Stop Calling Your Daughter the F-Word

girl looking in a mirrorWe keep hearing that childhood obesity is an epidemic, with finger-pointing being aimed at soda, junk food, and sedentary activity in excess. Now, researchers say how we talk about weight -- especially to our girls -- may have a major effect on their health and well-being. Being labeled "fat" may actually worsen the problem rather than encourage girls to get healthier, according to senior author of the research letter, A. Janet Tomiyama from the University of California, Los Angeles.

Tomiyama examined data from an existing study that followed girls through their teen years. At age 10, girls were asked, "Have any of these people told you that you were too fat: father, mother, brother, sister, best girlfriend, boy you like best, any other girl, any other boy, or teacher?" Out of 2,000 girls, 1,188 said "yes" to any of the choices. Heartbreaking.


And it was these girls who were more likely to have a body mass index (BMI) in the obese range 10 years later than the girls who answered "no."

When family members were the ones labeling a girl "fat," the risk of becoming obese later in life was 60 percent, compared to 40 percent when comments came from friends or teachers. The researchers emphasize that this was an "exploratory" study, but it's clear words can hurt us -- tremendously and for the long-haul. Especially when they're coming from loved ones.

Experts who've looked at the findings explain them by noting that being stigmatized or shamed about weight can leave girls vulnerable to psychological and physical health consequences. And you don't have to be a researcher to know that the experience is extremely stressful and can lead to various disordered behaviors -- yo-yo dieting, binge eating, and even the physical effects of emotional stress (the constant release of stress hormone cortisol) go hand-in-hand with excess weight.

It's extremely disheartening to think that the verbal abuse these girls are subjected to chips away at their chances for long-term wellness. The silver lining: We have the power to turn this around! This research reinforces something we may intuitively know but need to consciously change: Moms must steer clear of attaching negativity to their daughters' weight.

The focus has to be on health and wellness. Instead of criticizing, bullying, and picking on our daughters, we need to empower them to be fit and strong. Not "skinny" or "thin." We need to watch our words and our own behaviors in front of them. Replace dieting with healthy lifestyle choices. Seeing physical activity not as a chore, but as a fun, fulfilling part of your day, every day. ALL of this will serve to bolster instead of undermine self-esteem. Ultimately, going that route could mean happier, healthier girls and, one day, women.

Do you agree not calling girls "fat" will help them be healthier in the long-haul?


Image via Mike Melrose/Flickr

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