Diet Culture Is Making These Women Terrified To Have Daughters

Meet the women terrified of having daughters because of diet culture

“My mum taught me how to hate myself. I was scared I'd do the same to my daughter”. 

This article contains references to eating disorders. 

When 27-year-old marketing campaigner Rose* envisioned the day she found out the sex of her baby, she imagined it being a “ceremonial, beautiful” experience. Instead, when she found out she’d be having a girl, she said an unexpected feeling of dread washed over her. “I knew what it was like to be a young girl. It was sh[*]t,” she tells GLAMOUR.

“I grew up with the idea instilled in me that fat bodies were bad bodies and I know that I learned that from my mother. I watched her diet on and off all my life. I listened to her speak badly about her body for being big when it was anything but,” she explains.

“I love my mum, so it was hard for me to accept when I eventually became ill and had to start eating disorder therapy. But it’s true. She taught me how to hate myself, and I was scared I would do the same to my daughter. It felt inevitable.”

46-year-old service manager Bryony* had a similar experience, sharing that when she became pregnant with her daughter at 25 years old, she had been restricting her own food, counting her calories and “obsessing” over her reflection since she was a child. “I never considered it disordered eating. I grew up in the '80s; doing that stuff was just normal,” she says.

“When my daughter turned 19, she came to me crying and admitted she had a laxative fixation and had been taking them for years to try and lose weight. She knew it was wrong, but she didn’t know what to do,” she adds.

“All I could tell her was that I used to do the same thing, and that I was sorry and I understood. I realised as the words came out of her mouth that I’d learned how to do this from my mum, and now I’d done it to her. I think even my grandma was doing it too. It’s like a gene. I didn’t do this to my daughter on purpose, but it happened anyway.”

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The ways in which disordered eating is passed from mother to daughter, both purposely and subconsciously, has been a strong and difficult topic on and offline in recent years, arguably peaking with Jennette McCurdy detailing the way her mother purposely taught her calorie restriction, amongst other abuses, in her memoir I’m Glad My Mom Died.

If you’re a person who frequents the internet, especially TikTok, you’ll also know the scene from The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills where Yolanda Hadid told her daughter, model Gigi Hadid, to slowly chew on two almonds when she was hungry, all too well. Or the scene where she seemed to not let her eat her own birthday cake, and to instead have one slender slice and get back onto her diet promptly. Both have provoked wild accusations that Yolanda Hadid purposely taught her two daughters – Bella and Gigi – how to restrict and keep up intense, dangerous diets to maintain their attractiveness and castability as models.

Comments swarmed on clips of Gwyneth Paltrow’s interview on Twitter and Instagram, reading “her poor daughter” and  “I feel sorry for Apple [Gwyneth Paltrow’s daughter] growing up in a house with no real food.”

A quick search of “Gigi Hadid eating” on TikTok will reveal thousands of videos containing conspiracy theories in the comments, speculating that Yolanda purposely “passed on an eating disorder” to Gigi so she could model. Fans of the model have left comments like “This is definitely just to piss off Yolanda” on a video of Jimmy Fallon giving Gigi a burger to eat and “She forces her daughter not to eat so she can stay thin and profitable, disgusting”.

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So-called almond moms, and the effects their views and behaviours have had on their children, have left a lot of people who struggle with food restriction and body image problems afraid to have children, especially daughters, in case the cycle continues.

There’s, unfortunately, some truth to this underlying anxiety. According to one study, children of women with eating disorders are more likely to develop an eating disorder than children of women without them. A 2015 review from Common Sense Media says that children age five to eight who think their moms are dissatisfied with their own bodies are likely to have those same ideas about their bodies. In the same review, one in four children is found to have tried dieting by age seven.

And according to the eating disorder charity Hope, the mother and daughter relationship is central in research on eating disorders and how they’re developed and treated. They note that mothers who speak negatively about their weight in front of their female children run a higher risk of their children having an eating disorder. What’s more, 50-80% of overall eating disorder risk is due to genetic effects.

Essentially, the way our mums spoke about their bodies in front of us, and the way we may speak to our children, or potential future children, really does have a profound effect on our development and the way we look at our bodies.

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If anything, this speaks to how persistent, all-consuming and damaging toxic diet culture and body image issues have been, and continues to be, despite a recent, mass body positivity movement. Whether we are mothers, daughters, or just women, we all feel the deep-seated pain of diet culture and struggle to cut ourselves or our children free.

However, 25-year-old project manager Milly* believes her eating disorder could make her a better parent, in a way. “I’ve struggled with bulimia for years, and after a lot of hard inner work and therapy, I’ve learned that my eating disorder came from a need to control my situation when I felt unhappy in environments I didn’t think I could leave and to be able to cope properly,” she tells GLAMOUR.  

“I think a lot about having daughters in the future because I’ve always wanted a girl, and so what comes with that is kind of looking at my own past as a child, teenager, young adult and thinking about how I would have wanted things to be different for me. That’s what I want to give her, she adds.”

“All of this is hypothetical for now as I’m not pregnant and don’t have near-future plans to become pregnant, but I hope that when I am a mother, I create a genuinely safe environment for my kids where we can process feelings properly and safely, especially in their formative years.This, she hopes, should work to prevent them developing body image issues or eating disorders.

She continues, “There will always be a nagging thought in the back of my head wondering if I am continuing the cycle by passing the negative view I’ve had my body on, but why should that stop me from trying?”

As Milly points out, it's not our individual responsibility to cut off reproducing altogether in order to halt bad body image behaviours. As eating disorders are often about finding control in a society where you can feel overly managed and pushed, or achieving a societal body ideal, the problem of diet culture and eating disorders will always exist, children or not. 

Instead, the solution is about recognising how our behaviours might impact the smaller people around us and finally breaking the cycle.  

*Names have been changed 

If you’re worried about your own or someone else’s health, you can contact Beat, the UK’s eating disorder charity, 365 days a year on 0808 801 0677 or

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