Skinny, fat, big boned, obese, petite, large, stick figure, roly poly, slim, chubby…the list of adjectives for describing our bodies is long. I remember feling less than adequate about my body as a teen. I remember how much it hurt to be called “flat” by boys because I had small breasts. I remember one boy dedicating Whitney Houston’s “I Have Nothing” to me during a phone conversation once. He was only a kid and didn’t realize just how much that passing joke hurt me. Even as an adult, I have been poked fun at for being too skinny. I have been called “Jiggly Butt” by my own kids. The war on body image never ends. It is constantly reinforced by peers and the media. How are we supposed to raise daughters who are confident in who they are, no matter their size, if they are constantly being labeled and judged for their body size?
I recently asked people on Facebook, “Do you allow your daughter(s) to talk about their bodies as being fat, skinny, etc…? Why or why not?” The responses were as follows:
Theresa: “I let her talk about it because it must be on her mind. I definitely tell her this is not something she needs to worry about at her age. Keep eating healthy foods and she’s all good.”
Jennifer: “My daughter is 14…and this is a very tense subject in our house because I struggled with anorexia as a teen. I concentrate as much as I can on making HEALTHY diet choices and leave weight out of it. She has been begging me to join a gym and I refuse.”
Bill: “I always emphasize that looks will fade and she needs to make her mark with her brains. That said, she makes junk food choices more than she should, so I let her know that any body dissatisfaction is due to her sugar consumption (she’s pretty thin and has a fast metabolism). Then, I make some comment for the hundredth time about me shopping better.”
Melissa: “NO- I tell her there is NO such thing as the word fat- we are not allowed to use it in our house.I try and convince her to eat the fruit over the chips– but in a way thta it appears as though it were her decision versus mine– it is a very delicate balance to strike–”
Gloria: “I have always tried to teach my children about eating healthy and making healthy choices….I have always struggled with my weight and was always told I was fat. I was on diets and in different programs to help me lose weight, it was never enough I was very active and very athletic but I still struggled with weight. My girls have both been blessed to not struggle with the weight problems that I have battled and continue to battle in my life. I talk to them and let them talk to me about eating healthy so that they don’t turn to alternate methods of weight loss like I did when I was younger. Above all, I try to instill in my children that they are beautiful and will always be beautiful in my eyes. All I ask is that they try to be as beautiful on the inside as they are on the outside. I think that it is important to teach our children about being healthy without criticizing and make them aware of the dangers that their choices now will have in the future!”
Josh: “The problem isn’t so much in the words themselves but the meaning we apply to them. “Noticing” they have a body type is different than placing judgement (ie; too fat, too skinny). The key is where their starting place is. If their starting place is appearance and then acknowledging they are smart, creative, thoughtful, etc. vs starting with acknowledging what’s true and unchangeable about them. Weight comes and go but the fact that our daughters were born and will always be beautiful, smart, fun, strong, honest, precious, etc is what’s the most important for them to know. If they truly “know” what’s true about themselves then weight becomes inconsequential unless it’s actually a health concern. ”
Lee: “No. My daughter went through a patch where she saw herself as too dark and that was ‘bad’. We had to teach her that color is beautiful. Being different was changed to ‘unique’. Parents have to think of the semantics and just a simple adjustment can make a difference. Today, she is proud of her color”
Alexys: “I just got out of treatment for battling Anorexia. Girls are going to have those moments some time in their life…but they really need to be reassured and understand that their bodies are beautiful just as they are!”
Carlene: “I think it is critical to discuss it with them, but not using the term fat or skinny. I absolutely discuss healthy food choices with my children and at ages of 4 & 6, they know what healthy choices are and bad choices. And they also know that the result of making bad choices is unnecessary weight gain (among other things) And I have NO issue discussing that. I hate that society has become so bubble wrapped and candy coated that kids must always be made to feel good about themselves no matter what, therefore we give trophies to everyone, despite their effort of outcome. And we can’t talk to them about eating properly, because it may hurt their self-esteem. We shouldn’t tell them that wearing extra-medium shirts at 30lbs overweight isn’t the best choice. We mustn’t tell them that if they want to win, they must practice harder, or that they didn’t win the race because they were not the best in that match. It makes me want to scream. As a result, we have raised a new generation of a lot of overweight, self-entitled, lazy, little smart asses and it makes my blood boil.
Parents: watch our country go to hell in a hand basket when all of our Molly-coddled kids take control…. Oh wait- they already have. How’s it looking?”
Although the responses varied, the message was the same: It is our job as parents to educate our daughters about positive body image and to reinforce the idea that beauty is not a size, skin color, eye shape, hair texture etc… It is a battle that we should prepare to wage on a daily basis. It is a conversation that should be ongoing with our kids. Marlie is only 13 and the other day, she made a comment about her thigh looking fat because of the way she was sitting. I almost died of shock. I’ve never allowed my kids to call themselves or others “fat.” The word “fat” when used to describe a person is the equivalent of the N word in our house. It is a dergoatory word, in my opinion. Do we talk about being healthy? Yes. Do we encourage and require physical activity on a daily basis? Yes. Do we eat things that are bad for us ? Yep. We do. Do we obsess over our weight? No. We don’t own a scale. I had to weigh myself at the doctor’s office the other day and I had NO IDEA what I weighed before I stepped on the scale. To me, it is just a number. It isn’t an accurate reflection of how healthy I am. I need to work on being healthier. I need to start exercising because it increases my endorphines and makes me healthier. I need to eat better because my life depends on it. Obesity is a problem in our country, but so is unrealisitic body image. We need to find a healthy medium. We need to encourage healthy life choices while instilling the deep rooted belief that beauty is not one image but a mosaic of our combined images. Beauty is every size, every skin color, every person.
We win races if we are the fastest.
We get A’s on our report card if we work hard.
We get hired if we deserve the position.
We feel good if we eat right and take care of ourselves….not JUST if we wear a size zero and look like the models on the cover of magazines.
We are beautiful and precious because we are different.
Watch this video with your teens if you have the time this weekend and start a discussion on body image. Then keep that discussion going because they will need all the reinforcing they can get. The media and peers may be louder, but we are more persistent and powerful if we choose to be.