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Ask Ginny: Should I tell my daughter that an outfit is not flattering?

Ask Ginny: Should I tell my daughter that an outfit is not flattering?

Dear Ginny, 

I need to be able to tell my daughter that her outfit is not flattering! My daughter is plus size. Going shopping can be a real struggle since there are a lot of things that don’t fit and just aren’t flattering. When I tell her that something isn’t flattering, she gets really angry. How can I say it in a nice way. I’d like her to avoid buying things that make her look even larger than she is.

Signed, Shopping Mama

Dear Shopping Mama,

I understand that buying clothes when we live in a larger body can be stressful. Clothing designers have done a terrible job at clothing us, and it’s hard not to feel ashamed doing something that other people seem to enjoy so much.

I hear you when you say that you want to be able to tell your daughter that an outfit is not flattering.

But I need to challenge you immediately on your belief that your child should only buy clothing that is “flattering,” which I think you mean “slimming.” Your daughter should buy clothing that fits her body, that feels good, and that she likes. Her clothing should not be chosen to minimize her body size or make her appear to be anything other than the beautiful person she is. You need to let go of the idea that she will be more beautiful if she is thinner.

Our children are living in a disordered eating ecosystem. This means that they are bombarded daily with messages about the thin ideal and see images of models who weigh less than almost any other person can without seriously disordered eating and/or an eating disorder.

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When parents tell a daughter that her outfit not flattering, what they are really saying is that their child’s body is unacceptable.

Our children live in this ecosystem, and they know what they *should* look like. They know exactly what the weight loss, fashion, and beauty industries say is “beautiful.” And there is not a single chance in hell that they will ever look exactly as they are told they could/should look.

Going into any clothing store is a stressful time for most people living in a larger body. Most of us suffer from some form of body dissatisfaction if not full-on body dysmorphia.

When a child who is living in a larger body goes shopping with her mom, she is exquisitely aware of the fact that many of the clothes she sees will not fit her or, if they do, will not look “good” on her body.

You may think it’s kind to tell your daughter that an outfit not flattering. But all kids know that “not flattering” is code for “not slimming” or, if we’re really being honest, “makes you look fat.”

If we want to raise children who are truly healthy, then we need to help them feel completely accepted and loved by their parents, regardless of their body size. When we make comments about how their bodies look in clothes, even though they may come from what we believe is a good place, we draw attention to their bodies, which does not help their self-confidence.

If you go shopping with your child, and a piece of clothing doesn’t look good to you, look at your child’s face. Look into her eyes. Does she feel happy? Does she like that t-shirt? Then let her enjoy it. Ask her what she likes about it.

Does she seem insecure? Ask her what she thinks of the color, and how the fabric feels against her skin. Ask her if the clothing allows her to move the way she wants to. There’s no need to reference her body size at all.

If she asks you “do I look OK?” tell her that what matters is how she feels in her clothes. It’s OK if she rolls her eyes. Even if she pushes you, don’t fall for the culturally-prescribed bait of women asking whether they “look fat.” Fat is not a look. Fat is not a feeling. Fat is a cellular structure on our bodies. Push her to define beauty on her own terms, not anybody else’s.

Then step back, and let her make her own choices. You may see them as fashion mistakes, but you have been engaged in this fashion/beauty/diet culture, too. So just relax, and remember that your child is wonderful no matter what she wears.

Here are some of the thoughts that may go through your mind. These are ‘normal’ thoughts, but that doesn’t mean you have to believe them. There’s a rule that says that the first thought is socially-constructed. Read on for the second thought, which is where we want to try and arrive for our child’s sake.

But she could look so much better if she wears something else. 

Your child is not an ornament to be admired. She is a human being with much more important things to think about than how a t-shirt looks on her body. Parents don’t ever need to instill cultural body ideals upon their children – our culture does that all by itself. Be a safe haven in a culture that is very cruel to bodies.

But she will be teased if she wears that. 

One of the first reasons kids get teased is that they feel insecure. If a mom has suggested that a shirt is “not flattering” and a kid wears it anyway, she will get teased because she feels insecure, not because of the shirt itself. If a child knows that she is not an ornament and a t-shirt is just a freaking t-shirt, then she may get teased, but she won’t care, and the teasing won’t continue, nor will it impact her sense of self-worth.

I know a lot about fashion, and I’ve learned a lot about what flatters me. I have so much wisdom to impart! 

It’s OK if you really care about fashion and what people think about your appearance, but please don’t impose those beliefs on your child. Clothing does not make a child healthy and happy. Parental attachment and self-confidence make a child healthy and happy. If your child wants to wear a neon yellow t-shirt with a unicorn on it, and you think the color “washes her out” and you think it makes her belly look large, get over it. She is responsible for her body’s presentation, not you.

She’ll only wear it once, and then she’ll never wear it again. 

First of all, that may happen. It happens with all people of all sizes. Everyone makes clothing selections that we later decide we don’t like. It’s not different because of her body size. Secondly, look carefully at past patterns. It’s quite possible that previously when you disagreed over a piece of clothing, you gave in and purchased the item, but first made your opinion that it was “unflattering” clear. Then, when she put it on at home, you wrinkled your nose in disgust and said something like “I still don’t like it.” Hmmmm. Maybe that has something to do with why she never wore it again.

I owe it to her to tell the truth. 

First: you owe it to her to love and accept her for who she is, not for how she looks.

Next: the truth according to whom? According to the diet, fashion and beauty industries that show body types that can only be achieved by 5% of the population and, even then, require Photoshopping? Watch your bias carefully here. We have all grown up in this toxic ecosystem, but we can also do better for our children.

Don’t subject your daughter to the same narrow view about her body to which you have been subjected. There is no objective “truth” about what looks good or doesn’t look good. Self-confidence is the greatest beauty trick we can teach our children, and self-confidence doesn’t come off the rack.

Check your bias at the door and remember: your child is a person, not an ornament. Give more love, not more fashion advice. This will help your daughter avoid the worst of negative body image and eating disorders.

Sending Love … Ginny

Ginny Jones is on a mission to change the conversation about eating disorders and empower people to recover.  She’s the founder of, an online resource supporting parents who have kids with eating disorders, and a Parent Coach who helps parents supercharge their kid’s eating disorder recovery.

Ginny has been researching and writing about eating disorders since 2016. She incorporates the principles of neurobiology and attachment parenting with a non-diet, Health At Every Size® approach to health and recovery.

Ginny’s most recent project is Recovery, a newsletter for deeply feeling people in recovery from diet culture, negative body image, and eating disorders.

See Our Parent’s Guide To Body Image And Eating Disorders

6 thoughts on “Ask Ginny: Should I tell my daughter that an outfit is not flattering?

  1. Guilty. Needed this today. Thanks for hard truth.
    A Mom.

    1. Please don’t beat yourself up about this. We have all and will all continue to make mistakes about this. It’s just a very difficult part of our culture. What’s really great is that you took the time to think about it and are reflecting and considering future responses. I send you so much love on your parenting journey, and I believe your child(den) is/are very lucky to have you! xoxoxo

  2. What about when it’s unflattering because it’s too tight?
    I don’t know how to handle this because it doesn’t fit properly and then we have the negative emotions when it doesn’t fit anymore at all after being washed. I can’t keep buying more clothes because she wants to squeeze into stuff that borderline fits and is outgrown within the season.

    1. Good question! The main thing is that if you have feedback, you need to check to make sure it’s about how the clothing performs, not about how her body looks in the clothing. It sounds to me like your concern is that she is choosing clothing that shrinks or doesn’t last long enough. In this case, you need to talk to her about how clothes need to fit comfortably and allow for movement, washing, and some growth. Make the discussion about the cut, fabric and economy of the clothing, not about her body. For more about buying clothes, check out this article: Sending Love … Ginny

  3. Thanks. My daughter is beautiful 😍. Regardless of her weight. My daughter wants to dress more like an old lady then dress like her age. She is 16. Im letting her choose what makes her happy. She says she want to wear clothes that cover her big belly. I don’t comment at all. But how can I tell her that high rises jeans are a good choice. We take hours in the thrift store and nothing fits. And I know if she gets outfits that are stretchy and high rise will help her. But again she wants to wear long old lady skirts that is on her. Is it bad to mention that doesn’t she want to dress her age? . I know clothes doesn’t have age.

    1. I would focus on how clothes feel on her body. Can she move freely? Is she comfortable? Is she not too hot? Is she choosing clothes for her pleasure rather than choosing clothes based on what she thinks other people think? I wouldn’t offer this as advice but instead from a place of curiosity without an undertone of judgment. I would talk about this in all aspects of her life. Is she living “out loud?” Can she find small ways to take up more space in this world without apologizing or shrinking herself? Speaking up in class? Signing up for a new activity? Buying something she loves but only feels comfortable wearing at home for right now? Encourage her to express the beauty and passion that is uniquely hers. xoxo

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