The Impact of Dads on their Daughters' Body Image

dads and daughters

Dads impact on Daughters Body Image

Dr. Robyn Silverman

Do dads have an impact on girls’ body image development? You betcha!

I just finished a great interview with Joe Kelly aka “The Dad Man” in preparation for writing the chapter on Dads for my body image book.

Number 1 question on my list: How important are Dads when it comes to girls’ body image development?  After all, moms and daughters have been studied, analyzed, discussed, and discussed again—but issues of Dad’s and daughters have taken a back seat.

The impact of Dads (and step dads) on their daughters is profound.  As the first man in their lives, Dads set the precedent of how daughters believe men see them.  What do they value?  Are looks a major issue?  Do they see their daughters as a full “human” with thoughts, feelings, interests, and principles—or simply as a girl who should look and act a certain way?

Studies tell us that what parents say– yes, that includes Dads too– have a powerful influence on how girls see themselves, their dieting habits, and their overall views about body shape and size. Fathers, who tend to tease their children more than Moms, have been reported to have a very harsh impact on their daughters and their self image. In fact, girls whose dads made fun of them are far more likely to be dissatisfied with their bodies,  to exhibit eating disordered  behavior, to have low self-esteem, and suffer from depression. Of course, Dads can also have a positive impact on girls and how they view themselves– so what can you do, Dads?

Mr. Kelly underscores that Dads need to see their daughters as individuals not just as girls.  Every girl is different—every child is different—what is their daughter all about? Certainly weight shouldn’t be the first thing (if at all) that comes to mind! In fact, weight should be irrelevant considering looks change constantly and should not have a bearing on who your daughter is as a person.  Weight is a cultural issue now—it shouldn’t be YOUR issue.

So how can Dads have a positive affect on their daughters’ body image development?

Mr. Kelly’s advises Dads to stop buying into all the cultural crud and see their daughters as multifaceted people. Show her that the media , the “product” world, the celebrity world and the advertising world fosters a bunch of lies and the measure of a woman is based on who she is, who she helps, how she feels, how she uses her mind—not on how she looks, how much she weighs, and what size she wears.

He also wants Dads to remember that for every advertisement out there– imagine your daughter’s face on the model or actresses body.  Would you really want that to be YOUR daughter? Do you really want her receiving THESE messages? For example (thank you for this ugly gem,  Amy Jussel, Shaping Youth, of which I am an advisory board member)


I know…yuck.

Remember, Dads, your daughter is looking to you to understand how she is viewed by 49% of the world.  What do you want her to see when she looks in the mirror? What do you want her to think when she is around boys—and later, men?  Talk to her about it.  Show her how you feel.

And for those of you who are telling your daughters that they are “too fat” or some other form of appearance criticism, please know that you are overtly contributing to the body image problems your daughter has now and your daughter will have in the future.  But to those Dads who are remaining silent, don’t think you are in the right.  By saying nothing at all, you are covertly contributing to the problem.  Yes, by saying nothing at all, you are letting the world speak for you.

Take a stance—then take a stand. Be the father she needs and deserves.

**Have a story about how your Dad or step Dad influenced your body image (negative or positive)? Please send me your story for the book (to be published in 2010 by Harlequin Books)!

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4 replies
  1. Jonathan Grow
    Jonathan Grow says:

    Dr. Robyn,

    I could not agree more! This larger issue of dad’s role in raising an emotionally healthy daughter (in an unhealthy culture!) is something I am so passionate about. Thank you for your contributions here!

  2. Emily
    Emily says:

    My dad is such a great guy. Everyone always says how nice he is and i agree. When I was a kid he use to say things that really hurt me. I wanted to cut my hair once and he said, “over weight girls don’t look good with short hair” When a boy called me a whale on my school bus in 9th grade I came home crying. He said, “well maybe you should loose some weight”

    He would make rude comments about other over weight people as well. My dad has always been over weight and he has body image issues and sadly it has effected me. I do not have good self esteem especially when it comes to my appearance and I am trying to achieve better self esteem..

    He is a great guy but I do not think he has any idea of what his words have done to me, even until today.

    Great site by the way. My friend Dena recommend it to me (*_*)

  3. DrRobyn
    DrRobyn says:

    Hi Emily-

    Welcome. I’m so sorry to hear that you grew up hearing a negative message about your weight. No doubt your father is a great guy– I would recommend having him read chapter 3 of my book so he understands the impact of Dads on their girls. My book is Good Girls Don’t Get Fat: How Weight Obsession is Messing Up Girls & How We Can Help Them Thrive Despite It. It’s on Amazon and sold at book stores. Having an open conversation with your Dad, in a calm way, that recognizes his strengths, honors your relationship, and also reveals your hurt and frustration could go a long way in the future of your father-daughter bond. Good luck to you!

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