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.
Melissa 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.