When Children Talk About Weight
Posted on January 7, 2013
Kids like to put you on the spot, don’t they? With their terribly-timed questions about sex and the appearance of strangers and that thing you had no idea they’d heard, let alone would be repeating, they are ticking time bombs of awkwardness.
No matter how hard I try to make my home a body-positive environment, I dread the day that Ruthie says something negative about weight or fatness. I don’t know whether she will say something about her body or someone else’s, but I know it’s going to happen. Twice in the past two days I’ve seen people on Facebook talking about kids being involved in discussions about fatness. In one, a child warned his parent that something the parent was doing would “make you fat,” and in the other, a child celebrating ice cream was told by an adult, “Don’t eat too much or you’ll get fat.”
If I were the parent of the first kid, I think I’d probably say, “And there’s nothing wrong with being fat.”
If I were the parent of the second kid, I’d be tempted to punch the adult who told her that. Who does that guy think he is, anyway? Greg Kinnear in Little Miss Sunshine? You know how people felt about Greg Kinnear in Little Miss Sunshine when he told Olive that ice cream would make her fat? They HATED him. Why? Because it was so obviously damaging to that child to hear her father send her the message that she needed to start exercising control over her body, EVEN THOUGH SHE IS JUST A LITTLE GIRL. Because he was shaming his own daughter based on her food choices! Because he was a jerk.
Little girls don’t need adults to help them develop an unhealthy, guilt-based relationship with food. They already hear the “you should be skinny” message loud and clear from a million different sources: every magazine in the grocery store checkout lane, every Disney movie, every slimmed down My Little Pony, every weight loss ad that airs in January, every person who refers to eating something fatty as “being bad,” every comedian who makes a cheap joke about being fat, every movie where the fat girl is relegated to the supporting role. They need adults to actively break down those associations and build new ones, not just make things worse.
So how will I address this when it comes up? I want to develop the vocabulary in advance, if I can. I want to anticipate her comments and know what to say. If you have dealt with conversations like this, what have you said that worked toward helping your children develop a healthy view of their bodies and the bodies around them, rather than a skewed, weight-based, shameful one? Is there something you wish you had done differently?