Body dissatisfaction in children, particularly young girls, is a growing concern around the world. The home environment can have a strong influence on children’s well-being, and parents may contribute to their children’s positive or negative body image development. Nearly all research on parent influence on body image has focused on mothers, leaving fathers’ attitudes and experiences poorly understood. To address this gap in the literature, we interviewed 30 fathers (Mage = 40.30; SD = 7.48) of girls between the ages of 5 and 10 about the conversations they have with their daughters regarding body image. Through thematic analysis, we identified three primary themes: barriers to effective communication, combatting negative influences, and strategies for discussing body image. Fathers recognized the importance of talking about body image with their daughters, yet many did not feel confident or competent to do so effectively. They engaged in a variety of strategies to combat adverse cultural influences and encourage self-expression, character development, and mental and physical health in their daughters. However, messages about health were sometimes conflated with messages about thinness or food restriction. Implications for families and future research are discussed.
Authors: Jaclyn A. Siegel, Virginia Ramseyer Winter, Mackenzie Cook