Female circumcision is still practiced in different parts of Egypt, impacting women's health and well-being. Existing studies often portray parents' representations of the practice as positive and homogeneous, with little attention paid to the true diversity of views within a community. This study draws on social representations theory to highlight such nuances, while identifying the psychosocial factors that shape parents' decisions to circumcise or not circumcise their daughters. In-depth interviews with 11 mothers and five fathers were conducted in rural communities in the Al Qalyoubeya and Benisweif governorates. Thematic analysis revealed the co-existence of positive, negative and ambivalent representations of female circumcision amongst parents and within the individuals themselves. Although some parents positively represent female circumcision as ensuring the daughter's chastity, safeguarding her femininity and preserving community identity, they feel distress about its potential harms, such as pain, bleeding and terrifying experience on the daughter. Fathers further acknowledge its negative impact on marital sexual relationships. In some cases, parents challenge the ritual and refuse to circumcise their daughters. In light of a theory of change that emphasises the role of community dialogue in renegotiating health-damaging social practices, along with evidence of diverse views amongst parents, this study argues that sensitively facilitated ‘community conversations’ might provide parents with opportunities to debate their opposing views and allow for the construction of health-enabling social representations. Copyright © 2014 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.