Never underestimate the power of a mother-daughter relationship. That’s the message a new study out of Ben-Gurion University of the Negev (BGU) shouts out while showing moms to be the best form of resilience to combatting body dissatisfaction among their daughters.

The research shows how mothers’ emphasis on the many aspects of well being, fitness and a sense of self-fulfillment helps to counteract the innumerable “ideal” body images seen and heard by their daughters in the mass media.

“All the mothers interviewed concurred that they bear some responsibility for their daughters’ weight, socialization to accepted gender roles and general well being,” says BGU researcher Dr. Maya Maor. “Both mothers and daughters have the opportunity to choose alternative modes of interaction that promote a healthier body image and build a personal and body-based resilience to mitigate the risk of eating disorders as they mature.”

The study showed common ways in which mothers and daughters rejected, negated or resisted oppressive messages and stereotypes related to general or personal body images.

The methods included filtering — being cautious and sensitive regarding body image issues; transmitting awareness of the dangers of eating disorders, which can result in serious medical complications and even death; positive reinforcement, using affirmative language in regard to their daughters’ bodies; discussion – providing tools for criticism of dominant body-related messages; and positivity — shifting the focus of food and body-related discussions regarding weight loss to health and taking pleasure in food.

Maor conducted the study along with Prof. Julie Cwikel, founder of the BGU Center for Women’s Health Studies and Promotion, jointly affiliated with the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences and the Faculty of Health Sciences.

In the study, the age of the daughters ranged from 29 to 45 and the mothers’ ages ranged from 59 to 80.

“The focus on protective strategies was intended to achieve two goals: to emphasize the positive in mother-daughter relationships and to identify a repertoire of strategies available to parents and allied health professionals who wish to help their daughters or young women build a stable, positive body image,” says Maor.

The new study was recently published in Feminism and Psychology.