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). 

Forget What the Media Is Telling You About Your Body

I need 4 minutes and 34 seconds of your day. I need you to watch this — every woman, man, girl, and boy — and I need you to absorb it.

I need you to give yourself permission to start loving and enjoying the body you have been given to live this life with. All of the advocates and bloggers and celebrities in the world cannot do that for you. YOU have to do that for you. Whether you are a parent, a friend, a mentor, a teen….you have to start appreciating your amazing body. It will impact how you live the rest of your life.

Forget what the media is telling you about you. There is nothing wrong with you. YOU write your story. In that story, make sure you are awesome.

Please watch this with your boys and girls. Share it with your classroom, your sports team or Girl Scout troop or church youth group. Share it, because we are spending way too much time thinking about what our bodies look like in life, instead of LIVING LIFE.

Go live. You look amazing.

Buyer Beware: Striped Skirts and Fat Talk

“Oh no, not that skirt. Horizontal stripes will make you look fatter,” Grandmother shopping next to me says to a little girl, slapping the girl’s hand away from a really cute tiered skirt. The little girl shrinks. My mouth and Amelia’s mouth fall open in shock.

I want to climb on top of the rack of clothing, and scream at this woman, telling her how cruel and damaging Fat Talk is to girls, especially when Fat Talk comes from the people this girl should be able to trust the most. I want to screech out the stats running through my head — percentages of little girls who hate their bodies and diet and have low self-esteem. I want to grab her and shake her and tell her what awful messages she is planting in this girl’s head. I also kind of want to hug her, and tell her to stop projecting her body hate onto this young child.

Not wanting to get kicked out of Target, and not being a crazy person, I didn’t. But I really, really wanted to.

Instead I picked up the exact same skirt, and held it up for Amelia. I’m not trying to be an ass, I just can’t let the grandmother’s words be the last thing the other girl hears in that moment.

“Hey Smalls, look at this! How awesome are these stripes!? Wouldn’t they look so fun and colorful while you run and spin? How fun!” I say. 

“I’d say it is full of awesome,” 6yo Amelia offers while waving to the little girl.

Fat Talk Free Week: The Women In My Family (Part 2 of 3)

Who doesn't feel awesome dressed like this?! Pigtail Pals owner Melissa Wardy, circa 1982

I realized yesterday that the women in my family have given me an incredible legacy. It is something I have always known, but not until yesterday did I really get it.  You see, I was doing a trunk show for Pigtail Pals (awesome empowering products for girls, go buy some!) at a local women’s expo. On my table I also had some postcards for the Fat Talk Free Week sponsored by Tri Delta sorority. Several women would pick it up and ask what it was about. I would explain what Fat Talk is, and why we as mothers needed to be careful what legacy we leave our daugthers.

And then they would cry.

Every single one of the women would tear up, and say, “Oh, that is beautiful,” and “Oh, thank you so much for what you do.”

I tried to give them examples of what Fat Talk is, and as I did so, I realized, I do not have one single memory of my mother, my aunts, my girl cousins, or my grandmothers ever participating in Fat Talk in front of me.

In fact, when I sit here and think back about what the women in my family did talk about, I recall topics like gardening, family heritage, hilarious stories about the men in our family, world events and politics, careers, education, books and movies, etc. But appearances? That was never the topic of conversation. If anything, I remember compliments given to each other on looking nice or wearing a color that was very flattering.

Not once did one of the women in my family berate their weight, their appearance, their beauty, their worth.

Not once. Not that I can ever remember. And that is the legacy of beauty the women in my family left for me.