Fathers, Daughters, and Eating Disorders
by Mark Brandenburg MA, CPCC
We have an epidemic of eating disorders in this country. It’s important
to examine what kind of impact these disorders are having in our
- About 5,000,000 people in the US, most of them teenage girls,
have anorexia. One in 10 die of it, half from suicide, and half
from medical complications related to the anorexia.
- In 1970, the average age a girl started dieting in the US was
14. By 1990, the average dieting age had fallen to 8.
- In one study, young girls in the US who were surveyed were
more afraid of becoming fat than they were of nuclear war,
cancer, or losing their parents.
- The average US woman is 5'4" and weighs 140 lbs. The average
US model is 5'11" and weighs 117 lbs.
- 2 out of 5 women, and 1 out of 5 men would give 3-5 years of
their life to achieve their weight goals.
Our failures are everywhere. And as we live our own busy lives, we see these
failures, yet stay silent. We plow ahead, hoping things will change, and fearing
And while our culture is not the only culprit in the eating disorder epidemic
in this country, it certainly stokes the fire. It stokes the fire in those girls
who lack the positive self-image to withstand the barrage of images and judgments
that rain down every day. For girls, there’s no escaping this barrage. It happens
in the looks and comments they get when they walk down the hall at school.
Our daughters need our help. Here are some ideas for fathers that may help to turn
- Examine your own attitude and feelings toward women. How have
you objectified women in the past? Are you ready to see them as
equal? Make sure you’re clear on these questions, because
they’ll come up eventually with your daughter.
- Find out if there are sexist influences in your daughters’
life that you can impact. Ask about the philosophy and practices
of her coaches, teachers, and others who spend time with her.
One influential person can do a great deal of good, or a great
deal of damage.
- Anything positive you do can be washed away by a single
comment about her appearance, or the way you look at another
woman. Your daughter is watching you closely. Tell her she’s
beautiful, no matter what she looks like.
- Find out the names of advertisers who put out garbage
commercials or products that attempt to convince young girls to
be slimmer, etc. You’d be surprised at how many ads have been
pulled because concerned parents took action.
- Stay connected to your daughter, no matter how much she’s
struggling. And when she reaches puberty and her body changes,
find a way to continue to stay close. Too many fathers abandon
their daughters emotionally when their daughters need them the
About the Author: Mark Brandenburg
MA, CPCC, coaches parents by phone to balance their life and improve their family