We live in an appearance-obsessed culture, and many girls are taught to fixate on the way they look almost from the moment they’re able to lift a fork. Research shows that girls as young as six talk about wanting thinner bodies, and Weight Watchers now allows 10-year-olds to join its point-counting ranks.
Those wee ones aren’t coughing up cash for WW on their own, though — the person holding the purse strings (and doing the diet-shaming) is often, unfortunately, Mom.
“[A mother’s] feelings [about] her own body — and her comments about her daughter's body — are highly correlated with eating disorders like anorexia and bulimia,” explains Juli Fraga, PsyD, a San Francisco-based psychologist who specializes in eating disorders. “If [a mother] makes frequent comments about...‘being good’ by following a certain exercise or eating regimen...these messages are transmitted to her children.” A study of mothers with daughters ages five to 11 found that women who were very preoccupied with their own weight made more attempts to control their daughters' weight, too. Another study that surveyed 91 pairs of college-age women and their mothers found that a woman’s eating habits and attitude about her weight have an affect on her daughter’s body image.
Of course, not all moms have major hang-ups that they pass on to their kids; parents can also be positive role models who teach us to feel great about ourselves and our bodies. So, in the spirit of Mother’s Day, we asked 12 women to tell us about how their moms influenced their body image — for better and for worse.