Healthy body image: How moms instill resilience in daughters

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Published: September 21, 2015 2:01:57 PM

A new research has revealed that mothers use variety of strategies to mitigate risks to daughters' body image.

A new research has revealed that mothers use variety of strategies to mitigate risks to daughters’ body image.

Ben-Gurion University of the Negev (BGU) research demonstrates how Jewish mothers’ emphasis on the many aspects of well being, fitness and a sense of self-fulfillment helps to counteract the innumerable “ideal” body images seen and heard by their daughters in the mass media.

The new study focuses on how Jewish mothers instilled resilience in their daughters to combat body dissatisfaction, which can lead to eating disorders. It included 20 pairs of mothers and adult-age daughters and eight other pairs of just mothers or daughters.

All the mothers interviewed concurred that they bear some responsibility for their daughters’ weight, socialization to accepted gender roles and general well being, explains researcher Dr. Maya Maor.

Maor added that both mothers and daughters have the opportunity to choose alternative modes of interaction that promote a healthier body image and build a personal and body-based resilience to mitigate the risk of eating disorders as they mature.

The analysis revealed common ways in which mothers and daughters rejected, negated or resisted oppressive messages and stereotypes related to general or personal body images.

The methods included filtering — being cautious and sensitive regarding body image issues; transmitting awareness of the dangers of eating disorders, which can result in serious medical complications and even death; positive reinforcement, using affirmative language in regard to their daughters’ bodies; discussion — providing tools for criticism of dominant body-related messages; and positivity — shifting the focus of food and body-related discussions regarding weight loss to health and taking pleasure in food.

Some of the mothers in the study recalled how their own mothers’ negative comments to them about eating too much led them to associate food with guilt and bad feelings. They raised their own daughters by instead talking about the quality of food, importance of food choices and its relationship to developing respect for their own bodies.

The researchers recommend the development of preventive interventions based on the great potential for positive effects in mother-daughter relationships. Father-daughter interactions are an additional, potentially important avenue for future research.

The study is published in Feminism and Psychology.

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