Body image problems can start early and it’s impossible to shield ourselves completely from the bombardment of them, so it is worth discussing.
If your daughter does ask you if she is fat, believe me you are not alone.
It amazes me how many moms have actually confided in me that their daughter has asked them this exact question. It often comes as the result of a scenario like another child making a comment about them, their own observation that they look different (in the change room, swimming, dance class, etc.) or feeling restricted in physical activities because of their tummy.
Here is my 2 cents worth on Body Image for Young Girls:
Firstly, it is important to keep your reaction as neutral as possible and drive home the messages, that:
1. We are all built differently and come in all shapes and sizes. And that’s the beauty of us.
2. As an individual, we have control over ourselves. Her thoughts and actions matter.
For point number 1, I would steer away from the focus being on “weight” and emphasize the differences we all have. Some people have dark hair, others are blond, some are tall, some are short, some have no legs and some look very different. It’s a great discussion to have around how it would be to live with a physical difference that is obvious. If it was her, how would she want people to react to her?
You can also chat about how these differences may be permanent, but belly weight isn’t, and you can change that. That change won’t affect who you are, just what you do.
In regards to point number 2, if she can’t do certain moves because of tummy fat, that is a great dialogue opener about lifestyle choices- eating habits and daily activity levels. It’s important to remember that she is still a kid, so looking at your role modelling as a parent is imperative to her situation.
What do meals and snacks look like in your house? Look at your daily habits: Are food treats used as rewards? Does the tv come on as soon as you come home? How much time is spent sitting and using electronics? Is there meal skipping? What foods are readily accessible? Is activity as a family encouraged? Is bed time at a reasonable hour? Is there eating between meals?
It’s heart breaking to hear that question, but it is also an awesome opportunity for teaching your daughter to feel empowered about the control she has over her own body. It’s a great conversation to have about how she feels over how she looks and if SHE wants to see changes. Brainstorming about changes that can be made to make them come about is an amazing learning opportunity and it is also invaluable time spent with her.
If other people comment on her body, she can respond by saying, something positive like “you should see me dance! Or beam about a proud accomplishment. Remind these people to not just look at her body but see her skill, talent, strength and ability. It can be a nice nudge that may make them reflect before they comment on someone else. Sometimes they genuinely don’t know how hurtful their comments are, so, educate them. And if they continue to judge, realize that you can’t control other people, only you. People like that aren’t worth your time.
The bottom line is to be happy with yourself. You are the only person you live with day in and day out your whole life. If there is something YOU don’t like, then find a way to work on that. Do things that make you feel good and strong and in charge.