A friend recently approached me and asked me to start a self love club for young girls. She said that her daughter walked up to her and said, “Mom, be honest with me. Am I fat?”
My friend was shocked and sadden by this statement from her daughter. She realized in that moment that her daughter was struggling with her self-worth and self-confidence, and was worried about kids calling her fat. My friend assured me, and I believe her, that she doesn’t talk negatively about herself in front of her daughter, nor does she talk about fat and diets. While she knows she has her own self love/worth/esteem issues, she doesn’t project that onto her child. She came to me for advice and direction – how do you respond to your daughter who is already concerned about her weight?
Kids are kids. Children are born in love with themselves, they have no perception of how harsh life can be until they get exposed to the cruelty of the world. They see things, they hear things, their friends tell them things we try to shield them from. How do you shield your child from every day life? You can’t. You send them out into the world with them knowing how valuable and special they are. It’s a hard game to play – I know this. We don’t want them to struggle with such things but it’s a reality of the world we live in.
First, I would hug her since it seems she’s dealing with some self-worth issues, and I’d want her to know that I understand how she feels. We’ve all been there, have all felt like we don’t fit in or we aren’t enough, and her struggle is starting.
I would never say to her, “Honey, you aren’t fat!” Because, right from the start you’ve told her that being fat is a bad thing to be. I would ask, “why are you asking this question?” “How do you feel about yourself right now?” Sometimes their fat talk is something deeper and we need to get to the root of it.
Here are my top tips on how to address this with your child:
Desensitize the word “FAT”
We are so afraid of this word – like it’s the worst thing anyone could ever say to you. I remember how destructive this word was to me as a child – yup, you’re reading the writings of girl who has fat! My younger sister knew how to push my buttons and every time she wanted to hurt me bad, she’d say, “well, at least I’m not fat like you.” Gosh, I’d sit in my room for days crying my eyes out because of one little word. It’s time that we take this word back in our society, stop letting it control how we feel about ourselves. Everyone has fat. Everyone. Some have more of it than others do. Some people have fat on their legs, others on their belly – it’s different for each person. It’s the nature of how our bodies grow and develop. People may look different as they age and get taller – we are all different and special.
Also, is fat really a bad thing? Is that the worst thing you could think about yourself, dear one? I would say that being mean and disrespectful are far worse than fat. Did you know that body fat has some benefits? It stores energy, it keeps you warm and it protects you when you fall. Fat doesn’t make us any less of a person, nor does it make us unlovable, and it never means that one person is better than another based on the amount of fat they have.
Begin to use the word fat in a new way – don’t downplay it as a bad thing – it’s just something we all have.
All humans are different
No two humans are the same – you are as unique as the sun. Don’t expect to look the same way as everyone else. Think about this in terms of dogs (weird analogy but stay with me). Every dog breed is different – big dogs, small dogs, round dogs, thin dogs. We call them dogs but they aren’t the same. If there are different kids of dogs, then there has to be different kids of people. We aren’t all supposed to look and act the same.
Food is food
This one might be hard for you because you have to change the way you talk about food. You likely talk to your kids about healthy and unhealthy foods, but that’s only teaching them that there are “bad” things to eat and that eating those things will make you unhealthy (i.e. fat). You tell your kids to avoid those foods. To children, food should neither be healthy or unhealthy – it’s just food to fuel your body. How do you feel after you eat certain foods? Do you have energy, do you want to sleep, can you play more? Focus on the feeling that the food gives them instead of describing it as healthy or unhealthy. After all, you are the parent so you can control what kind of food is put in front of your children, but watch the way you talk about it. I often remember hearing my grandmother say, “That food will make you fat,” which began my love/hate relationship with food and my body.
Kids have a hard time resisting the comparison game that we still seem to play as adults. We need to consistently remind them that they are unique beings. No two people are the same. You can’t expect to be like someone else, look like someone else, act like another, or even talk the same. There are so many unique things about each person – from their fingerprints to the number of hairs on their head to the way they say “I love you” to the way they hug someone. Each and every thing they do is unique to them. Let them know that they should never look at another person and wonder why they don’t look like them, or say they want to be like them. The uniqueness of you gets smaller every time you compare yourself to someone. Let your unique nature shine and be who you were meant to be.
It’s a known fact – advertisers start young. Even on YouTube videos, and don’t get me started on the last time I sat down and watched the Disney Channel with my niece. You would expect advertisers to be more respectful of young children. But, they want her to feel bad about herself – to go on the diet, to buy the workout program. I know. As young as age 10, my grandmother was taking me to Weight Watchers. At age 12, I was convincing my mother to buy me every workout video I could find. It starts young, they want to hook them, and make them a customer for life. That only works if they feel bad about themselves, all.the.time. Pay very close attention to the shows and commercials your girls are watching. Make sure the messages are positive and encouraging.
Constantly remind your daughter that the only opinion that matters is hers! The opinions that other people have about you is none of your business. You need to love yourself the most so if you aren’t looking through eyes of love at yourself, we need to work on changing that. Remind her that she needs to look at herself through the eyes of those that love her. They see so much beauty that goes far beyond what people see on the outside.
Fat = not beautiful. That’s what we are lead to believe. What if these things that we think make us ugly are the things that actually make us the most beautiful?!? That’s how I’ve learned to look at all these flaws I used to think I had – they are now some of the most beautiful features about myself. Fat does not mean you aren’t beautiful. The beauty of each of us goes far beyond the way we look – it’s our caring nature, the way we speak gently to our siblings, the way we help others, the things we do for people around us, how we hold someone’s hand when they are feeling bad, when we give someone a hug and a kiss just because, when we play a game with someone, the way we get excited about certain things, the way you laugh, the way you make others laugh. The beauty you have is far beyond the exterior shell. Your body houses your soul, and that soul is unique and amazing. Have her write a letter to you saying, “MY BEAUTY IS….” and let her define all the things that are beautiful about herself.
At the end of the day, watch what you say around your girls, whether you believe it or not, they are taking YOUR lead. You need to be the consistent voice in your daughter’s head, so that everyone else takes a back seat! Show your daughters that you each have value, everyone is unique, and that beauty goes far beyond what we look like. Show them that your body is something to be celebrated! It lets you run, jump and play with ease. It gives you a soft landing when you fall. It lets you give big amazing hugs. And, it’s uniquely yours!