about their bodies. But the stories in your book shocked me, literally shocked me. Girls aren’t just skipping a meal here or there or exercising a whole bunch, they are truly hurting themselves. I tend to Mother Hen, and there were times when I was reading your book and I would let out a little “Oh, no!” or an “Oh! Oh honey, no no no!” as I read about what these girls were doing to their bodies. You and I both have very young daughters, what can we do as moms to help prevent this kind of body hatred?     

Dr. Robyn: Believe me, my stomach was turning and my mind was shouting as I heard the stories as well from girls who ran the range between disordered eating and actual full blown eating disorders. Yes, girls engage in a variety of scary behaviors to keep themselves from eating.  The good news is, that as mothers of young children, we can start early with building up our daughters’ body esteem and sense of positive self worth. There are so many tips throughout the book for moms—so here I’ll highlight a few!     

We’ve talked a lot about the impact of media, toys, and positive role models a lot before—and you certainly discuss this with your savvy moms on the Pigtail Pals forums.  If we want our girls to understand that there is a range of bodies—acceptable, beautiful, worthwhile, and common—then we need to show it to them. We need to watch the toys and media that come into the home—do they show a wide range or a narrow range? This provides a template.      

Also, we have to think about real life. When we expose our girls to a range of fantastic role models in real life who are talented, successful, beautiful, and vibrant, girls can see that they can be this way too. Think of the girl who knows her Aunt is a Scientist or an Astronaut.  She knows that these professions are not only possible but actual real serious positive options for a girl.  The same goes for body type and size. The only way to beat the myth that there is only one acceptable, beautiful, and worthwhile type and size of body (very thin) is to provide an alternative—the truth!     

And speaking of the truth—young girls typically believe whatever they see in print because they think concretely.  That’s what’s age appropriate, after all. So we need to talk to them about the “tricks” the media uses to get them to think a certain way. Girls don’t like to be duped.  Even saying something like “look at the 5 girls they use in this advertisement! They all look very similar, don’t they? But we know girls all look different from each other, right? Let’s talk about all the beautiful girls and women we know…”     

One more thing—when you are talking about beautiful girls and women—don’t forget to include yourself! Our girls need to hear that not only do their Moms believe that their daughters are beautiful (inside and out) but that they believe that they are beautiful (inside and out) too! We can’t expect our girls to see the beauty in themselves if we can’t see the beauty in ourselves.     

There are hundreds of tips in Good Girls Don’t Get Fat—I’ll look forward to hearing which ones the PigTail Pals Parents love!     

Me: Okay, I know I’ve asked you this two or three times on the phone, but are all of the stories real? I cannot put my head around some of the atrocious things parents say to their kids. And the girls who beat their stomachs to stop the hunger pains, or jab book corners or pencils into their sides to punish their bodies for expressing hunger….I just have to ask, this is all real?     

Dr. Robyn: Unfortunately, you can’t make this stuff up. So, yes, the stories are true.  The first one that I had heard from a woman a few years ago that made me gasp was the one in chapter 2 (p. 40) where the girl, Sage, age 5, was so eager to see her mother after being away from her all summer, and the first thing her mother said to her when the car door opened was “What happened to you? How did you get so fat? What have you been eating?” I knew then that this book was going to send me reeling. There were many nights I couldn’t sleep because of what the girls and women would tell me.     

Another story that really got me angry and sad was in chapter 4 (p. 120-121) where the mother didn’t speak up for her daughter, Rita, when she was continually bashed by the neighbor, in her own home! I could just hear the pain in the young woman’s voice as she told me what was said—about her body (i.e. “fat,” “ugly”)—about her character (i.e. “slut,” “will end up fat and pregnant and living off you”)—and how nobody came to her rescue even at the young age of 10 years old. Rita is admittedly broken as an adult and remembers clearly that any expression of hurt was quickly labeled “too sensitive.”     

When I spoke to my site’s eating disorders blogger recently about the ‘pain for pounds’ section that you mentioned, she told me that it didn’t surprise her at all that people were doing these things to stave off hunger.  Yes, I was shocked when I initially heard about it too. While it’s a more severe approach, some girls will do whatever it takes to maintain a thin body. The most shocking part? Many of these unhealthy techniques are written about in plain sight on “pro-ana” (pro-anorexia) or “pro-mia” (pro-bulimia) websites- from snapping a rubberband against your wrist each time you feel hungry to tightening your belt.     

Me: You and I both have very involved, hands-on husbands who spend a lot of time with our young daughters. You talk about this in Chapter 3, but how important are dads in this issue of raising girls with healthy body image? Its not just a mother/daughter thing, is it?     

Dr. Robyn: Yes, chapter 3 is devoted to Dads– Fathers play such an important role in shaping their daughters’ opinions about their bodies.  Dads are the first man in their daughters’ lives. They set the expectation about what men think is beautiful, acceptable, and worthy in women.  How fathers treat their spouses as well as what they say or do around their daughters regarding body size, weight, dieting, food, fitness, and boundaries all contribute to how their daughters view themselves. In my book, I talk about many different ways fathers can send the wrong message to their daughters. Do they make comments about people’s weights? Are they very controlling about what their daughters eat, the times they eat, how much they eat—influencing their daughter’s ability to learn self moderation and intuitive eating?     

One of the ways many fathers influence their daughters’ opinion about themselves is when they don’t say anything at all.  This may be surprising to some.  I call it “ghosting.” (p. 86) When fathers simply walk out of the room or stay quiet when the topic of weight, calories, fat, or body size comes up, they send a message that they endorse what’s being said.  Our daughters need to hear from their fathers that the information out there (“girls are worth more when they weigh less”), is a myth. They need to hear that men think women and girls with all different body types are beautiful and worthy and what is represented in the magazines is shallow and inaccurate.  They also need to hear “you are beautiful” from their fathers but also the many other things they admire in their daughters; strength, talent, smarts, effort, goals, and personality.     

Me: I love how your book includes dealing with siblings, teachers, and peers as we work to create a Fat Talk Free Zone around our daughters. Just this weekend my family had a party where I overheard two of my adult girlfriends and two of their teen daughters participating in Fat Talk right in front of my four year old. I wanted to scream, but instead I said something polite, trying to reframe the conversation for my daughter’s ears. With the holidays coming up, where special foods and diet talk prevail, do you have any tips for parents trying to raise their kids in a Fat Talk Free Zone?     

Dr. Robyn: (Funny, this is something I’m writing about for the Holidays!) In order to create a Fat Talk Free Zone (p. 117, 123), you first need to declare it.  The Holidays are a perfect time to do so because food and weight is often discussed.  I tell parents to go ahead and hang it right on the door.  Even something like; “You are now entering the Fat Talk Free Zone: Inquire Within” can give you an opening to discuss your new “rule” for “Healthy Holidaying.” If you have someone who repeatedly talks negatively about her body or someone else’s, talk to that person about your hope for the holiday. Feel free to blame my book or to ask him/her to help you establish the Fat Talk Free Zone for the sake of your girls. Next, be sure to set the tone. Be the one to break tradition and ask everyone to say one to three things about themselves that they’re grateful to be blessed with—and don’t be afraid to start. “I’m grateful for my beautiful curvy body, a mind that’s great with numbers, and a family that supports me in going a little against the grain.” You might also flip this and have everyone say something they admire about another person in the room. Finally, stick with it. This needs to be more than something you do on the holidays.  Establishing the Fat Talk Free Zone is something that takes work, patience, and practice so we need to do it all year long.      

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Folks, usually I don’t tell you to buys stuff (except Pigtail Pals stuff!) but I really believe this book is a must. Ask a couple of your parent friends to buy a copy and read it together. Talk about it. Get a copy for your babysitter. Share about it with the teachers at school, your pediatrician, anybody willing to listen and who is interested in ending this societal insanity of body pressure surrounding our girls. My house is a Fat Talk Free Zone. I demand it. We need to restore some health and common sense to the messages our daughters receive. “Good Girls Don’t Get Fat” is an excellent, accessible, informative tool every parent needs.     

“Good Girls Don’t Get Fat” is available on Amazon, Borders, and Barnes & Noble.  

Praise for “Good Girls Don’t Get Fat”:
“Good Girls Don’t Get Fat offers another deeply important layer to the conversation about body image and self-esteem. It is a vital and delicious read for anyone wanting to further explore the connection between our self-worth and appetite for life.” -Jess Weiner, author and Global Ambassador for the Dove Self Esteem Fund

Comments

  1. Thank you for sharing this resource. As a mother a 9 and 10 year old I constantly try to help my girls navigate media, advertising, music and department store clothing. I like to believe my girls have a strong sense of self and are being appreciated for the strong, beautiful and intelligent beings they are.

    That said, I am also a certified health and wellness coach – My practice focuses primarily on woman who are moms. Even the best intentioned of us may not realize the hidden messages we send, the mis-information around nutrition we share with our families (believing we are doing the right thing). Many of us have been educated by advertisers and fad diets on what is healthy. It’s time to change that.

    Obviously, you can see I am passionate about this topic! Again thanks for sharing this resource!

  2. I’m tearing up just reading the stories in this review. Just added the book to my wish list for Christmas. The only problem is, now I’ll have to wait to read it!

  3. I’m 21 and my mom still makes rude comments about my weight.She actually says that she always wins and I will lose the “gut”.Because clearly my body is a battle ground *rolls eyes*.Nevermind I love my body and teach middle school girls about body image ,no that is irrelevant,all the “work” my mom put into keeping me thin as kid outweighs all.I applaud this book and this blog.Maybe a few less girls will grow up waging war against their bodies or even thier own parent.

    • I am so sorry your mom didn’t give you more loving messages about your body, and continues to cut you down. I am still shocked by the things parents say to their children as mentioned in Dr. Robyn’s book. I look at my little girl, how hard it was for me to get pregnant with her, to grow her precious body from scratch, to bring her into this world, and I cannot imagine saying something to her that would make her feel bad about the body I worked so hard to give life to. It is my duty as her mother to raise her to feel beautiful about who she is, and how she looks. It is her right as a child to receive those messages.

      Since your mom doesn’t tell you this, allow me. You are more beautiful than you will ever know.

  4. Melissa,

    That response brought tears to my eyes. Just beautiful. And so are you.

    Thanks to everyone who has been so supportive about Good Girls Don’t Get Fat and the important messages it brings to parents, educators, and mentors about girls, weight obsession, and body image. Can’t wait to hear what you all think of the book!

    I’ll be on The Today Show next week (Thursday) talking about it. I’m so grateful to be able to share this message.

    Aren’t the shirts awesome?? Melissa, you rock!

  5. I just discovered this blog, and this book, and they’re both so necessary. As a girl growing up in the 70s/80s, I got constant reminders from my mother (whose beauty standards were those of the 40s/50s, so not as overtly sexualized as today’s, but in many ways just as damaging) that my worth as a girl was totally tied up with my appearance, and that – with my dad’s chunky build, the olive complexion of my (possibly Italian) grandmother, and being more interested in books than clothes and makeup, I didn’t measure up. It’s taken years of counseling and soul-searching to finally begin to recognize that I am a worthy person, no matter what I look like. I haven’t had kids of my own, but I watch my husband’s nieces, who are just reaching their teens, and I can see them having the whole body-hatred thing inculcated into them, and I don’t really know how to counter that. But I’m glad someone is fighting the damaging messages of our culture. Thank you again for everything you’re doing.

  6. Girl power. Love the artwork for the t-shirt. It’s what every girl should see when she looks in the mirror. I substitute teach at a middle school and this issue is close to my heart. For one of my lesson plans for a grad school health class I showed the Dove “1 Minute” commerical for their self-esteem campaign. It shows all the work they do to a model for a photo shoot and what computer enhancements are done as well. It’s a powerful tool that girls and boys need to see about advertising. Looking forward to reading the book. Thanks for the review!

  7. As someone who grew up believing I was FAT… my mother told me that constantly. She would tell me that she would buy me clothes “when I got that extra weight off” and always tell me my tummy was too big.

    Recently, I was looking at pictures of myself as a teen and I was shocked, remembering. It only recently dawned on me that my mother was SICK… because at 5 ft 4, I weighed 110 in high school.

    My own daughter is almost 6 ft tall. She does not fit my mom’s standards either, but now my mom’s attitude has changed, fortunately. So she doesn’t hear what I did, even if my mom thinks it. :)

  8. Hi
    Thank you for the information above. I enjoyed reading it.

    I had eating disorders for six years and, although I have neither binged nor starved for five years, I’m still obsessed with my weight and feel incredibly fat despite being under 20BMI!

    I can only remember my Mam saying one off-comment, which set me off into anorexia, and I don’t blame her at all because I think I was just being a teenager and took it the wrong way. The problem was that she had eating disorders for years too. She managed to stop dieting and bingeing when my older brother was born because the idea of it affecting her kids was worse than the idea of losing control of her weight but she was still very obsessive about her weight and food when I was growing up.

    I know that it was very painful for my Mam to see me go through what she had to and today, as I was looking in the mirror and thinking I should lose about four pounds!, I started to think about how I want to make sure I don’t pass it on either.

    I’m not a mother and don’t plan to be for a few years yet but I’m interested in how you think this issue could be tackled. I might not be able to get complete control over my obsession with weight and food by the time I have kids, so is there any way I will be able to protect them from taking on my neuroses?

    Thanks

    • Hi Sarah –
      Thanks for reading the blog and for taking the time to leave such a thoughtful comment. I highly recommend that you read Dr. Robyn’s book, I think it will give you a good understanding of why so many girls feel/felt like you and how to give yourself a positive voice to frame your thinking about your body.

      It sounds like you are on a healthier path, and I’m really glad you are no longer hurting yourself with binging and purging. If you are still obsessed with your weight, if that obsession controls decisions you make and activities you do or do not participate in, and if you feel you are incredibly fat although body mass measures would say otherwise, then I think you still need some help getting to a place of complete wellness. It sounds like you are describing a discrepancy between the view you have of yourself and what is showing in the mirror. A person who needs to lose four pounds isn’t incredibly fat. I think a good first step is to make an appointment with a doctor or nutritionist and see where you really are. And when you are at that appointment, you need to be honest with them about your history with eating disorders and what your current thoughts are. They aren’t there to judge you, they are there to help you. And they, just like me, want to see you become the healthiest, most self-loving version of you there is.

      So you asked how I think this issue of mothers passing on eating disorder-thinking to their kids can be tackled. First and foremost, mothers need to become comfortable and confident with their bodies. The single act of a mother demonstrating respect and self-love towards herself will more greatly impact her daughter than any other influencer. Two, no, and I mean NO, Fat Talk is allowed in the house or around the children. Three, no fashion magazines or other forms of media that bring in and expose children to repeated images of the manufactured beauty myth. And four, mothers need to be physically active with their kids and teach them that the body is an amazing gift and to appreciate all of the things it can do. Whether it be a nightly walk around the block, a game of hoops, horseback riding, soccer, ballet, yoga, swimming…whatever. A body in motion stays in motion, and a moving body creates a lot of energy. When we teach our children to be proud of what their bodies can do, we take the emphasis off what our bodies look like. I sure don’t have a perfect body, but I love my body, and my kids know it.

      Sarah, unless you are in a place of health youself, it will be difficult to protect your kids. The emotional bonds between mother and child are deep and they will know when you aren’t feeling good or are faking something. You can become healthy, and you owe it to yourself to give yourself the gift of love.

      I wish you all the best, and hope that someday when you look in the mirror, you see a beautiful woman looking back. I think she’s already there.

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  1. [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by GenderAcrossBorders, GenderAcrossBorders, Mompreneur Wellness, Emily Roberts, LPC, Melissa Wardy and others. Melissa Wardy said: NewBlogPost: "Good Girls Don't Get Fat: A Book Review" with @DrRobyn http://bit.ly/dDmNnw #bodyimage #parentgirls #beautymyth #girls [...]

  2. [...] interview really intrigued me and I did a little research this morning and found this wonderful blog that had an awesome review of the book. I plan on getting this book and maybe doing a series about [...]

  3. [...] interview really intrigued me and I did a little research this morning and found this wonderful blog that had an awesome review of the book. I plan on getting this book and maybe doing a series about [...]

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