Body Image Workshop: Part 1

Today begins a new series on our blog: The Body Image Workshop.

Last month I had a little piece of my heart break when I received two emails in the same day, one from the mom of a preschooler who had already developed body image issues, and the other from a pregnant mom, scared for her unborn daughter’s future body image issues. My head was spinning. Both moms needed info and resources and I sent some their way, but I had a hard time putting my head around the fear of an unborn girl’s body image. I had a hard time putting my head around why that is such a legitimate fear. Because it is.

I called my friend and colleague Marci Warhaft-Nadler, a certified fitness instructor and body image consultant, and asked if she would help me. I needed someone who would help me dig deep, really push the issue, unpack the numbers, and get underneath this massive rock of body image that sits on top of our daughters. Marci and I are both raising sons, and boys will be included in this series as well. But when you look at the numbers that reflect what is going on in with our girls, it is enough to make you want to scream. Or cry. Or both.

We MUST create a meaningful change. And we must do it now.

Hopefully this isn’t affecting your family, these posts will get low viewership, and Marci and I can focus our efforts elsewhere. Something tells me that is not going to be the case.

Marci and I care deeply about all of our kids. We’re going to be honest. We’re going to really dig into this issue. We’re not going to pull our punches. We’re going to give you the tools and resources you need. We might say things that sting, we might say things you disagree with. We’re going to pull in medical and nutrion experts. We’ll talk to authors and psychologists. We’re going to give you printouts and talking points. Not generics, but specific go-try-this-today info. We’re going to give you the chance to be the expert bloggers and give us tips on what you do in your homes. We’re going to give you the chance to ask questions and talk to experts directly. For free.

You have no idea how much energy Marci and I have on this subject. We’re going to get this thing done. And we’re going to do it right here.


Buckle up, here comes Part 1: A Parent’s Guide To Talking About Body Image – Age 0-3

by: Marci Warhaft-Nadler

The facts are beyond disturbing.

Recent studies show that boys and girls as young as 5-years-old are struggling with body image. Day after day, they are bombarded with messages from the media, society, peers as well as a number of other sources, telling them that they aren’t good enough, smart enough, attractive enough and certainly not THIN enough. As a result, more and more kids are putting their health and lives at risk by engaging in dangerous behaviors to attain what they THINK is the ideal physique.

The scary truth:

80% of 10 year olds HATE their bodies

25% of 7 year olds have already tried dieting

Eating Disorders in kids under 12 years old rose 119% over the last 9 years

42% of 1st, 2nd and 3rd graders want to be thinner by the time a girl is 17 years old, she’s seen approximately 250, 00o messages from the media telling her what she’s supposed to look like.

Gaining weight is the #1 FEAR of teenage girls, over losing their parents or getting cancer.

In 1970, the average age a woman started dieting was 14 years old, by 1990 the average age was 8 years old.

As parents, we want to protect our children from the superficial and often judgemental world that awaits them, but it’s a task that can feel somewhat overwhelming. Here’s the good news: There is A LOT we can do, starting from the minute we bring our babies home, to empower them with strong, healthy self-esteem and to help them grow up with the self-confidence they deserve.

How do we get started?

0-3 years old:

When our kids are this young, we are pretty much in control of their environment. We control what they see and hear, and this definitely works to our advantage. Here are a few suggestions to help create the kind of environment that will help our kids grow up loving who they are, instead of judging who they think they’re not:


I cannot say this strongly enough. Little girls learn SO MUCH about how to treat themselves by watching their moms (and sisters and grandmas and aunts). It is crucial that daughters see their mothers being kind and accepting of themselves. This can take work, because it’s become almost second nature to criticize our jiggly arms or round tummies and we don’t realize that these seemingly harmless comments are anything but harmless. As silly as it may feel sometimes, make a point of complimenting yourself, out loud, on a daily basis. Challenge yourself to do so in creative ways. For example: Feel free to look in the mirror and proudly say, “I LOVE my arms because I use them to lift and hug my baby, to roll out cookie dough and maybe even do a few push ups!” and, “I LOVE my thighs because I use them to dance with my baby and walk through the park!”

{Melissa adds: Say to baby:  “Oh! Look at your strong legs climb the steps!”  or “Let’s wash those busy arms and feet!”  or “Does it feel good to have a tummy full of healthy food?”  or  “Big girl! Look how much you’ve grown since Christmas!”   or  “Can your strong arms help me clean up the toys/rake the leaves/walk the dog?”.  Your little ones won’t understand the concept of ‘healthy food’ or how much time has passed since Christmas, but they will understand your tone of voice and attitude as you set a framework for how your family will view body image.}

By doing this, your daughter will grow up loving her body for what it can DO, not judging it for how it looks.

The BEST part of this exercise, is that by committing to just a few seconds of self-appreciation every day, you’ll see your OWN self-esteem increase as well!


2) IMAGE-PROOF your home

We’ve all heard of Baby-proofing our homes, the act of removing any potential dangers our babies may come into contact with; we plug electrical outlets, soften sharp table edges and lock cupboard doors. Well, now we can also Image-Proof our homes by clearing out the negative messages and replacing them with positive ones. It’s a pretty simple exercise actually, just look around your house for magazines, books, posters or anything that promotes the unrealistic images of beauty that surround us today. Even though, kids this young aren’t reading yet, they are soaking in everything they see around them and we need to make sure that what they see is helpful and not harmful.

Keep in mind, I’m not suggesting that we can put blinders on our kids and keep them from ever seeing the evils of the beauty obsessed world we live in; but the fact is, if we can show our kids examples of beauty in all shapes, sizes and forms from the time that they are very little, they will be better armed to deal with the superficial and critical messages that start coming their way as they get older. A big part of the body image problem, is that kids see impossibly perfect models on TV and in magazines and then compare themselves to these images and walk  away feeling inadequate, like they just don’t measure up. However, if they have already seen beauty in a variety of forms, it will be easier to understand that the problems aren’t with their own bodies, but with the ones they are seeing on TV.

{Melissa adds: Use family photos of past and present to decorate your home…like where that stack of fashion magazines used to be. Teach your children that beauty is passed down through families, not by marketers and Photoshop.}

3) Make your home FAT TALK – FREE

We already know how important it is to avoid criticizing ourselves in front of our kids, but we need to extend that to guests in our homes as well. Kids hear everything, they take it in, process it and then, oftentimes, repeat it. Make sure that people who visit your home understand that any kind of fat or diet talk is not appreciated. It sounds strange, but there are a lot of people, who can’t go one full day without mentioning the calorie content of something they’ve eaten or making reference to their desire to lose weight.

{Melissa adds: The number one offender that I hear about all of the time is Grandma. We’ll have a post on this coming up.}

Remember, our  focus should be on function over esthetics. We need to teach our kids to love WHO they are, because if they grow up liking and respecting themselves, they will make better choices in all aspects of their lives.

The negative messages our children get from the media and society are strong, but that just means that our positive messages as parents, have to be even STRONGER.

Self-Worth should not be measured in pounds!


Melissa here: See? That was easy and painless. Three sure-fire steps you can take with your itty bitty to get your family started on the right foot. Are your kids older? Still works! And? You can start doing this today. Right now! Go! Go pitch that Victoria Secret catalog and Vogue. Chuck it. Go find a photo of your grandma when she was 24. She was gorgeous. Your daughter has her eyes. Focus on that. Define beauty for yourself.

We can do this. Together.


Marci Warhaft-Nadler is a certified fitness instructor and body image consultant. After overcoming her own body image and eating disorder issues, Marci created her Fit vs Fiction program to tear down the dangerous myths related to beauty and fitness and empower kids with the self-esteem they need to tune out negative messages and be proud of who they are instead of judging themselves for who they think they’re not. 

Self-Worth should NOT be measured in pounds!



  1. I am *so* going to love this. Thank you.

    -Dad of a 6 month old who already worries

    • how does a 6 month old show body image issues?

      • Note the use of future tense. 🙂 Oh, I see how that could be interpreted in different ways…

        No, I’m looking forward to this as a dad who has seen *so many* of his friends and relatives deal with body image issues, and longs for those things to pass by my child. I have *no idea* how to deal with that whole side of things (since it’s a pretty foreign concept to a guy who generally describes myself as “fat and happy”), so I’m excited to learn how I can start to build an environment that is both affirming of my daughter’s beauty without over-emphasizing that beauty. That can challenge her to be herself without her mistaking that challenge for disapproval. Etc etc.

        That’s the key–I’m hoping to learn how to craft that positive, encouraging environment from the get-go — BEFORE she has these issues — rather than try to ‘fix’ them after they have already taken hold.

        • Josh, I LOVE seeing a dad who is SO involved!

          Your daughter is a lucky girl.

          We’re hoping to answer as many questions and help as many parents as we can with this series


  2. Thank you!

    My girl is 2, and one of my happiest mom moments yet was watching her stand up in the bath, pour water over her (distended after a good dinner) belly and exclaim, “My belly is pretty!” Helping her hold onto that awesome is one of my biggest parenting goals.

  3. I love this advice! We have been following most of it but I now plan to image-proof our home. As I walked around our house, putting up magazines, catalogs and mailers, I realized I ALSO had to put up most of my Parenting magazines. I know maybe a handful of people the size of the “parents” that grace the cover of the conventional parenting magazine. Makes me go hmmmm…

  4. Agree with all of the above—————but–check the facts-being overweight is NOT healthy, for anyone. How do we handle NOT getting overweight and teaching kids to eat healthy without being labeled a food nazi?

    • I truly believe it is a conscience effort from the beginning, and not an easy one. For me (because I can’t claim to know THE answer LOL) it was hard because my mother seemed to feel that I was somehow criticizing how she raised me in the choices I made for my daughter. I think I finally convinced her that it had nothing to do with her. When Liv started eating food, I found it just as easy to mash real fruit and veggies and let her get used to the taste and textures. I can remember her gumming cabbage once with no teeth. If I bought any canned fruit, it was in natural juices, not sweetened. I got “Tanya doesn’t ALLOW Liv to eat any sugar” comments that seemed to lean toward the food nazi image. Did she have a 1st birthday cake with yummy sweet frosting? You bet! Did she have that every day? No, we just didn’t keep it around on a daily basis. I didn’t get fancy, didn’t play “hide the veggies”, or any of that. I totally was blessed with an easy child (entering puberty, so I better knock on wood!). I know there are children who are very specific with their tastes, and I bow down to their mothers in deference to what they must go through trying to do their very best for their kids!! Now 11, she does have a little sweet tooth but 9/10 times she will choose a healthy option if it is there. Gone are the comments, as my family grew to respect that I just wanted the best for my daughter. My niece is 5 years younger than my daughter, and I felt it was such a compliment that my SIL always asks my opinion or advice when it comes to her daughter. I love that she knows that I will tell her what I did, but not feel judged if she chooses another way. Another big thing is: kids LOVE to be active!! I really do believe this. My daughter has tried soccer, found she wasn’t so competitive but loved to run up and down the field. We found Girls On the Run in 3rd grade and she was in love. I’m not sure how that happened because excercise is my mortal enemy. I guess I just encouraged anything active she did from the beginning. When she was little and would lay under one of those toys with dangling toys over her, I laughed my head off when she would kick those toys and she LOVED to make me laugh. As she started walking, we danced all over the house. She wanted to dance, we tried it. Didn’t like recitals, moved on to gymnastics, soccer, horseback riding. She liked them all when she does them. I’m sure there are experts that will tell you that letting kids move on and on to different things doesn’t help them master any of them. I didn’t care, I just wanted her to be happy and moving. Currently she loves to run and plans to run track in middle school. She barely asks how much she weighs when she goes to the doctor’s office. She eats when she’s hungry, and stops when she’s full. She loves her long legs and the muscles that make them strong. I love knowing that the foundation is there. She loves a rootbeer when we go out to eat. We don’t keep sodas in the house, and she doesn’t care. She’d rather have water most times. She hates milk…losing battle there! This sounds a bit braggy, but as I said, it’s what has worked for us. I don’t control what she eats. I just gave her the best options I knew how, and somehow that worked! Sorry so long!

      • Tanya –
        Girls On The Run is such a fantastic organization! I have many friends that work and mentor with them. If I had more time, I would start a chapter in my town. When my Amelia is old enough to participate, I will make the time because I love what they do!

        • Melissa, we are so lucky to live in Charlotte where Molly Barker started GOTR. Olivia met Molly at one of her 5Ks and I was so impressed with the way that Molly talks to these girls as she meets them. It’s eye contact at all times, and she finds something personal to connect with each girl she meets. She has that same spirit in her that I see in you. Isn’t it funny how these little people we bring into the world lead us to want to be better people so we can share that?

    • There are plenty of people who are heathy yet considered overweight or obese by the (totally useless) BMI formula. Check out the concept of Health At Every Size (HAES). There are plenty of people who are ‘unhealthy’ yet who are considered ‘average’ weight by the BMI. Health is not all about the number on the scale. For example I am quite overweight because I have to take medication that causes me to put on considerable amounts of weight. In every other way aside from the number on the scale I am considered heathy (when I am on my meds) so what is health? I consider me taking my meds and being overweight a lot more healthy than me not taking my meds, being ‘average’ weight and dying because I am not being treated for a medical problem.

      And before anyone says I am an anomaly and not all people are on meds that do this, look at the stats for people on antidepressants and antipsychotics and mood stabiliser. That is a hell of a lot of people. And that is just one sort of medication (psychotropic). There are many other meds that cause people to gain weight.

  5. Interesting timing. I was sitting at a traffic light this morning, listening the morning show banter on the radio, thinking about my son who will be born in June. It struck me that boys can suffer from poor body image just as girls can, and can also suffer from eating disorders. I joke that I have an ‘anorexic husband’ because he’s so careful about what he eats. But it’s not really funny. While he’s a triathlete and concerned about his appearance and I understand that you need to watch what you eat when you train, I do worry that he doesn’t eat enough or enjoy food the way he should. And this could be passed on to my son. And that is not ok with me at all. Thank you for recognizing that while this issue is screaming for our attention with girls, it’s also an issue with our boys. I’ll be watching these posts carefully!

  6. thank you!! i have been looking for stuff like this. my daughter is 18months and i’m determined to teach positive body image from the beginning.

  7. I LOVE LOVE LOVE LOVE LOVE THIS!!! Background: I competed in a Figure Comp in 2010 in order to get in the best shape of my life to get preggo. Turns out I decided that I had a real problem w/ the extremes that these bodybuilders go to in order to LOOK good. I felt like I would finish and compete but only maintaining health. So, I decided at that point I didn’t think I could ever compete again, even if I could do it slowly and “healthfully” b/c I didn’t want my daughter (now 7 mo old) to watch me obsessed with my body in order to compete….on my BODY! That’s me. I blog about this stuff…my previous ED, my experience through my competition, my growth into HEALTH AND FITNESS over body image. I have blogged about how I didn’t like being BIG and preggo b/c I couldn’t move around and be mobile. But, my body image was fine. And, even post preggo I was the happiest w/ my body in my life. (I have a post started on this!) So, my question to you is about STRENGTH! I think strength in women is beautiful. Muscles. Work hard. Lift weights. Do what the boys do. Be strong and healthy and capable. But many of those images are also unatainable w/o steroids. SO I have some thinking to do about detoxing my home of my previous fitness pics. I have some that I plan to put up in my home gym….food for thought tho. I was looking at them the other day (we just moved) and I realized that in high school I wanted to look like a waif (ED time) and I realized that’s unattainable and not beautiful or healthy to me. Then, until I competed I wanted to look HUGE and LEAN…and then I realized thats unattainable and FAKE also. Now I have a healthy, in between idea of what I want to look like to be the most comfortable. GREAT BLOG! I am now a reader!!!

    • Tori, I TOTALLY understand where you’re coming from. I battled eating Disorders for the better part of 20 years AND did the bodybuilding thing. I trained like a crazy woman and wasn’t going for “Skinny” just wanted to be STRONG..but the bodybuilding lifestyle was way too extreme and just fed my eating disorder mentality. At one point I was drinking just a 1/4 cup of water a the Summer heat…while training! I was very cut, lean and defined..but also quite ill psychologically (Plus I didn’t get my period for a year)

      I fooled myself into thinking that I was doing something GOOD for myself by working out that way and that I was being a good role model for my children, but I ended up learning that extremes do not work! In fact, after getting so lean, I ended up going in the opposite direction and began binge was a crazy rollercoatser that I am very lucky to be done with!

      I also have fitness photos of myself that my trainer convinced me to have taken to look back on someday with pride..instead, I use them in my Fit vs Fiction workshops to teach people what NOT to do.

      We need to understand that a truly healthy body is one that is fit, not just physically but also emotionally, psychologically and spiritually. We need to figure out what’s best for our bodies naturally and learn how to work with them instead of against them like most diets do.
      Thanks for commenting!

  8. I’ve never been attractive, so I’ve always had to rely on my personality and character to make my way in the world. I’ve also never been worried about aging. I volunteer at the local Senior Center, and it’s so inspiring to see people who never stop growing and learning. We should be teaching children that people improve with life experience, and that in order to get that, you must get older, and leave youth and physical beauty behind. We are what we do. Not how we look.

    • Monica –
      I’ve just started to get smile lines around my eyes and mouth, and my 6yo asked if they were wrinkles. I told her they were a road map to my happy life.

  9. Thank you so much for this!!! I honestly don’t even know where to begin with how much my daughter is dealing with the expectations of physical beauty at age 4. Seems like everywhere we go someone compliments her, when people come over the first thing they do is talk about how cute she is or what she is wearing and it is getting to the point where she needs to be praised continuously about her looks or she feels down. There is soooo much pressure put on girls to be pretty almost right out of the womb and it scares me to think about how much she is going to value external beauty when she hits school age. I try and counteract it by complimenting her on her personality or what she is doing/making, but snakes alive it is so hard to put a value on something that she can’t actually SEE!

    Also, I totally agree about Grandma’s talking about weight and dieting being a major factor! Usually the first thing my grandmother talks to me about is my weight when I see her which totally p’s me off. I can’t stand it, there is so much more to talk about than how I look!! And now to hear my own mother talking about her weight in front of my daughter makes me want to cry. My mother and I actually dieted together when I was only 13 years old. This is not what I want for my daughter so I flat out refuse to talk poorly about myself in front of her (or anyone for that matter, what man is going to want to kiss all over his wife who was just talking about her fat thighs and cellulite) I change the channel if ever there is a weight loss, perfume or lingerie ad on the tv and we are a magazine free household (I’m also considering just getting rid of the dann TV). Next step is getting some art up in the house that features people of all shapes, size and ethnicities.

    I’m looking forward to this series!

  10. Have you noticed that one of the first things many people will say upon meeting a little girl is,”What a pretty name!”, as though even our NAMES need to reflect beauty. Sheesh!

    When I talk to little girls, I may mention their looks, but only in terms of their creativity or what they do. So, instead of “your hair is so pretty”, say “wow, I love the way you made those cool braids ! How did you do that? can you show me?” The focus is on their self-invention and sense of fun, not on the abstract quality of “beauty”.

    Here’s a good rule of thumb: if a comment would sound stupid and banal when addressed to a boy, why say it to a girl?

    • That is really interesting what you said about the names! That made me stop and go, “Huh!”.

      I love the rest of your comment! Creativity/what they do over looks. Yes!

  11. Christine C. says:

    Looking forward to the post on Grandma.

    It took me years to get over the body image issues that my mom helped create (and still attempts to create). My mom criticized my body, put me on weight loss meds, and tried making me diet as a kid/teen. She hasn’t stopped either. When I was pregnant with my baby girl and on bedrest in the hospital, she commented that I could be on Biggest Loser. Who says that to a pregnant lady!?!? I’m pregnant again and we told our immediate family around the 8 week mark. She said, “I thought you looked like you’d been gaining weight” and “Oh, you’re carrying this one low”, etc. I had to explain to her that the baby is the size of a blueberry and anything she sees is merely weight that I haven’t lost from my first pregnancy. I also love how she tells me I need to lose weight and then shoves desserts in my face and tries to force me to eat them. Ugh!

    But, what’s worse, is she’s already saying stuff to my daughter, who is barely a year, and she started when she was practically just born. Things like, “Oh, you’re not fat at all”, “Oh, look at that big belly of hers”, “Yeah, don’t eat that, you don’t want to get fat”, etc. I just don’t want that to be in her head at all. I want to raise her to be healthy and to take care of the beautiful body God gave her, not to obsess over being super skinny. (My girl is currently in the 25% for both height and weight, so she’s petite and proportioned, so if this is what my mom is saying now, I shudder to think what she might say later.)

    That’s why I’m really looking forward to getting some ideas on how to handle my mom and help her to understand what I’m trying to do here, so that maybe she can be helpful instead of hurtful. (and hopefully not get angry with me for correcting her in the process, although I’m willing to take that for my daughter’s sake)

    • Christine –
      If I had a dollar for every email I get from a mom frazzled over an offending Grandma… me, we’ll be stirring that pot more than once.

  12. This is such an important topic, and such a balancing act as a parent of two girls, 9 and 4 years old. I agree with all the ideas you outlined, but am also worried about the fact that over 1/3 of all adolescents are obese. Not just a few pounds overweight, but clinically obese!

    I’d love to see future posts give advice on how to find the balance between building up self image, no matter what the weight, because we all have the same value in this world, skinny or fat, black or white, tall or short, etc…But, there are serious health issues that go along with obesity, and especially childhood obesity.

    I have and still do struggle with being overweight. I don’t want that challenge for my girls, and yet, above all, I want them to ALWAYS feel good about who they are, inside and out!

    Thanks for taking on such a difficult topic. I’ll be reading!

    • Hi Ohiomom –
      We will absolutely be touching on that subject, over the spread of many posts. I’m glad you are excited about this project!

      • That is an issue I get asked about A LOT and will be discussing in our next article when we tackle frequently asked questions.

        Of course we don’t want our kids to be overweight, but first we need to understand that for all the kids who are overweight, there are even more who are NOT, but THINK that they are. This shows how warped our concept of weight is. We need to concentrate on HEALTHY bodies instead of THIN ones.

        Truth is, if we can teach our kids to love, respect and appreciate their bodies, then they will WANT to fuel them with good nurtition and physical activity..often , it’s shame that leads us to food as a way of comforting ourselves or even hurting ourselves.

        The message should be that we ALL deserve to love ourslves, at ANY weight, because who we ARE doesn’t change…but because we love ourselves we want to be as healthy as we can be.

    • Ohiomom,

      I really hate it when people quote that statistic that 1/3 of all adolescents are obese. First of all, who is defining obese here? Because the BMI was not made to apply to kids and it’s totally inaccurate anyway. And secondly, they are ADOLESCENTS, which by definition means their bodies are going through tons of changes.

      From ages 10-18, I don’t think we should be judging any child’s weight (unless it’s super-extreme in either direction). Every person’s body matures differently, at different rates. So the girl who may look chubby at 11, may shoot up by the time she’s 15 and it will even out. This is what happened to me. On the other hand, my husband was 6’3″ and 95 pounds when he was 13! Poor guy was teased and called beanpole. But he grew into his height eventually.

      We have banished the word fat from our home and we don’t talk about weight at all. Weight is a secondary indicator of other things going on. Being overweight may indicate a sedentary lifestyle, which is unhealthy. Being overweight may indicate poor nutrition and eating lots of sugar and fat, which is unhealthy. Or, as someone noted above, someone may be overweight because of medication or a thyroid condition. Additionally, much of a person’s metabolism and predisposition toward obesity is genetic and not in their control. Focusing on someone’s weight (your own or someone else’s), hoping they will feel ashamed and change, DOES NOT WORK and is totally missing the point.

      In our house, with my kids, we talk about eating healthy, nutritious, tasty foods to make us strong, and about being active and using our bodies in motion. These two factors–nutrition and activity–are much better indicators of health than weight. And the bonus is, if you are successful in instilling these two values in your kids, they may not have to deal with obesity.

  13. Thank you, thank you, thank you!

    I often worry about this stuff with my little girl, especially as my mother and I have both had weight / food / body image issues pretty much all our lives. Like Genevieve, I dieted with my mum when I was just 14. I never, ever want to see that happen with my daughter.

    Grandparents are going to be tricky for me, too. Though I was SO proud of my mother when my nephew asked “Grandma, why are you fat?”. She was going to say “because I eat too much” but decided that this might encourage him to fear food or develop disordered eating. So instead she said “some people just are”, and he accepted this and continued to adore her, just as he always has.

    And the truth is that some people ARE just bigger than others. I’d urge anyone who assumes not slim = not healthy to read Health at Every Size and other resources like it that pick through the science methodically and expose quite a lot of half-truths and muddled approaches. Extremes of anything are rarely healthy, but it’s a good idea to question the established wisdom when it comes to weight.

    I still occasionally give in to my obsessiveness, but as a result of reading things like this I’ve promised myself not to weigh or measure myself in front of my daughter, and I try not to say anything about ‘good’ or ‘naughty’ food. I’ll allow a reasonable amount of treats just for what they are, not for rewards. I’ve trained myself to NEVER try to make her eat ‘one last bite’, and have insisted the grandparents do the same – forcing kids to eat is just the flipside of asking them not to, right? It’s taking away their ability to listen to their own body and makes them rely on external cues. She IS praised trying new foods, particularly vegetables, which she does with enthusiasm.

    She’s learned to say ‘clever’, ‘proud’ and ‘brave’, but not ‘pretty’. She might not understand the meanings yet, but those words are symbols for me, too – reminders of where I want her to go, for her own sake and even for mine. Cos even I have to bite my tongue and fight against the internalised rubbish; especially as to me, on top of all the other awesome things about her, she IS beautiful.

    I’m not sharing these things because I’m so proud of what we’ve done so far, by the way, but because I’m worried it’s not going to be enough and I welcome any more suggestions! She’s only 18 months, but I know it starts now. Thank you for the help!

    • AG: You SHOULD be proud of yourself! You’re doing great things and because of that, your daughter will grow up being proud of HERSELF. Don’t try to be perfect..none of us can be (or even should be) believe it or not, your daughter will learn from your mistakes too. :o)

      You’re absolutely right about not forcing “one more bite”. Kids need to learn to listen to the cues their bodies are giving them..they need to know when they’re hungry and when they’re full.

      Keep up the good work!

  14. Love that you are addressing this! You are so right on!
    And Christine, I am so sorry you are experiencing this from your mom. So painful and so disturbing. I am sure there will be some helpful ideas in this series; to add my two cents: First, really really really recognize that this is YOUR MOM’s issue – her anxiety, her insecurity – which may help you put up a “boundary” in terms of what comes “in.” At some point, you may have to be super-clear and assertive with her because you will need to protect your daughter. Sometimes it’s our love for our daughter that can finally help us heal our own relationships, because we so badly want to protect her.

    I would LOVE to be a part of this conversation (THIS is exactly the work I do with moms and daughters;) and am passionate about shifting the way our girls experience food, eating and their bodies. And we moms (women) have to be at the forefront of that change.

    I love your point about role-modeling! Our children hear and see everything – even things we think we’re hiding from them.
    I spent 9 years with an eating disorder…began with my first diet in 7th grade (learned all about dieting from the women in my life! Isn’t that what women do?!)…which turned into a full-fledged ed a few years later. And so many of the women I work with have very similar stories.

    Although it’s a cultural issue, it’s a very personal issue as well, and I’m so glad you are adding to the conversation that will help moms personally…and hopefully this will ripple culturally as well.
    I don’t want to “advertise” here…but I do want to let you know that I’ve started a Mom-Daughter Un-Diet Movement and would love to invite anyone who wants to join, to do so…(let me know if it’s ok, and I will share my FB link where moms are “pledging” how they will “Un-Diet” this week (and instead, nourish and care for and love their bodies!)

    Thanks so much, Karen

    • Hi Karen –
      I am swamped with projects for the next week, but I will look over your website and circle back around with you. We’d love to have you be a part of this conversation!

      • Thanks so much Melissa! Looking forward to hearing from you and connecting. I think we’d have tons to share – and lots in common (based on what I’ve read so far!). Have a great weekend!
        Best, Karen

  15. This is wonderful. Please also include ways to raise boys to appreciate girls of all shapes and sizes. I know they struggle with their own body images, too, but we need to raise a generation of men who don’t over – sexualize women and base a woman’s worth so strongly on how they look.

    • Believe me Aliza, I am raising 2 boys and know how important it is that both girls AND boys grow up appreciating and respecting themselves and eachother!

      Melissa and I will be tackling all sorts of issues and love the feedback!

  16. It makes me sad that you can’t even do one post about improving body image in 0-3 yr olds without someone freaking out about obese children. I absolutely believe this is contributing to the problems of both poor body image and childhood obesity. Healthy foods in general and lots of activity are pretty much all that is required for a child to be their ideal weight, even if that weight isn’t twiggy as has become the false ideal. Children aren’t obese, our culture is. They are just wearing our culture’s excesses on their bodies to show us that we are undernourished and underengaged/active as a society.
    Hopefully we can raise strong, bold, awesome children who can renew our society. Thanks, Melissa for starting the conversation.

    • Brook: AMEN to that!!!

      THIS is a topic I write and speak about OFTEN. I completely agree, we have lost all sight of what being overweight TRULY is, since we are inundated with images of stick- thin women everywhere and as a result, now see healthy women and perceive THEM as being “curvy”.

      We need to STOP trying to prevent FAT and START trying to promote HEALTH!

  17. I am the grandma of a 2 year old girl. I am on the hefty side myself and frankly I don’t care. I can walk-run a marathon at this weight and this age (59) so weight doesn’t concern me too much. My grand-daughter is athletic, active & very funny, a lot like me in fact so I don’t think I will ever be dieting with her or noticing what she weighs.

  18. I love this! I’m an au pair, and my youngest child is almost 6. Already I hear her say “I’m fat” or “I’m not smart,” and it kills me inside. My oldest is 13, and sometimes she says “I’m not pretty.” I’m not their mother, so instead of worrying about offending a grandma, I have to worry about their mom! Their parents are healthy, but balanced. With snacks/desserts, the household rule is one healthy first (fruit/yogurt) then one unhealthy (cookie/ice cream/etc). I feel as though the family has a very positive outlook towards food & activity, so I have no idea where she’s getting these ideas. I make a point of telling her every day she’s smart, funny, & pretty (not as a standard, grouped comment, but I find ways to work in each compliment daily). I also make a point of emphasizing my own favorite attributes (bookworm, quirky fashion, glasses, healthy curves), and if we’re talking about my boyfriend, I try to mention that he likes me because I’m smart.

    It’s just so hard. I want them to know there’s more to life than being pretty, but they ARE very attractive. I don’t want them to find their self-worth in their looks, but I also don’t want them to think they’re ugly.

    Looking forward to more posts!!!

  19. You know how I feel about all of this so I’m just going to ask, what tags do you want me to use when I stumble all of these articles?

  20. Excellent – thank you! As a mom of an 18 month old daughter and hopefully more someday, thank you for this series.

  21. Awesome resource! I have been making a conscious effort in our home. My husband was calling our scale the “‘fat’o’meter.” Yikes! I told him if he needed to call it something other than the scale, let’s call it the ‘fit’o’meter. Which he does now, thankfully! We also have regular discussions about food choices and portion sizes. I never refer to how food might affect the shape of our bodies but rather its function and nutrient value. And now the kids, ages 2 and 6, help with meal planning, learning balance in nutrition. My 6yo daughters new favorite meal is a giant salad for dinner with chocolate cake for dessert–she’s a sneaky one 🙂 We go for a lot of bike rides, walks, and adventures together and I try pointing out to my kids how their bodies are strong and capable.

  22. Anther point to consider is how we model healthy aging to our girls. If WE obsess about wrinkles and love handles and cankles, we are telling girls that losing one’s youthful looks is a terrible tragedy to be avoided as long as possible. I remember once sharing a dressing room with a group of women and girls for a community musical. Two of the women, in their early 60s, were going on and one about their various plastic surgeries, their eyelid man, their Botox man, to the utter fascination of the 9-12 year old girls listening. “Well, at some point you just HAVE to save up for a lift”, they confided. The other 40-something mother and I were horrified. We didn’t want to publicly insult the 2 older women (we-ell…we WANTED to but we didn’t) so we just quietly stated that neither of us had any interest in plastic surgery, and that we certainly didn’t see it as a necessary step in aging…and that any money we were saving post retirement would be for travel, art classes, fancy seats at the opera, etc.

    • Hey Lesley, I couldn’t agree MORE!

      We seem to have forgotten that growing older is a PRIVILEDGE that not all people get! Having lost both my parents and older brother way too young, I refuse to ever criticize each sign of aging that starts to creep across my face or’s just proof that I’ve LIVED…and LOVED…and LAUGHED!

  23. I wonder if you have considered looking at They seem to offer the same type of message about loving our bodies and accepting that they come in all shapes and sizes. While I love that this site focuses on not putting our children into some tidy, little, media defined box, I do think it is just as important that our girls grow up believing in their beauty and hearing that they are beautiful. I think there is an important balance with making our girls believe in their beauty, but not making it the only measure of their worth.

  24. This is a resource and addition to an already stellar blog. I sat here thinking of what I do (and don’t do) to perpetuate negative body image in my six year old daughter. Even though she is older than the topic, this is the first one I read and I feel I need to address something in this space. My daughter lives with her father part of the time, who has a male roommate, and whose garage is plastered with pictures of women’s bodies. While I can’t (not that I know of) control what he has up and in his house, I can educate and empower my daughter to speak up and question why he has barely naked pictures of women in the garage. This may take years of educating her about positive body image and objectification of women but my hope is that someday she will see those pictures for what they really are. If anyone has any advice, feel free to share. You all are doing amazing work.


  1. […] in 21st century corporate pedophilia. Ladies? Sound off! Do tell! Update: 2-3-12 Also note this new “Age 0-3 body image series” as a parenting guide to ensure our own words don’t harm/parlay into this ‘fat […]

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