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An Open Letter To Moms: How To Talk To Your Daughter About Her Body

by Amanda Selsky
Amanda Selsky is a freelance writer based in Charlottesville, Virginia.

Sarah Koppelkam was living in New York City the summer after her sophomore year at Wesleyan University when a friend confided in her about some awful things her mother had said to her about her body.

It turned out to be an a-ha moment for Koppelkam, who was in recovery from an eating disorder herself. “Moms,” Koppelkam told LittleThings, “are the closest model we have for how to be a woman.”

Koppelkam was moved to write a piece inspired by the conversation titled, “How to Talk to Your Daughter About Her Body.”

It’s a much-needed message. According to an ABC News report from earlier this year, an estimated 20 million American women now suffer from an eating disorder, and the number of young girls showing symptoms is on the rise.

In her own words, here is what moms need to do to inspire their daughters to be confident in their own skin:

“Don’t talk to your daughter about her body, except to teach her how it works.

Don’t say anything if she’s lost weight. Don’t say anything if she’s gained weight.

If you think your daughter’s body looks amazing, don’t say that. Here are some things you can say instead:

‘You look so healthy!’ is a great one.

Or how about, ‘You’re looking so strong.’

‘I can see how happy you are — you’re glowing.’

Better yet, compliment her on something that has nothing to do with her body.

Don’t comment on other women’s bodies either. Nope. Not a single comment, not a nice one or a mean one.

Teach her about kindness towards others, but also kindness towards yourself.

Don’t you dare talk about how much you hate your body in front of your daughter, or talk about your new diet. In fact, don’t go on a diet in front of your daughter. Buy healthy food. Cook healthy meals. But don’t say, ‘I’m not eating carbs right now.’ Your daughter should never think that carbs are evil, because shame over what you eat only leads to shame about yourself.

Encourage your daughter to run because it makes her feel less stressed. Encourage your daughter to climb mountains because there is nowhere better to explore your spirituality than the peak of the universe. Encourage your daughter to surf, or rock climb, or mountain bike because it scares her and that’s a good thing sometimes.

Help your daughter love soccer or rowing or hockey because sports make her a better leader and a more confident woman. Explain that no matter how old you get, you’ll never stop needing good teamwork. Never make her play a sport she isn’t absolutely in love with.

Prove to your daughter that women don’t need men to move their furniture.

Teach your daughter how to cook kale.

Teach your daughter how to bake chocolate cake made with six sticks of butter.

Pass on your own mom’s recipe for Christmas morning coffee cake. Pass on your love of being outside.

Maybe you and your daughter both have thick thighs or wide rib cages. It’s easy to hate these non-size-zero body parts. Don’t. Tell your daughter that with her legs she can run a marathon if she wants to, and her rib cage is nothing but a carrying case for strong lungs. She can scream and she can sing and she can lift up the world, if she wants.

Remind your daughter that the best thing she can do with her body is to use it to mobilize her beautiful soul.”

Courtesy Of Sarah Koppelkam /Facebook

Koppelkam has a unique perspective on the role that moms play in shaping their daughter’s body image: Her mom suffered from anorexia and bulimia, and after going through recovery, she was particularly conscious about the negativity surrounding body image for girls.

According to Koppelkam, because of her mom’s experience, she early on understood the impact that moms have on their daughter’s self confidence. “You’re bound to pick up however your mom talks about [her body] and treats it,” Koppelkam says. “If she says something negative, there is so much shame there.” Furthermore, “little girls and teenagers are always watching their moms.”

Courtesy Of Sarah Koppelkam / Facebook

It’s more than just changing the conversation with your daughter, says Koppelkam, it’s about changing the way you speak about women in general. Let’s “affirm each other for things that have nothing to do with appearance,” she says. “Tell women you respect them, be proud of them, and don’t be jealous… There are more supportive ways to have conversations about food that don’t involve shaming ourselves.”

Sarah Koppelkam / Facebook

Now 23 years old, Koppelkam says the piece she wrote is “a good reminder about where I was at that point in my life. I was so exhausted by not thinking about anything else besides that.”

“The fact that this has been shared so much is evidence that something needs to be changed in the way that we talk about [our bodies],” she says. “It’s really important for all of us to work to develop a world where we really value the women around us. [Women] don’t have to only eat brown rice, chicken, and broccoli [in order to look a certain way and be validated]… life is so much more than that.”

Koppelkam currently works as a high school English teacher in North Carolina where she leads creative writing workshops. “I love working with young women and men, because it is an important age in terms of building confidence.”

Agree with Koppelkam’s perspective? Let us know in the comments, and don’t forget to SHARE with friends and family!