The Hurtful Messages Our Daughters Can’t Avoid

August 26, 2015   42 Comments

My daughter grew 1 ½ inches in four months. She is 11 years old and I can’t carry her around in a Baby Bjorn anymore.

Skinny Jeans

(I haven’t tried in a while, though sometimes I yearn for those days.)

Before school starts this week, we went through all of her clothes to find out what she could wear for the fall. It was absolutely hilarious watching her attempt to pull on pants. She fell down, got stuck a couple of times, and I thought I was going to have to get out a pair of scissors to free her.

We ended up with ZERO pairs of pants and two long-sleeved shirts that still fit. Ha! Since I can’t send her to school in her underwear, we embarked on the “Back to School” ritual shopping trip. We began by stopping at Goodwill. I have a “you can buy anything you want” from Goodwill policy as I want to encourage reuse, saving money, and the terrific work that Goodwill does.

Then (after finding a new pair of pants for $2 - whoopee!), we went to her favorite store, Old Navy. Here things went a bit down hill.

The jeans are called “Skinny”, which is a style of pants that sticks the fabric to your legs. As a subset of Skinny, you have:

  • Super Skinny
  • Skinny Slim
  • Skinny Regular
  • Skinny Plus

Which one do you want to be?

My daughter grabbed the Super Skinny and told me that these were her jeans. Then, she tried them on and they didn’t fit. The pouting and tears began.

Here I am, an advocate (dare I say, activist!) for a reasonable female body image, and MY daughter wants to be “Super Skinny”. She certainly didn’t get that idea from me.

The marketing folks at Old Navy had ensured with their terminology (think Super Hero) that my daughter felt inadequate when she ended up in Skinny Slim as a result of GROWING.

I found myself wanting to punch the cashier but I refrained from my tirade until I was at home. Why do all the marketing messages we receive (especially as women) tell us how deficient we are?

Wrinkles, hair color, eye lashes, leg hair, cellulite, muffin tops, crow’s feet, thin lips, chicken neck, bat wings, and ugly underarms (what?) - how many products do we need to solve all of these ridiculous manufactured image problems?

Almost all the stuff on the market is to transform the look of a woman into a teenager and they don’t work because we AGE - a perfectly normal and unavoidable phenomenon as we all know.

Now my 11 year old daughter is wondering how she can fit into “Super Skinny” and I am trying to convince her it is all a marketing ploy that she will be facing for her entire life.

Man, it makes me angry. I realize that this post sounds like a Mama Bear trying to protect her Baby Bear from being bullied but I can’t help it.

The marketing message that “skinny” is preferable sends many down a path to disordered eating and eating disorders as well as self-esteem issues, pain, and emotional trauma that is so unnecessary.

I have a primordial desire to protect my children from this crap.

How do you talk to your daughter about body image?

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First 20 Comments: ( See all 42 )

I have a 5 year old that is very tall and slender. I have made a point of telling her that "skinny" is not desirable. I remember all too well trying to buy Levi's years ago- the waist just kept getting larger and the thighs were the same. I was it ever able to wear them, and won't even try at this point. Sizes and cut mean nothing once a person realizes that they need to fit your body shape, and not a number.

My girls are 20 and 22 now and for the most part made it through their tween and teen years with a healthy body image. That's not to say we didn't have our moments like yours in the store or that the same images that bombarded them at 11 don't bombard them (and me for that matter) now. We can now, as adults, mock the latest image craze like thigh gaps or whatever else is out there.

When they were younger we had conversations like Elaine's and like yours and you will have many more. We also had some really LOUD conversations about appropriate clothing, boys, friends, school, driving and all the other things she is going to drive you crazy with for the next few years.

Here is my opinion though. You have to believe and live what you are telling them or it doesn't stick. They have to look at their Mom and the other important women in their lives and see that they are confident about how they look. The message has to be clear.

If YOU need to lose some weight the message has to be about health or even because your pants are getting tight, not because you're "fat" or "disgusting". I tripped up at the beginning but realized that they were watching everything and taking it into account, even as they were pouting or crying or slamming doors.

Good luck! Even without body image pressures, you are about to head into some interesting times.

I completely hear what you are saying. I have always been on the outside of the current style trend with larger thighs and a skinnier waste. I am not a 'skinny fit' regardless of my weight and my daughter is built like me. I try to promote healthy choices over thin choices. Tough though because her dad and I (who are separated) are not on the same page and he will comment about her gaining to much weight (she is 10 and a gymnast....). The messages come from anywhere the outside ones i think we can shelter against, but the ones closer to home are tougher to deal with.

I actually had this argument with my Sister this weekend about this. Her Daughter lives with our parents due to her Husband being ill and her being military. This last visit deteriorated into my Sister berating her daughter for being chubby and too tall. How can you be chubby AND too tall? My Sister is 5 foot 2 and stocky at best. Her Daughter is slightly north of 5 foot 4 and, yes, not the slimmest in the world, but definitely not chubby. Compared to the other girls in her class she looks healthy, all the others really do look anorexic (think Twiggy in her tweens). Needless to say I berated my Sister for instilling a body image issue in her own Daughter when we had just had a conversation about this not 2 seconds ago. Between us siblings it didn't end very well (I think there was blood), but at least my Niece heard herself and her appearance being defended by family.

When exactly did "00" become the ideal body size?

Feeling so angry right now on behalf of your beautiful daughter and all our daughters.

My daughter is 10. She is not a skinny girl, neither is she fat. She is a good solid. No fat on her at all. However, she feels she is fat since her legs and arms are thin like some of her friends. Her pediatrician and I told her she is healthy and at a good weight. She is a dancer. So I encourage her to follow Misty Copeland (who is similar to my daughter's body type) for encouragement. I show her healthy body images often and I no longer talk bad about my body. We both eat healthy and exercise together.

My daughter and I just ran into this yesterday, while back to school shopping. She's 10, smaller on the top than the bottom and can't wear a size 14 anymore, she also couldn't fit the size 16 jeans in lord and Taylor. I didn't know what to say, because I vividly remember this being me at 11, but I was obese. I just told her that everyone should focus on being healthy.

My parents made me get weighed every day once I hit puberty. As a result, I suffered from eating disorders. I passed on my body image dissatisfaction to my daughters by talking badly about myself in front of them, which caused them to look critically at their bodies. We have vowed to stop this madness with my granddaughter! May she never forget how beautiful and amazing her body is!

Ugh. So sorry to hear these experiences with young girls shopping for back to school. Clearly nothing ever changes, and in fact worsens, given popular media. This makes me so sad as I recall my tween experiences as a 'chubby' girl shopping at Lane Bryant. I was probably a sz. 16 and athletic but at an in-between stage and the hormones were only beginning to activate. Plus my mother micro-managed every morsel that went into my adolescent mouth. Mind you this is the same woman who morphed her just under 6 lb. newborn into a 35 lb. chubby wonder at age one. She is now 90 and still comments on my weight. I love and tell her I am comfortable in my own skin.

I agree - it is ridiculous. We shopped there recently - my daughter who happens to be very slim was too big for the super skinny - she needed skinny or whatever. She didn't care at all, but it occurred to me what kind of body DOES fit into the super skinny? She has kind of the ideal figure - rather tall and lean (she just turned out there with no help from my genes). Not good.

I like the word "fit" and "healthy" as goals. And good for you for making your first stop at Goodwill. Another thought ... any friends/neighbors/cousins who want to do swaps/hand me downs? My son went a whole year without having to buy pants because a friend had hand me downs (in much more expensive brands than I would buy!)

Body image is fragile - for all kids and many adults -- keep up your good work of starting the conversation!

I wonder what terms we can use. Some people are naturally smaller and need a smaller cut. But what should we call it?

I am 100% in agreement, what we call it now is crap, I'm just trying to be proactive in coming up with terms that don't completely alienate those who aren't naturally smaller than others and don't fit into a super skinny.

Slim cut? Or even just a numbering or color system? Thinner all around is a blue or something, thicker hips with small waiste is a purple? Snack girl, put the pressure on tween fashion!

My 8 year old was crying in her bed one night because her friend told her she was fat numerous times. Pointed out to her that her thighs and bottom were bigger that theirs. This little girl's mother is anorexic. I didn't realize that this was being said, and especially not how frequently this friend had been saying this. I have talked with her, read about body image, and here a year later she is still commenting on how much bigger that her friends she is. She is a beautiful, smart, athletic, little girl. She can almost beat her 14 year old sister in an arm wrestle. She got bumped up 3 gymnastic levels last year and two ballet classes. She is a ball of muscle and has a competitive side. Perhaps the latter is why this BF peer voice is staying with her. The school counselor mentioned the self awareness that girls have, and boys don't get for years-or ever, starting at age 8. We focus on self care and celebrate her strengths and successes. Not a lot of support from every TV show, movie, and the fashion world. Battling this much earlier than I would have ever dreamed. God bless Mothers in this endeavor!

Excellent post (and comments).

In the US there's no standard sizing and that's an issue in itself. You can try on 3 size 10s in the same brand and style and have them all fit differently. I prefer pants that have the actual waist size--they seem to fit me best.

Back to school shopping seems harder on kids these days. In the 80s it was a fun process.

My daughter, now 2 years old, and a very healthy kid, is called fat because she has a belly out of her spine's baby curve. Other kids' mums visitors have called her "fatty". My inlaws (my mother in law wears a skinny slim for sure) have made comments on how fatty she was since she was born. All our pediatricians (we live in multiple places, so have multiple pediatricians, plus family friends) say she is total normal for her height, she could weight 30% more with the same height and still be totally normal. Both my husband and I are average, healthy and energetic, we both wear a 32 and are 5'10'', i have latin hips and I am a yoga teacher. How much can we parents do, if our daughters are subjected to this since they are born? I can be a confident mother, but she hears this from every single corner! Please share positive experiences too.

Your solution is don't shop old navy. Their clothes are cheaply made anyway. My problem is my daughter's new high school changed uniform providers and now the girls are ALL having to wear 0% ease peg leg shorts and pants. The boys shorts all are standard fit. WTH?! Thanks for creating problems new school. I emailed the principal and got a waiver for her to use clothes from a national uniform company that fits. But my heart was breaking for any of the girls who tried on a 20 that couldn't possibly fit. Because it didn't fit my 5'9" athletic build 14 year old.

Why did we ever have to change from the number system anyways?? I remeber all the way up until my 2"'s that it was JUST a number!! The first named cut I remeber was Boot cut which I used to be able to purchase from The Gap. I had athe FAVORITE pair I kept for years. I remember as they faded, I began to think I would go and stock up on them so that I could have a couple of fresh pair! Well, in the years that I owned this one pair, the sizes of the cut went down!! I mean I started in a solid 10 and by the time I got to the store, I COULD fit the 10 at home but not the 10 in the stores so I was FORCED to become a 12! Then, it went up to a 14! How can this be when I was STILL in the 10 at home????? I became so angry because my body was not changing but the clothing was telling me that my body was growing out of my clothing (if I believed that crap, which I refused to do). So, I did something drastic, I STOPPED WEARING JEANS! I didn't go to Old Navy or GAP for over a decade because I was so angry. My daughters ages 6 & 9 don't wear jeans! Not because I tell them not to, but because they're so used to wearing stretchy clothing like leggings or my absolute FAVORITE Jeggings, they won't wear denim!! My 9 year old refuses to even try them on because she says they itch :-) She will be a Jeggings girl for life because they look like jeabs but feelike sstretch pants! Yippee. I purchased a pair of jeans for the first time about 6 months ago from a small boutique in the city and they were labeled only with numbers. I love them, they fit and I will never buy a pair of SKINNY Jeans in my life and I am happy because I am healthy! We eat right, we work out daily AND my girls do yoga and we practice mindfulness so for now, they are free of thre body image bull crap. We talk about being healthy. My girls have NEVER heard me talk about being fat and I am a size 12, I am not skinny at all but they have NEVER heard me complain about my weight and they never will. It's all about health around here and I plan on keeping them focused on that. As a part of our homeschooling day, we talk about our meals and of what we are choosing is a balanced plate or snack and if not or if so, why. They look at food in a very balanced way and have learned so much about proper nutrition. I am very hopeful that they will keep up with what they have been taught but I do know that the older they get, the meaner the world becomes!! I'm SO angry right now that our girls have to go through this foolishness.

My daughter is currently in long-term treatment for Eating Disorder. This $^%& is hitting sooo close to home. I am being made aware more and more of not only my own failings in giving her a healthy message about body (I was always on a diet, never happy with my size), but our society's as a whole. This goes deep, exceedingly deep, sort of like a wound. Good luck to you in helping your daughter have a more realistic and functional view on this whole, hideous "size" ordeal.

I find this all so crazy!!

The message out there is that you can never be happy. You are either not thin enough, tall enough,smart enough, creative ect, ect. As parents we just have to keep repeating YOU ARE GOOD ENOUGH!!!!

Also, I love the positive ads coming out, like Dove and Cheerios. It is starting, but we need more and quickly.


Young girls are constantly exposed to unhealthy diet messages disguised as entertainment. It’s called Dietainment, and it needs to stop. Share and sign the petition at, and together we can help stop Dietainment from reaching our girls. #StopDietainment

I am totally with you on this Snackgirl. I went to buy my daughter jeans last year (she was 5 years old) and all the styles everywhere were "Skinny". I hate skinny jeans and how they look on little kids. I ended up going to Marshall's and buying boys jeans that were just normal straight leg jeans. Even at Marshall's, all the girl's jeans were skinny or jeggings (which I hate even more). At young ages, children should not be concerned with body image. Kids grow in fits and spurts so their bodies are always changing shape. As long as they are eating healthy food and maintaining a healthy weight, they really shouldn't have to worry about their bodies. (And by healthy weight I mean what is medically healthy, not what society deems healthy)

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