6 Things We Can Do To Protect Our Daughters From Diet Culture

by Katie Cloyd
Originally Published: 
Six Ways I Can Help My Daughter Stay Body Positive in A Diet-Obsessed Culture
Scary Mommy and MoMo Productions/Getty

I can’t save my daughter from diet culture. As a fat woman who has had to fight tooth and nail to find a way to love the body I inhabit, it breaks my heart to know that someday, someone is going to make my perfect little girl feel like she isn’t beautiful or worthy.

But it’s inevitable. My baby is growing up subject to the same toxic system that raised me, whether I like it or not. Right now, she’s just an infant, oblivious to anything but her own needs. When she is hungry, she eats. When she is tired, she lies down and sleeps. She never worries about what someone will think of her chunky thighs. She just uses those little legs to kick and play.

I wish she could retain this level of commitment to her own happiness and well-being as she grows. Imagine a world where women could feel free to unapologetically seek out the things we need? I long for a culture where every woman feels free to live in whatever body she has, beauty standards be damned.

My daughter will grow up as kids tend to do, and there is nothing I can do—short of locking her in a tower and climbing up her hair to visit—that will shield her completely from diet culture’s impossible standards of beauty.

I can’t keep her safe from these ridiculous ideals, but I can do my best to help her see through them. This is how I plan to do it.

I will teach her all about diet culture.

Knowledge is power. Most of us are conditioned to hold the beliefs that make up diet culture. Diet culture encourages intense focus on body shape and size. It glorifies thinness and vilifies fatness. It’s the larger belief system that allows companies and individuals to get very rich peddling their “cures” for fatness. Diet culture creates an impossible dream, and then sells us product after product to keep us striving for it.

Literally nobody ever fully arrives. If someone gets close, diet culture moves the goalposts. Whatever you are is only “in” for a short time, then diet culture moves on to a new body standard, leaving you behind. The whole trap is that we are willing to spend our time and money to get even one piece of us as close as possible, even though we know they are constantly moving the finish line. As long as this out-of-control beauty ideal stands, diet culture can reign supreme.

I will teach my daughter about the people who benefit when regular women buy into the lie that we have to choose between their idea of perfection or misery. My daughter can’t escape it, but she can see it for what it is.

I will be kind about my own body.

I am fat, and I punished myself for it for years. A few years ago, I decided I was enough, and I’ve worked hard to make peace with my body, however it looks. I don’t always adore every inch of it, but I am not ashamed anymore. I don’t spend my energy wishing I was smaller. These days, I don’t restrict my food or over-exercise with the sole intent of changing the size of my body. I’ve changed my mind about what it means to be fat.

My daughter will never hear me say negative things about my body. If I need reassurance or a place to vent, I will choose my husband or my grown friends. My daughter won’t hear me say my body isn’t good.

I will not disparage thin bodies.

My daughter has a fat mom, but she will never hear any rhetoric about “skinny bitches” from her parents. We will not trade one ideal for another, instilling in her that a curvy, voluptuous or plus-size body is better than a very thin one. In this house, we are body positive no matter what your body looks like. You get to have the body you have in peace.

That doesn’t mean she will never see anyone express an interest in keeping their body a certain size or shape. My husband is in the military, and he has to maintain certain standards to pass his physical fitness test each year. My kids know that some people have to have a certain kind of body for the life or work they choose.

She will know that everyone has a right to change their own body as they see fit — but nobody has an obligation to do that in order to be worthy, beautiful or whole.

I will show her people in all kinds of bodies living their best lives.

My girl is growing up in a time when the internet has made the world so small. In just a couple of minutes, I can show her examples of people accomplishing amazing things in all kinds of bodies. I can find stories of athletes with limb differences. I can show her fat women doing the most complicated yoga poses. She can see actors of short stature in starring roles. We can learn together from people across the gender spectrum. She can listen to women of all races and cultures explain their idea of beauty. I have access to billions of people and their stories. My daughter has a chance I never had. She doesn’t have to see thin, white, straight, cis, and conventionally attractive as the default, and I will make sure she doesn’t.

I will never find pride or shame in the size or shape of my daughter’s body.

We will buy her clothes that fit her body without emphasizing the number on the tags. She will know how much she weighs so we can determine how much medication she needs if she gets a fever, or if she’s big enough for a carnival ride — but we will not discuss weight in a way that makes her feel that her body is bad or good simply for being a certain size.

When she is old enough, I will allow her to experiment with changing the size and shape of her body if she chooses that. She is the boss of her body.

I just won’t ever express a preference to her or about her. The shape and size of her body will never be a source or shame or pride for me because I mean it when I say that all kinds of bodies are good.

I will make this house a place where she can rest.

When I was younger, I wanted to look like the girls in the glossy teen magazines and catalogs that showed up like clockwork once a month in my mailbox. I’d peruse Seventeen Magazine and the dELiA*s catalog and wish I was someone else.

My daughter will probably compare herself to someone she finds on whatever online platform kids are using by the time she’s old enough to care. Whatever TikTok becomes in 13 years, that will be my daughter’s Seventeen magazine.

The result will be the same. Someone who looks much different than my little girl is going to become her idea of beautiful, and she will feel like she isn’t enough. It happens to all of us.

I can’t protect her from encountering diet culture, but I can make sure diet culture ends at my front door. I can’t be the only voice in her head, but if I put in intentional work, I hope I can become one of the loudest ones.

My daughter deserves to have at least one place in this world where all body judgment is off.

This house — and my heart — will be that place.

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