Dana Hunsinger Benbow, The Indianapolis Star
Hannah McKenna wears her hair in two braided pigtails. She watches "Backyardigans" on Nick Jr. She is far away from those tough teenage years.
Yet, Hannah came home this summer with a scary question for her mom: "Can I go on a diet?"
Scary for Susie McKenna because Hannah is only 8, and the Zionsville, Ind., mom wasn't sure why diet was even in her daughter's vocabulary.
"I try to never say anything about weight," said McKenna, who also has 3-year-old daughter Amelia. "I don't do the diets where you replace a meal with a shake. I don't want her to ever see me eating differently than the rest of the family."
McKenna is right on point when it comes to helping her young daughters develop a positive body image - avoiding talk about weight, diets and outer appearances, experts say.
Because it's not the media or skinny, out-of-proportion Barbie dolls or even peer pressure that is the No. 1 cause of body issues for young girls.
It's their mothers.
"Moms are probably the most important influence on a daughter's body image," said Dr. Leslie Sim, clinical director of Mayo Clinic's eating disorders program and a child psychologist. "Even if a mom says to the daughter, 'You look so beautiful, but I'm so fat,' it can be detrimental."
Research has shown time and time again that the same-sex parent is the most important role model for a child. So when it comes to weight and body issues, Sim has strong opinions on what mothers should be doing.
"Zero talk about dieting, zero talk about weight," she said. "Zero comments not only about your daughter's weight, obviously, but zero talk about your weight and even other people's weight."
Hannah said her request to go on a diet had less to do with weight and more to do with wanting to be healthier after a nutrition lesson at soccer camp this summer.
"We had been talking about like not eating sugar and what was protein and what was grain," Hannah said. "I'm like 'Hmm.' I started thinking about a diet then."
Of course, McKenna nixed that idea. She stuck with her focus on lifestyle, instead.
"I always frame it as we want to do this to be healthier," she said.
It's a mother-daughter example that Kelley Stokesbary wishes was mimicked by more families.
As council director for Girls on the Run of Hamilton County, a nonprofit with a mission to inspire young girls to be healthy and confident, she sees the negative effects moms talking about weight can have on girls.
The program caters to third-, fourth- and fifth-graders. But Stokesbary is convinced girls with negative body images are "picking it up from home" as young as kindergarten and first grade.
"They are learning it from Mom and Grandma," she said.
Stokesbary encourages moms to replace talk about outer appearances with compliments on the "math facts she aced or that she delivered a funny joke successfully."
"Take away the external focus," she said.
Stokesbary isn't just speaking as an expert, either. She is also the mother of 11-year-old Maddie, a sixth-grader.
The two got involved in Girls on the Run when Maddie was in third grade and came home talking about how her thighs were big and asking why she wasn't built like other girls.
The program has worked. Now, Maddie will call her mom out if she is focusing too much on her own outward appearance.
But there is the occasional hiccup. Stokesbary recently found her daughter talking about an article about "how to get middle school skinny in two weeks."
Maddie says she knows that type of talk is crazy, but she has in the past worried about her weight.
Before she found out she was intolerant to gluten, it would cause her stomach to bloat. She would get called mean names at school.
"I felt because all my friends are really thin I thought that maybe I should try to eat less," she said.
Instead, with the help of her mom, she is focusing on eating healthy.
Moms should talk about natural body changes in young girls, especially when they are hitting puberty. Weight gain is normal during that time.
The consequences of not encouraging a healthy body image can lead to low self-esteem, depression and eating disorders. There has even been research that links cigarette smoking to girls with negative body images, perhaps because they think it will help curtail their hunger.
Christy Glesing says she made a conscious decision when her three girls were babies to not only be a good role model, but to also avoid talking about weight altogether around them.
"I purposefully don't talk about dieting," said Glesing, Indianapolis, the mother of 14-year-old Shannon, 12-year-old Ashley and 9-year-old Payton. "Even if I think I need to lose a few pounds."
The subject has always made her uncomfortable. She didn't like hearing girlfriends talk about how they needed to lose weight in high school and she doesn't want her daughters to have to hear it from her now.
Instead, she leads by example. That includes a family tradition of getting up early with the girls to make healthy smoothies for breakfast. She and her husband, Jon, have also been physically active as a couple and all three girls are in swimming.
Even with the efforts, there has been occasional talk of dieting from her daughters.
When that happens, Glesing said she takes a behind-the-scenes approach, replacing the junk food in the cabinets with healthier foods and stepping up her own healthy eating in front of the girls.
"It is leading by example," she said. "Can we do better? Yes. We can always do better. But the key is leaving a positive message for them."