I loved what screenwriter Aaron Sorkin had to say about powerful, talented women in his Golden Globes award acceptance speech earlier this year: "I want to thank all the female nominees tonight for helping demonstrate to my young daughter that elite is not a bad word, it's an aspirational one. Honey, look around, smart girls have more fun, and you're one of them."
Here's a dad who is surrounded by all the stuff that eating disorders professionals try to steer girls' attention away from: emphasis on outward beauty, celebration of unrealistic body shape and size, the importance of image over substance. And yet he was telling his daughter it was "smart" that counts most. Just the fact that he was trying to help his daughter negotiate these waters was encouraging. As Marcia and I write in our book, strong father-daughter relationships are known to be a powerful protective factor against eating disorders. Sorkin's quote got me to thinking about what Dr. Margo Maine has to say on this topic. Here are a few tips on what dads can do to help their daughters that I'd like to share from Dr. Maine's book, Father Hunger: Fathers, Daughters, and the Pursuit of Thinness:
- Show interest in her activities. Don't expect her to tag along with you or to like the things you like. Enter her world: share her music, go places she wants to visit, do things with her that she enjoys.
- Encourage her to identify and discuss her emotions and opinions. Let her disagree with you without withdrawing your affection. Show respect for the differences between you.
- Teach her to say no and set limits. This will prepare her for situations that might compromise or even endanger her.
- Help your daughter develop values other than consumerism. Share some of yours and create opportunities to enjoy nature, reading, the arts, sports, music, cultivation of friendships, volunteerism, or other activities.
- Show respect for real women of substance. Be aware of your attitudes toward women, their appearance and their achievements. Point out the contributions women make in your community or family.
- Watch what you say about womens' bodies. Criticizing women's weight and appearance has become a normal activity-you may not realize that the power of what you say to your daughter.
- Promote respect for all shapes and sizes. Weightism is rampant today. Take stock of your attitudes toward fat people. Become aware of your prejudices and work to change them.
- Don't let adolescence scare you away. When she starts to develop sexually, stay close and involved, while respecting her need for more control and boundaries.
- Let her get to know you. Share your life and interests with her. Be real and honest, and get out of the role of Superman. This will help her negotiate other relationships with male authority figures.