The Secret Every Mom Should Teach Her Daughter About Her Weight

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Every week I take my toddler to swim lessons, and every week it makes me think about girls and their bodies.

Not because of my body or because of my toddler’s body, but because of a 9-year-old girl who takes lessons on the other side of the pool.

I don’t know this girl, but I know her pain.

You see, this girl has clearly started going through puberty earlier than the other girls in her swim class. Her body looks very different from theirs. She has curves where they are straight; she has flesh where they have bones.

And she’s so, so uncomfortable about it.

How do I know?

Because she does that thing where she keeps her towel wrapped tightly around her until the second they have to get in the water.

Because during those few moments when the towel isn’t shielding her, she’s tugging endlessly at her tankini to try to hide her belly.

Because I see her eyes wander desperately to the other girls’ bodies over and over.

Every time I think, “Please don’t start fighting your body, dear girl. Not your beautiful, natural, perfectly normal body.” 

That’s a fight most women know all too well.

It’s a fight we wish our daughters could avoid completely.

The Secret Every Mom Should Teach Her Daughter About Her Weight

That’s probably impossible, though, considering the world we live in and its obsession with the physical appearance of girls and women. 

Nevertheless, there are some critical lessons about weight that most girls aren’t learning. Heck, most moms need a refresher too! These simple truths about our bodies are the backbone of body acceptance and self-esteem, so let’s make sure they’re a regular part of the conversation with our daughters.

The Secret Every Mom Should Teach Her Daughter About Her Weight

The 3-Part Secret Every Mom Should Teach Her Daughter About Her Weight

1. She has a “happy weight.”

Do you know anyone who’s lost a decent amount of weight but really struggled to keep it off?

Of course you do! It’s an incredibly common phenomenon. 

That’s because every body has a set point or “happy weight.” It’s programmed into us, like our height or eye color. Here’s a good definition of the set point theory:

Set point is the weight range in which your body is programmed to function optimally. Set point theory holds that one’s body will fight to maintain that weight range. 

When we’re at this “happy weight,” we don’t have to restrict our food intake or exercise like crazy to maintain our weight. It’s comfortable. Easy. Happy.

But when we lose weight and fall below our set point range—even if we’re still at a healthy BMI—we unknowingly start fighting against our bodies. Our bodies do all this stuff (like slow our metabolism, make us feel cold all the time, urge us to binge eat a box of Thin Mints, and sometimes even shut down our menstrual cycle) as a way of shouting, “Hey there! I don’t like being this thin! Can we please go back to where I’m happy?”

The same is true when we gain weight that far exceeds our set point range. Our bodies will let us know they aren’t too pleased. 

Why is this important for our daughters?

Despite the fact that everyone’s happy weight is different, our daughters are bombarded with images of only one body type. Naturally this fosters body dissatisfaction, which often leads to dieting, which leads her body to rebel until its back to its happy weight.

Her body doesn’t care what her favorite tv show, her best friend, or even her health teacher says is the ideal weight. Her body wants to be at its own unique happy weight no matter what!

If we can teach our daughters that their bodies come pre-programmed with this happy weight, it empowers them to reject the messages they get from the media and from their peers about how their body should look…and feel happy with the body they naturally have.

The Secret Every Mom Should Teach Her Daughter About Her Weight

2. Her happy weight will fluctuate.

So now we know our bodies have a pre-set weight range they’ll fight to stay at. The next step is acknowledging that that weight will change a bit with different phases of life: puberty, pregnancy/post-partum, menopause, etc. 

Let’s take puberty as our example. 

Girls’ and women’s bodies need fat cells in order to menstruate. That’s because the hormone estrogen is made in fat cells, and estrogen is essential for a regular cycle.

So naturally, when girls start going through puberty, their set points increase a bit as their bodies put on a little more (necessary) fat. 

Why is this important for our daughters?

Puberty is a time when most kids feel a bit awkward and self-conscious about their bodies. That’s normal. But too often our daughters are getting the message that they’ve gotten “too chubby”—when in reality, their bodies are healthy and doing exactly what they’re meant to do to facilitate their natural menstrual cycle. 

Understanding this simple fact can help our daughters see that there isn’t anything wrong with their changing body. That’s a powerful message in our weight-obsessed society!

3. She doesn’t have to be conventionally thin to be healthy.

I basically just said that it’s acceptable—no, important!—for our daughters to have some fat on their bodies. So now I just wait for someone to shout BUT WHAT ABOUT HEALTH? DON’T YOU WANT OUR DAUGHTERS TO BE HEALTHY?

The answer is, of course!

But our society seems to have gotten “health” mixed up with “skinny.” Despite what lots of people say, they are not the same thing

I’d go so far to say that many conversations about “health” are just thinly-veiled attempts to shame people about their body size. (Research shows that shaming people rarely leads to actual behavior change anyway!)

Why is this important for our daughters?

If we truly want our daughters to be healthy, we can’t have tunnel vision about thinness. 

Why? 

  • Because what is conventionally thin or skinny in our society actually isn’t healthy for a lot of people. 
  • Because being healthy has way more to do with our behaviors than with the size of our jeans.
  • And most importantly, because thinness does not equal happiness. For some, it equals food and body preoccupation, self-hatred, and disordered eating. So basically the opposite of peace and happiness—and not at all what we want for our daughters.

When we make the conversation with our daughters about actual health (physical and emotional), regardless of the number on the scale, we set them up for a lifetime of wellbeing…instead of a lifetime at war with themselves.

Our daughters deserve a life free from body shame. It’s time to let them in on the secret to making it happen.