Of Dads and Daughters: Fighting the Tide of Eating Disorders

Though there have been many positive trends in the worlds of therapy and mental health treatments over the past few years, not all areas have been improving. Amid a chaotic and stressful society with increasingly tight demands on youth, eating disorders have become a more prominent issue in the United States and around the world than many had imagined, touching the lives of children—especially adolescent girls—with alarming frequency. A great deal of treatments and programs have been developed in an effort to help curb the development and pervasiveness of anorexia, bulimia, and other issues, but one approach proposed by Houston psychotherapist Mary Jo Rapini takes an angle that’s close to home.

Specifically, Rapini’s focus is on the relationship between girls and their fathers. While it’s well known that healthy relationships between children and their parents are essential for positive childhoods and the creation of many proactive behaviors, the specific interactions of fathers and daughters as they relate to issues of body image are less often discussed. Rapini notes that fathers can help their daughters achieve a more positive body image by participating in healthy family activities and being open about the paternal love a father feels for his child.

Though the intention is rarely present, Rapini contends, fathers sometimes contribute to their daughters’ difficulties with self-image and self-esteem by focusing on their appearance—or by ignoring it altogether. Advocating balance and the inclusion of behaviors that support healthy eating and exercise habits, all while maintaining a meaningful relationship, is key to the Houston specialist’s tactics for curbing eating disorders before they develop. Through the power of the family, eating disorders may find their match and give in to the positive trends enjoyed elsewhere in the realm of mental health.

© Copyright 2009 by By Noah Rubinstein, LMFT, LMHC, therapist in Olympia, Washington. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • Melinda


    June 22nd, 2009 at 9:24 AM

    Although I love both my mother and father dearly they were always so critical of me when I was growing up, telling me things like I was chubby or to stop eating so much. And that really did make an impact on me as a kid, and has carried over into adulthood even though I have tried so hard not to let it. It is as a result of words like these that were used against me that I try to be so careful about what I say to my own girls, because as much as I try to keep a handle on what and how they eat I would never want them to even get the faintest idea that I thought they were fat or eating too much. I know just how easily those seeimingly innocuous words can have on a young girl’s self esteem and what a lasting impression this can make on them.

  • Diane


    June 23rd, 2009 at 12:12 AM

    I find myself on the other side of the fence Melinda. My son was a big baby who became very skinny between 3-10. I found myself constantly yelling at him and trying to force him to eat. The fact that I was a good cook used to irk me a little more with my skinny child. The world doesnt deal with our sore points generously as well. Years of jibes and jokes from friends and families about him took their toll and I wasnt the supportive mother he would have liked to have. Today he is in therapy for depression and eating disorders. Nothing I do can undo the damage done.

  • Kylie


    June 23rd, 2009 at 8:00 PM

    I think having a supportive dad goes a long way. I lost my mom when I was 11. Not the easiest thing in the world at that age. My dad was very patient with me and even the times that he used to criticize, it used to be objective criticism. Looking back, I can say I am a confident person in my own skin. I think its definitely important to have a dad who matures with you.

  • Missy


    June 24th, 2009 at 2:02 AM

    parents love their children, but I think mother’s kind of want their daughters to grow up and be like them or be what they weren’t. There’s pagents, contests, and cheerleading that I think a lot of mothers want their little girls to be in so they push for that self image of their daughter. I think Daddy’s just want their little girls to be little girls.

  • Steve


    June 24th, 2009 at 6:43 AM

    As father I have to speak up and say that you should be mindful of what you to say to all of your kids, male or female. Like it or not we are the role models that they are always going to look up to and it is our responsibility as parents to give them the things that they need to be a success in life. So what if they are a little skinny or a little pudgy? We have to get to the point where we can look down deep inside and ask oursleves if he or she is a good kid, does well in school, and is making a positive contribution to the household. If those questions have the answers that we want to hear, what does their size matter and why should we even make comments about it? I want my kids to be healthy too but I know that we all go through up and down phases with our weight and for the most part I know that if I just ignore it then sometimes problems will resolve themselves on their own. Support your kids, don’t knock them down.

  • Jon


    June 25th, 2009 at 3:42 AM

    My dad was very old school and felt like (and still feels) that things he said to me and my sisters growing up were to toughen us up. Guess that is not the way of thinking anymore huh?

  • Georgia


    June 27th, 2009 at 5:29 AM

    I hope that we as a society have evolved past the point that what does not break you can only make you stronger, but i fear that for the older generations that has not hit home yet. For so many young girls especially that is really not the case. They really take what we all have to say to heart and they keep it with them all through adulthood. We all need to make a much better effort about the things we say to our kids and take a good look at what we are teaching them through both our actions and our words.

  • Becca


    June 28th, 2009 at 9:53 AM

    And how about the things they see in the grocery store check out lines on the current magazine covers? We may can shield the kids from our words but there is no way to keep them from the media who declares pretty regularly that if you are over a size 6 then you must be fat. You can’t tell me that young girls and women alike do not take all of this to heart because I know that I still do and I am well past my tween and adolescent years. It is hard to ignore all of this sometimes because that is what we are constsntly innundated with. And just think about the girls who not only get the messages from that media but the same stupid verification of that at home too! Imagine how bad they must inevitably come to think about themselves and how unfair that is to them.

  • Jennifer


    June 29th, 2009 at 2:26 AM

    In a very old world my dad was new light. He taught me the less trodden path and today I think I owe a lot to him. There was never an issue of whether I can with him. It was only whether I wanted to. He taught me to be free in life in spirit and I owe a lot to him

  • Linda


    July 1st, 2009 at 4:04 AM

    Fathers can be very positive people as men tend to be less irrational and emotional in their behaviour. I also think men are great motivators.

  • Sandra


    July 1st, 2009 at 6:07 AM

    Dads, be careful what you say. You may not think it but your girls are always listening.

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