My First Grader Says She Is Fat And Hates Herself, Now What?

PPBB Mom: “Was rather disturbed this afternoon when our 6 year old (turns 7 next next Friday) daughter came home from school today and told me that “she hates herself as she is fat”. I immediately told her that she isn’t and that she is beautiful. In fact she is a very healthy little girl. The scary thought in all this is that she is only in grade 1.”

PPBB Answer:  Hi Michele – You are not alone, I have a lot of parents contact me with similar concerns with girls the same age as yours. Girls learn quickly at young ages that body hate is a secret language females speak to each other and that this is how girls measure themselves. Your voice has to outshine whatever was learned at school. That is such a tricky thing to deal with because it is human nature to find it easier to believe something negative about yourself rather than positive. It is also a rock and a hard place – you want to acknowledge her feelings and concerns, but do so by affirming she isn’t “fat” and that she is beautiful, which only serves to reinforce those are the more highly valued qualities. Well of course that is the first thing a parent would say! My first reaction would be similar.

Her body is her machine for life. Her relationship with her body can be as wonderful or painful as she lets it be. But she only gets one, and life is way too awesome and too short to not love the body you are in.

I like how you also included “healthy” as a status for her physical being when you were reassuring her, because our bodies can look beautiful in all different sizes and still be healthy. Health should be our goal in life, not socially-acceptable thinness. Maybe you have a print out from her last doctor visit that shows her in scientific, measurable terms that she is exactly the size she should be. If she is your biological child, you might have a photograph of you at the same age which you can use to show her she looks just like what her genes are programmed for. Tall and lanky? Short and stocky? All in the DNA, so shake what your mama gave ya. 

You may also want to remind her she is “growing”. As a kid, that is literally her job. To grow up. Kids’ bodies carry muscle and fat differently because they are constantly growing. Try to focus the conversation on all the things her body can do. Make a list (like a poster for her room) or play act some suggestions (dance, hug, skip, jump, stomp, spin, soccer kick, karate chop, ballet positions, roll, wiggle, worm, cartwheel, run, etc). When she frames her body image viewing her body as an instrument rather than an ornament she gives herself the power to define part of her self worth based on how her body serves her through life and how it feels as opposed to simply how it looks.

You might want to have her go into more depth with you on why she says she hates herself and thinks she is fat. Is she repeating something she heard? Did someone tease her? If someone is teasing her, remind her that “fat” is the new “stupid”. That word is commonly hurled around the playground, usually comes from a place of jealousy, and is completely subjective. Did school introduce a new weight-based health initiative that weighs children or focuses on the misguided BMI? That may give you more insight into how to tackle her distressing announcement. You may also need to get her teacher on your team to help sort this all out if it is a problem in the classroom or a school program (which you can opt out of, an action I highly recommend).

If this revelation is the result of teasing or even a school program that fat shames rather than teaches body acceptance, now is the perfect time to introduce her to the idea of building her own personal brand. Your daughter is Full of Awesome. Why would she believe any different. Because a kid at school told her so? No. When I do presentations at schools I use the image below when I tell the kids they are in charge of how they see themselves, what they put out into the world, what qualities they let shine through that impact others. They get to put the writing on the wall and what other people say about them is none of their business.

Your child gets to create their own personal brand (read: self image). No outside forces get to negatively influence that.

Your child gets to create their own personal brand (read: self image). No outside forces get to negatively influence that.

And finally, I would ask her why she says she “hates herself”. That is a strong statement, one she likely does not entirely understand. If she heard you say that about yourself, or a sibling say the same thing, how would she react? What would she say? How does it make her heart feel when she says she “hates” herself? What is she looking for you to say back? Can she think of some health habits your family could change for the better to help her feel better? What if you took a walk with her as you discussed these things, so she gets her body moving and heart pumping as she discusses how she feels?
Six years old is such a tender age – and completely common age – for these types of thoughts to arise. I know it hurts your heart to hear your baby say it. But she took the risk to say it out loud to you because you are the center of her world. She trusts you, she counts on the foundation of unconditional love you have built for her that she stands on every day. Now we just have to show her how to build that foundation inside of her, so that love comes not only from her family but also from within.

Melissa headshot 1 fb sizeMelissa Atkins Wardy is a speaker, media consultant, and the author of Redefining Girly: How Parents Can Fight the Stereotyping and Sexualizing of Girlhood, from Birth to Tween. She is the creator and owner of Pigtail Pals & Ballcap Buddies, a company that has been offering empowering apparel and gifts to Full of Awesome kids since 2009 www.pigtailpals.com.

Find her at www.melissaatkinswardy.com. You can connect with her on Facebook (Pigtail Pals Ballcap Buddies) and Twitter (@PigtailPals) and Pinterest (Pigtail Pals & Ballcap Buddies). 

There’s Just No Time

We are on vacation this week with the cousins, spending our time between a beautiful Lake Michigan beach resort and daily adventures in the local area. The crew of kids consists of three girls (ages 9, 6, and 3) and two boys (ages 7 and almost 2). All are having a grand time.

One of the things I love about my family getting together is the true celebration of “kid time”. Because our cousins live overseas our time together is precious, devoted to the kids playing together and soaking each other in as much as possible. No fun measures up to the exploits and trouble you can get into with cousins. The midnight bedtimes, peels of laughter, overcrowded bath tubs, jokes and secrets, popsicles snuck before dinner….. this is the good stuff in life.

The big kids paddled to a little island to have a picnic, delighted to leave their parents behind.

The big kids paddled to a little island to have a picnic, delighted to leave their parents behind.

Last night as I watched the five of them run around on the beach I looked down at my baby nephew’s footprint in the sand. A month shy of his second birthday he still has those fat, delicious square baby feet. The three year old has a penchant for nudity, as most preschoolers do, and was skinny dipping in the lake. Her legs are so much longer than last summer and they belie the baby chub that lingers on her body that is looking more like a “kid” than the baby she has been.

They are all growing so, so fast and I find myself whispering often in a half wish/half prayer “Stay little forever”.

My own kids, the 9 and 7 year olds, are so big now. They just don’t stay little. They grow and grow faster and faster. Their baby footprints are long gone, my daughter’s imprint in the sand is nearly as big as my own foot. When she chases me in the lake I actually have to work at outrunning her long legs, not like the slo-mo up and down run I do when the the 3 year old and almost-2 year old chase me.

My family encourages all of the kids to explore, try to new things, create, be silly, be strong, be themselves. We will sometimes divide them into “the bigs” and “the littles” for certain activities, but never do we do “boy stuff” and “girl stuff”. There is no such thing.

And? There just no time for that. Think about how much there is to do in childhood. To learn, to try, to discover.

There is no “boy side” or “girl side” to childhood. There isn’t time to limit any part of these years, these magical few calendar pages of childhood.

Exploring the creek.

Exploring the creek.

A list of what our boys and girls have been doing this week:

Water slides and boogie boarding

Playing outside

Attending a major league baseball game

Exploring interactive story land gardens

Art fair and face painting

Airplane show and talking with pilots

Tag and Chase

Paddling a boat to a small island for a kids-only picnic

Playing make believe

Science experiments on beach

Sea shell gathering

Making friends with two guys flying remote controlled airplanes; guy uses hawk plane to chase kids all over a field

Crayfish hunting

Sailing

Desperate attempts to catch sea gulls (tactics include: stealth, flanking, ambush, and pleading with promises of love and tear-filled eyes)

Sand castles and digging giant moats

Turning little brother into a sand merman

Splashing in Lake Michigan

Putt putt

More crayfish hunting

Crayfish hunting with sticks and an empty latte cup.

Crayfish hunting with sticks and an empty latte cup.

I notice the other families visiting the condos around ours and I see boys and girls running all over the beach and common areas while playing. Some are playing organized games like baseball or tag, many are digging and digging in the sand, others are playing with toys like the group of boys and girls I saw with a large container of fighter planes. Most of the kids are running between the water park and the beach, losing their minds with all the choices of fun.

This is why I get so fed up with the gender stereotypes I see all over children’s clothes and toys, telling them how to be a girl or how to be a boy. That isn’t what childhood is about. We are wrong to place limitations on this time in life.

Our kids are experts at being kids, we just need to give them the room to remind us what it should look like.

 

Melissa headshot 1 fb sizeMelissa Atkins Wardy is a speaker, media consultant, and the author ofRedefining Girly: How Parents Can Fight the Stereotyping and Sexualizing of Girlhood, from Birth to Tween. She is the creator and owner of Pigtail Pals & Ballcap Buddies, a company that has been offering empowering apparel and gifts to Full of Awesome kids since 2009www.pigtailpals.com.

Find her at www.melissaatkinswardy.com. You can connect with her onFacebook (Pigtail Pals Ballcap Buddies) and Twitter (@PigtailPals) and Pinterest (Pigtail Pals & Ballcap Buddies). 

 

Pinks and Not Pinks

“Thought of you and Pigtail Pals Ballcap Buddies this morning when I made a quick trip to the local public library. I was refilling my water bottle when a 2 year old girl sat down at the kids computer with her Mom. The little girl asked her Mom if she could wear the boy’s headphones (blue/red) instead of the girls (paisley pink). The mother said that anyone could use either pair! When I agreed with the mother, she replied “it’s amazing what they learn by 2″.” -Susan G

I love the mom’s response! Yes!! Colors are for everyone.

Thanks to Susan for recognizing this moment and sharing it with us.

Gender Norm Brains

How early do children begin to exhibit an understanding of gender roles?

How early do children learn to limit themselves according to gender?

How does this impact childhood?

 

When our system of binary gender is ingrained by age 2 through socialization, can you see how children learn to:
1. Play along to get along, when it comes to gender roles. Girls do this and boys do that.
2. Limit themselves based on what is “for a boy” or “for a girl” through learned gendered coding of colors.

Using the example above, let’s play a game of what if’s:

1. What if *only* the blue/red head phones had been sitting out? Could the very little girl have thought computers are for boys because she didn’t see any pink tipping her off that computer time is also for girls?

2. If she’s learned this early that pink things are for girls and non-pink things are for boys, could the color coded toys of childhood today heavily influence her toy/play choices?
If yes, what toys are typically pink and what toys are typically not pink? What cognitive skills develop from different types of play? What cognitive skills are not developed when types of play are limited or avoided?

3. Finally, if the understanding of gender is influencing her activity choices from age 2, how would we ever know what her true interests are or could have been?

Childhood is a time for great exploration that should not be impeded by the pink or blue boxes we place our sons and daughters in, sometimes as early as that 20 week ultrasound.

We don’t let our children develop as unique and complex individuals, we let them grow up as members of one gender or the other. Their childhoods shaped by the expectations of the gender society limits them to.

 

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Melissa headshot 1 fb sizeMelissa Atkins Wardy is a speaker, media consultant, and the author of Redefining Girly: How Parents Can Fight the Stereotyping and Sexualizing of Girlhood, from Birth to Tween. She is the creator and owner of Pigtail Pals & Ballcap Buddies, a company that has been offering empowering apparel and gifts to Full of Awesome kids since 2009 www.pigtailpals.com.

Find her at www.melissaatkinswardy.com. You can connect with her on Facebook (Pigtail Pals Ballcap Buddies) and Twitter (@PigtailPals) and Pinterest (Pigtail Pals & Ballcap Buddies). 

Minions Matter: The Celebration of Stupid Boys

Minions Trio

“Minions” is box office gold.

Yes, it is just a summer movie. Yes, it is supposed to be funny. Yes, the minions are cute.

Then why are some people voicing negative feedback after viewing the movie, specifically critiques of sexism? Why are they ‘reading so much into it’?

Because media has undeniable influence over society, of which our children are a part, and this knowledge requires us to think critically about what messages our kids take in.

That is not to say you can’t enjoy the movie and crack up over the funny parts. Do those things. BANANAS!

But be aware there are some problematic themes present pertaining to gender and while not unique to this film, stereotypes of both males and females are reinforced here and serve to reinforce gender stereotypes our kids learn everywhere.

Also be aware this movie isn’t “just a movie”. It is a facet of a multi-million dollar franchise for which apparel, toys, school supplies, Happy Meals trinkets and licensing deals cover America. Put another way: The influence doesn’t stop when your kid skips out of the theater. It has only just begun.

Minions agape at how much money they are making Universal Pictures and Illumination Entertainment.

Minions agape at how much money they are making Universal Pictures and Illumination Entertainment.

Rest assured a movie with a $115 million opening weekend, making it the second-biggest animated opening ever, will have significant influence over Hollywood. Hollywood loves money, as any business should. As the WSJ reports,“Universal has several projects lined up with Illumination, which continues to be a crucial moneymaking partner for the studio even as the overall animation field becomes more competitive than ever. Two Illumination films will hit theaters next year, and a third “Despicable Me” is scheduled for release in 2017. The “Minions” debut “bodes so well for the future,” said Nick Carpou, Universal’s president of domestic distribution. The studio gave “Minions” its widest North American opening ever, a debut in 4,301 theaters.”

In other words, the team that brought us “Minions” will be producing future stories for which the same thematic problems could (will) reoccur and the studio will squeeze this franchise for every penny it can get into perpetuity.

So what’s the problem? 

For starters, the lack of females in the titular minion species.

The reason for this leads to our second problem, the celebration of stupid boys.

A movie review I posted over the weekend from Reel Girl called out the lack of female minions. That point was hotly debated, despite the fact their creator has said in interviews they are all male and intentionally all male. And despite the fact the absence of female characters from media should be weird for people, but such is the result of institutionalized sexism that goes unquestioned and unchallenged by the masses. BANANAS!

Another reason we know there are no female minions?

Our golden little friends lack to formulaic demarcation of femininity used across all animation: pink, pronounced eyelashes, bowed lips and lipstick, high heels, coy body language.

Cartoon Gender Composite 1

Cartoon Gender Composite 2

Because kids have already learned male is the default, when characters don’t have these things they are assumed to be male. When I was asking friends for examples, my friend Rebecca shared, “My friend Alia’s son argued with her that he had no eyelashes because he is a boy. (He believed cartoons more than the evidence of his own eyes that eyelashes were a secondary sex characteristic.)”

Another friend Wendy said of her daughter, “Miss K thought the same thing. That real-life boys don’t have eye lashes. I had to point out some very real examples to convince her otherwise.”

Girl Hot Dog

Gender and racial imbalance in media impacts children, especially when 72% of protagonists in children’s media are males and 85% of characters are white. It teaches them what is the norm for society and who is desirable.

Common Sense Media explains that “When kids see the same gender stereotypes portrayed over and over again in media, they can become misinformed about how the world perceives them and what they can grow up to be. They may also form judgments about others based on the portrayals they see in stories and images.”

How does this impact from media play out in real life? An example given during the discussion yesterday: Little girls who love Minions being teased or told they are only for boys, or who want to play pretend as a Minion and is told by her playmate she cannot because she is a girl.

The most common reply was “You’re reading too much into things” and “My kids wouldn’t notice that”. Psychologist Aurora Sherman addressed this mindset with, “As a psychologist I can say with confidence that children learn way more than they overtly talk about or can report on; that is the essence of what socialization means. Therefore, the discussion of how male and female characters are portrayed, or what the ratio is in a movie (or book, or whatever) is actually very important, whether you think a child has noticed or not.”

Minions 3

The second problem with the film, and of equal importance, is the celebration of stupid boys. If boys are going to dominate children’s media, we should hold the bar a little higher for them. Co-director and voice of the minions Pierre Coffin explained why we don’t see any female minions with, “Seeing how dumb and stupid they often are, I just couldn’t imagine Minions being girls.”

Wait. What?

Minions 2Dumb and stupid must make them male? Stupidity is the male default, all boys possess this trait?

As my friend Simon Ragoonanan of Man vs Pink said, “I read Pierre’s comment as ‘I just couldn’t imagine girls being funny’.”

Hollywood is already one big frat party, and now the biggest kids’ movie around has people going nuts for idiot yellow henchmen who are so moronic they couldn’t possibly be female? The other side of that coin is that a group of “dumb and stupid boys” is still more desirable than the idea of having any females present?

The blog Amptoons summed it up perfectly: “As often happens, this is sexism that is both anti-girl (because it implies that girls have less than the full range of human traits) and anti-boy (suggesting that boys are inherently “dumb and stupid”).”

That’s hugely insulting to our boys. Why does that not bother people and why do they not notice? We don’t build girls up by knocking boys down.

Minions in shadowShould we be happy none of the fool hardy minions are female? Or we should debate that girls can be just as stupid and silly as boys? 

I’ve heard people argue the lack of female minions is made up for by the female villain Scarlet Overkill and the Queen, who were strong roles in the film. But the film isn’t titled “Scarlet Overkill”, the story is about the simpleton minions around her. 

And then one has to question can women be strong only when in the presence of imbecile men, because the “true” hero is missing so it’s either these idiots or a woman? That isn’t exactly winning at feminism, folks.

Yes, the shenanigans of the minions are super funny. But not when they make our sons the butt of their joke. Remember – the creative mind behind the minions said they are all boys because girls would never be this stupid.

In media, although they dominate the lead roles, boys are still limited to these stereotypical roles: The Joker, The Jock, The Strong Silent Type, The Big Shot, The Action Hero, and The Buffoon.

The gender stereotypes throughout children’s media present bigger problems for boys, several have long reaching consequences. Characters like The Strong Silent Type, The Big Shot, and The Action Hero rarely show emotions and traits beyond arrogance, stoicism, and aggression. That fails to give boys a buffet of human experience to draw from. Those messages about masculinity and suppressed emotion carry over into real life when boys are told to “man up” or that “boys don’t cry” or to “stop being a p*ssy” (read: feminine). Society makes sure to emasculate boys who dare to have feelings.

Characters like The Joker, The Jock, and The Buffoon are normally depicted as cave men or clownish cave men. If they have a bright idea or success, it is by total accident. The usually need to be cared for and looked after by a female character. From this boys learn the role of the underachiever. The ‘underachieving boy in school’ alarm has been ringing for some time and is debatable, but from a cultural point of view the “slacker boy” gets to grow up to be the “dumb dad” or “misbehaving bachelor”. Society then treats them as the Homer Simpson dad who can barely manage to “babysit” his own children or the perpetual man-child with a Peter Pan complex.

Boys will be boys, right? From parents thinking boys’ poor behavior is innate and a result of gender to teacher bias that punishes boys to Rape Culture that excuses criminal boys, as a society we don’t hold very high expectations for our boys and men. They still get to run everything from board rooms to the White House (for now), but as long as they stay one notch above apes and not throw their own poop they’re doing just fine.

We can strive to expect more from our sons, yes?

Man. that’s a lot to put on the non-existent shoulders of those darling minions, isn’t it? How are minions wearing overalls if they have no shoulders? And they don’t speak English, but their names are Kevin, Stuart, and Bob? But having a female minion would have been all kinds of crazy? Once you see it, you can’t unsee it.

The minions aren’t the issue. They are a symptom of a much bigger problem, one we don’t connect the dots to in order to see the big picture. I want more for my son and daughter, from media as a whole, so I’m choosing to look at this movie with eyes wide open.

 

Melissa headshot 1 fb sizeMelissa Atkins Wardy is a speaker, media consultant, and the author of Redefining Girly: How Parents Can Fight the Stereotyping and Sexualizing of Girlhood, from Birth to Tween. She is the creator and owner of Pigtail Pals & Ballcap Buddies, a company that has been offering empowering apparel and gifts to Full of Awesome kids since 2009 www.pigtailpals.com.

Find her at www.melissaatkinswardy.com. You can connect with her on Facebook (Pigtail Pals Ballcap Buddies) and Twitter (@PigtailPals) and Pinterest (Pigtail Pals & Ballcap Buddies). 

 

The Great Bikini Debate

I get asked questions similar to the one below about girls and bikinis regularly and my answer is always the same: A child needs to be able to move her body in the ways that childhood requires. And, wear sunscreen.

Bikini

Is your daughter an instrument of play or an ornament of cute in her suit?

Parent Question: My friends and I have been discussing the topic of bikinis lately. We’d love to hear your advice about how to talk to our daughters about why our families choose not to have young girls wear bikinis. We’re having a hard time finding the right words – we don’t want to convey that they should be ashamed of their bodies (or we think they should be ashamed of their bodies) or that it is their responsibility to “prevent” others from being attracted to them (e.g., rape culture, current discussions regarding school dress codes). Please point us in the right direction!

PPBB Answer: Hi Jill – First, let me say that I love that you and your friends are aware of the issues of body shaming and Rape Culture mind set. We’re starting off on the right foot here! People don’t like bikinis for a number of reasons for little girls, but for me there are two:

1. Little girls don’t need to worry about being sexy, it is not age appropriate.

Some bikinis sold for children are way too sexy for my comfort level as a sex-positive person who wants these girls to have the freedom to develop their own sense of sexuality in their own time.

2. Some bikinis would limit or prevent movement and play, which is a child’s job, and really the main reason I do not like them on children.

If range of play and motion is inhibited I really discourage parents from buying things that teach girls not to take up space in the world. (Tight, low-cut jeans is another example of this. I hear about it all the time from gym teachers in elementary schools.) 

Also – there is the issue of sun protection for the skin and less suit means more sun exposure on young skin.

I don’t think all bikinis are problematic and I’m not against girls wearing them. Some of them are really cute! I think the cut of the suit is critical. Tankinis are a good compromise, especially where you can mix and match tops and bottoms – super fun! Two pieces also make potty breaks easier. 

Not all bikinis are cut and built the same, so this post is focusing more in skimpy cuts. When you are constantly tugging a skimpy bikini back in place or worried some private parts may splash out you aren’t having as much fun as you should be.

If your daughter has a bikini that allows her to play and be a fish in the pool or ocean then GREAT! Wear sunscreen.

Recently I chaperoned a trip to a water park with my daughter’s Girl Scout troop. I smiled to myself when I overheard the girls (ages 8-12) saying that when we head to the giant water park tomorrow it was a “one piece suit kind of day” because they wanted to play hard and fly fast down water slides and not worry about what they looked like or what might get exposed. 100% yes to this! Smart girls!!
Greater than the issue of sexualization of children, for me, is the restriction of moment and self-consciousness a bikini might create that takes away from a girl her natural right to feel good and carefree in her body to play, romp, jump, swim, dive, slide, cannonball and somersault in the water uninhibited.
There is no magical medicine for our girls when it comes to the ills society will soon teach them about body image, beauty standards, obligation of sexiness, and gender roles. But learning to take up space in the world, to be daring, try new things, and enjoying all the amazing things your body can do, and that those are WAY more important than what it looks like is a pretty damn good elixir.

 

I would explain to the girls that some bikinis don’t stay in place like tankinis or one pieces do. Who wants to be tugging on their suit all day, or lose their bottoms on a water slide or big wave in the ocean? I’ve been a lifeguard and swim instructor for years and I constantly see girls tugging their bikinis back in place. Every male teacher I’ve worked with has told me the skimpy bikinis on little girls creep them out and make them really uncomfortable. The tops to the suits don’t stay in place while swimming and they are concerned they’ll be accused of something that was not taking place while they are holding the beginning swimmer around the chest and the suit has changed position. I’ve actually had great conversations with these college-aged guys on the sexualization of girls, something that totally confound them. Do they love string bikini on a young woman their age? Yep! On a five year old? Please God no. They’ve had great insights on our cultural phenomenon of sexualizing our girls in the age of helicopter parenting.

 

Last summer I had no issues telling my nine year old that a bikini she inherited was cut in a way that grown up ladies bikinis are cut to enhance their breasts (skimpy triangle cut) and that it was not appropriate for a child. During our conversation she said to me, “Well, if Dad says it is okay can I wear it?” My reply to her was that her dad does not control her body nor give permissions for it, that is her job and she is responsible for making good decisions once she has the information to make them. So I let her wear the bikini around the house one day and for a few hours counted the number of times she had to tug it and put it back in place. 47 tugs later I asked if she understood my point that bikinis are great for laying still while tanning and looking sexy by the pool for grown ups. Kids are supposed to play and have no need to look sexy. She got it, mostly because I allowed her to teach the message to herself.

Melissa headshot 1 fb sizeMelissa Atkins Wardy is a speaker, media consultant, and the author of Redefining Girly: How Parents Can Fight the Stereotyping and Sexualizing of Girlhood, from Birth to Tween. She is the creator and owner of Pigtail Pals & Ballcap Buddies, a company that has been offering empowering apparel and gifts to Full of Awesome kids since 2009 www.pigtailpals.com. Find her at www.melissaatkinswardy.com. You can connect with her on Facebook (Pigtail Pals Ballcap Buddies) and Twitter (@PigtailPals) and Pinterest (Pigtail Pals & Ballcap Buddies).