Talk to Your Daughters About Their Bodies

teenage girl in Converse sneakers with

There’s a meme that’s been around for a while that says, “How do you talk to girls about their bodies? You don’t!”

When I first saw this, I thought, Heck yeah! Girl power! That’s right. Don’t be telling them that they’re too fat or thin or commenting on how they’d look prettier if their hair was styled differently.

And then…

And then, my own two daughters started growing up. Currently, they are in full-blown tweenness. At this stage, I find myself a bit perplexed, despite my professional background. As a clinically trained sex therapist, I’m very open and accepting of people’s decisions and struggles. I consider myself a sex-positive person. My husband and I have raised our kids to be aware of their bodies, know the medically accurate terms, and understand that sex is a gift and a normal part of life. 

two young tweens whispering to one another in purple flowers
Photo by Vitolda Klein on Unsplash

So here is my issue: do I sit silently while my 10-year-old walks out the door with a crop top and jeans on? Do I say nothing when my 12-year-old wants to wear all the makeup to middle school?

Based on current messaging, the answer is yes. But that doesn’t feel right to me. Not because I’m a prude or lame, but because I want my daughters to be conscious of the decisions they are making. I want them to understand WHY they’re engaging in behaviors that may not be age-appropriate. If they can develop this skill now, it will be incredibly beneficial as they navigate life. Because that’s what we want for our kids – to be healthy, contributing adults who make conscious decisions based out of love. 

I wish I had an easy answer for how to approach these issues. Spoiler alert: I don’t. But I have created a few tips to consider as you contemplate your game plan.

*Total transparency: I’m still developing mine. Sometimes I throw out what I thought would work and start over. My daughters are too important for me to not be evaluating my own beliefs about this. I hope this helps you on your parenting journey.*

two teens girls standing in a field of flowers making a heart with their arms
Photo by IIONA VIRGIN on Unsplash

Increase Awareness

As a Clarity Coach, I’m a big fan of personal awareness. I help my clients realize that they are co-creators in their reality and to do that, they must be aware of their thoughts, beliefs, feelings, and actions.

I utilize this same approach with my kids. How? By asking deep and meaningful questions. When my daughter wants to wear a crop top to school, I ask her from a place of curiosity, not judgment. “Tell me about what you’re wearing. What do you like about this kind of shirt (or shorts or dress)? Does it make you feel a certain way? Where do you feel that in your body? How do you think other people will receive you when you’re wearing this?”

Again, it’s not about judging her for wanting to wear a certain garment. The tone isn’t a lecturing one. It’s to help HER understand WHY she made the choice that she did. You’re helping her uncover the motivation for her actions. And that is a gift.

Know Your Triggers

Growing up, my body was consistently scrutinized. I was a gymnast in my younger years and was put on a diet by my coach when I was 10. I had to record everything I ate. Shortly after, I told my parents I wanted to quit and my Dad said that if I did, then I was going to get fat. Throughout my childhood, my mom would take me shopping for clothes but would comment when things made my legs look too big or show my fat rolls.

Don’t get me wrong. I love my parents and know they were only trying to help. They were parenting from how they were parented: shame-based. Shame can be a great motivator, but it also comes at a cost. Knowing your triggers will help you uncover where you still have work to do around your own body image and prevent you from passing those issues on to your daughter.

Identify Your Values

One of the things I coach parents on is how to talk to their kids about sexuality. In order for them to do that, they have to know what they believe about certain things. Maybe your family doesn’t believe in children wearing makeup. Maybe you don’t believe in letting kids eat sugar. Whatever it is, I pray that the reasoning behind your decision is based in love, not fear.

For example, if you think that letting your kid eat sugar will make them fat and being fat is bad, that is parenting out of fear. If you want your kids to eat a balanced, healthy diet to support brain and body development, that is parenting out of love. Same outcome, different motivation. Your motivation will influence how you communicate your message. “Don’t eat that! You’re going to get fat!” versus “Is that the best choice for breakfast? What could fuel your body right now?”

two teenage girls
Photo by Matheus Ferrero on Unsplash

Understand Their Development

You don’t have to be a sexpert like me in order to understand how her body’s developing. The important part is knowing that her brain is not fully developed, and it won’t be until she’s about 24. Why is this important? Because she is going to use her limited logic and reasoning to justify her actions.

“But all the other girls are wearing makeup.”

“I want to eat donuts every day for breakfast because they’re yummy.”

Of course, this reasoning makes sense to them. Thankfully, our brains are fully developed, so we’re able to see the big picture. And it’s our job to keep that big picture in mind whenever we decide how to approach these situations. 

I’m grateful that how we talk to girls about their bodies has changed from when I was young. However, I don’t think silence is the answer. Meaningful, intentional conversation is.

May we educate, equip, and empower our daughters to show up as their best selves, regardless of what they’re wearing or how much they weigh.