Poor Body Image Already in 8 Year Old Girl - How to Help?

Updated on February 25, 2014
P.R. asks from Akron, OH
16 answers

My youngest weighed herself yesterday (with sister and friend bc of weight limit on trampoline I think) and started crying that it said 70lbs. For her height, it's average. We are a tall family. But she doesn't want to be tall and her best friends are petite which makes it worse. Shorter and super skinny girls. She is not overweight as I said but she also is not a waif. She's fairly heavy boned and I happen to be naturally super skinny which probably doesn't help matters. But just my family's make-up and she is more on my husband's side. She was pointing to her thighs as an example of what she doesn't like. Her older sister is also tall and not "skinny" but just doesn't think about this stuff very much. I worry someday my youngest is going to be anorexic. Any advice how to head this off? I of course talked to her and said all the things I could think of (including how I hate my skinny legs) but would love to hear from someone who had a similar situation.

ETA; interesting about Savanah Guthrie who I wasn't familiar with. I also hated being tall but grew later when I probably could deal with it better. I wasn't tall at 8. So any advice too from people who were tall as younger kids would help too. I told her models are tall etc but maybe that's wrong or I could add something else. Again - my older daughter is fine with being tall...

Also, it's interesting reading about body image problems but we also have the benefit of being adults and likely sorting thru a lot of issues and/or actually being overweight and deciding to fight it or accept it. For a kid who is actually not overweight, I'm confused if telling her she is pretty is a good or bad thing. If I tell her she's pretty, is that reinforcing it matters if she's pretty or not? If I don't tell her, will she then think she's not pretty bc I'm not telling her she is? And I need to exercise despite being thin. I should just be more healthy and it's a topic of conversation bc my husband would very much lke me to exercise. So do I now start exercising more with her to reinforce the importance of exercise or is that going to make her think she really is fat so now "mommy is running with me to help me lose weight?... "

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So What Happened?

Leigh - thank you. That's very helpful. She is fairly active - gymnastics, a running club which we don't make much bc of a conflict but sometimes, horseback riding, and skiing in the winter, swimming in the summer. She's also a brownie. I forgot to mention she is jealous one of these friends has beautiful long blond blond hair. My daughter's is dirty blond as she said. She is just so focused on appearance at such a young age... And please don't anyone blame me. I grew up with a stunningly pretty mother and prettier older sister. I'm pretty enough but have never focused on looks in front of my kids bc my mother did sometimes and it hurt. This seems to be just an internal thing for her. Her older sister doesn't give this stuff much thought... Oh - I will listen what her friends and she are talking about when I can. Both these girls have always been super sweet but maybe there is something going on. I think it's my daughter herself but something to watch for.

We do eat very healthy btw. Virtually never fast food. And she is almost odd that she reallly likes most vegetables. She will actually ask for seconds of many vegetables. Amazes me.

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answers from Rochester on

Take a look at the web site www.amightygirl.com. They have lots of book recommendations for dealing with body image and lots of good blogs about the same topic.

5 moms found this helpful


answers from Los Angeles on

I read some of the advice and yes, you can do all that. AND you can start her focusing on moving forward with healthy options for both diet and exercise. She is who she is and one day she may accept it or she may never. But if you teach her and inspire her to do all the right things, then she most likely will accept it one day. And do these things with her, show her how everyone should be doing it.

Breakfast - NEVER skip it. I will PM you a link to the Best Breakfast Ever.
Daily hygiene: brushing her teeth 3 times a day - showering daily, keeping up on regular body maintenance - all that helps her to build her own self esteem.
Lunch: eat a healthy meal - balanced with proteins, fats and carbs. Help get her educated on what is healthy and not a fad.
Exercise: daily - play, skip, jump, dance, run, walk, cycle anything for about 20 minsa day will help her to feel fantastic!
Dinner: only healthy choices, no fast food, no out of a box, teach her about good eating habits now and she will know no other way.
Bedtime: a set bedtime and wake up time is crucial to feeling good.

When you set up a routine for success, success follows. She will think differently, she will feel differently and soon she will see her self differently. Guaranteed.


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answers from Washington DC on

P., I'm sorry this happened, but wanted to share a few things as a mom of a daughter (now 13) in a very body-conscious activity, ballet:

Don't overreact especially if this is the first time this has really come up. Next time please do not say things to her about your own body that are negative such as "how I hate my skinny legs" as you described -- you did mean well but it gives her the message (which you did not intend, I know) that it's OK to think about our bodies negatively. Yes, in reality we all do have things we don't like about our bodies but at her age it all gets internalized in ways it doesn't for adults.

So don't overtalk it with her right now.

Is she in any kind of physical activity? A sport, dance, martial art (which can be great for girls if done in a positive and supportive school!)? Does her school offer the Girls on the Run program, which is held at school and is as much about positive body image and proper nutrition as it is about running? I'd look into that program--she might be able to do it at another school if hers doesn't offer it. In other words, does she do anything that is about using her body, her strength, finding pleasure in being active? If not, and you sign her up for something, be SURE to consult with her and let her choose and don't present it as "Here's something for you to do to stay fit" etc. That will make her think that you believe she is indeed too heavy -- no matter how many times you say verbally that she isn't or that's not the purpose of the activity, that is how her mind will interpret even the tiniest comment at this point in time. I know, I've been there.

Don't overtalk anorexia or bulimia or any ohter food issues. It's a huge, huge leap from "I don't want to be tall, I feel so fat compared to my friends" all the way to anorexia. Be aware of what she eats but don't hover, don't push some foods and forbid others to the point food becomes a struggle between you.

I would ensure that the scales in your home are "broken" and get put away. She might end up weighing herself over and over if they are readily available. Don't make a big deal of it, just have them vanish in a few days and after that tell her they're not working--IF she asks about them; don't announce it like it's a big deal not to have scales. If she pesters you for a replacement, distract and redirect, like with any problem pestering.

Is she in other activities that build a strong sense of self? Girl Scouting can be terrific for this in a well-run troop. Or if you prefer there are church-based groups or Campfire Girls or community service groups at school or other activities that get girls together in groups to do positive things not just for themselves but for their communities -- get her outside her own head with volunteer service, too.

If her current best friends tend to talk about and focus on the fact that they themselves are so petite, you need to redirect her toward some time with other friends who are not body-focused right now. They may be nice kids but they might also be talking to her too much, too often about food, and even -- sorry to say this but this happens even at age eight -- about dieting and why it's awful to be "fat." Again-- do not let your child think you are pushing her away from her friends or the result will be disaster; she'll resist and they will become perfect in her mind. Just start getting her into playdates and other situations where she is with positive kids who do not talk about their sizes or dieting. (This may NOT be happening with the petite friends at all! I just am letting you know to think about what you've heard them all discussing. Yeah, I used to eavesdrop at times on those play dates because it's good to know what a kid's friends are talking about with them.)

And of course watch with care what media she consumes. Does she want to be skinny like girls on Nick or does she talk about how thin some characters are? Time to find other things to do and see.

Just get the activities, both physical and self-esteem -building ones, going and do not overtalk her body or your own. Hope this helps a little.

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answers from Washington DC on

I became overly obsessed with my weight at about 10-11, but I was on the shorter side (still am). I started going on diets etc.
It never turned into a real "problem". I actually was one of the few people who never gained weight as an adult (from all of my school friends) because I had developed such an awareness of how many calories were in foods, junk foods, etc.
However, it could have gone the wrong way...there were a few times when I tried to make myself throw up when I was a teenager but it was so awful that I never tried it again and decided that eating lots of vegetables and getting exercise was much more pleasant.
No real advice here except to let her know that the best way to take care of herself is to eat healthy and limit the "treats" to a few times a week or special occasions. Exercise together - walks bike rides, etc.

4 moms found this helpful


answers from Colorado Springs on

My very first thought was, "Whom is this girl listening to?" What is she watching on television? What do her friends talk about? What do the Brownies talk about when they get together? Has she been made fun of for her height? I'm sorry to say that girls even at that age can develop mean streaks at the drop of a hat.

Would a talk with her pediatrician be useful? Someone not in her family might be able to tell her about how tallness and shortness are not things you pick and choose. In addition, you mention that she is in athletic activities, so she probably has more muscle. There's nothing wrong with muscle - that's good stuff. Seventy pounds only sounds like a lot. It isn't really - not for a trampoline or for most other activities except maybe sleeping in a bassinet. What was the weight limit for the trampoline? Did somebody say, "Wow! Seventy pounds!"? That might be enough to start a girl wondering. She doesn't think about the fact that she's growing! She just thinks about the idea that somebody talked as if seventy pounds was wrong.

Maybe shrugging it off in a certain way - "well, you might not like it now, but some girls are going to wish they were as tall as you one day" - might let her know that it's no big deal. Let her mind drift back to what she's doing instead of what others might think of her. Don't make any comments about the exercise program you're planning to do. (Just do your plan anyway.)

I was always the tallest or near-tallest in my class until I started high school and the boys started to catch up. Petite and cute? Forget about it! But if I didn't mind, nobody else did. My daughters didn't inherit the tall gene, but it looks as if my granddaughters have it. They're active and healthy, and they just know that this is the way God made them.

As far as "pretty" is concerned, it's subjective. Every girl will go through a "non-pretty" time! Girls don't talk about that, but it will happen. Natural hair color changes over time, too. Your daughter might turn out to be a stunner in a few years, and have a stunningly good character to go with it. But don't go there right now with her.

I'm sorry if I'm being repetitive; I haven't read the other comments.

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answers from Salt Lake City on

You've already received some excellent replies here. One thing that may make more of a difference than you realize - what is her media consumption like? TV and magazines constantly barrage young women with the message that they aren't good enough, and we're so used to it that we don't always pay attention to it. But our daughters do. My daughter went through a phase of thinking she was fat. You can count the ribs on this child! It turned out that she was comparing her face - lovely, full round, a little soft under the chin, just like her dad, her aunts and uncles, her cousins - to those of the girls and women in magazines. So I pulled up one of the videos you can find on youtube that shows a model before a photo shoot, during make-up, and after. Then the video shows that even the images of these already stunning women are modified, sometimes to the point of looking like a different person, with photoshop. We talked about how the whole purpose of advertising is to make you want something, and about how the media accomplishes this by making us feel insecure about ourselves. The fat talk disappeared after this.

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answers from Oklahoma City on

Tell her muscle weighs a LOT more than fat. Since she's active her muscles will always make her heavier. You might take some good pictures of her. I know, if I say in her undies or a bikini, that it can be taken wrongly.

She needs to see if she has ugly bumps or rolls of hanging fat anywhere. If she sees she is not ugly in her most private way then she might see she isn't fat or overweight.

I weighed 145 in college. I was 5'2" and solid. I did weight training classes, aerobics every day, tennis, swimming, I jogged several miles every evening too. I played sports my whole life. I was solid!!!

I wore size 11 and 13 LEE jeans. Medium tops and I looked good. I could go to the fair and they'd guess my weight at 120-125 every time but I weighed between 145 and 150.

You might go to a local health club and have a trainer sit down with her and show her examples of how much fat and muscle differ. She is probably still very visual in her learning style at this age so posters, pictures, videos, and other visual venues could make a good impression go.

Helping her learn that she is tall, it's hard as you well know, might make the way easier for her.

Also, find out if any other kids in her classes/sports are similar in size. Visit with those mom's and see if the girls can get together and she can get used to seeing herself up next to girls her own size.

If one wants to feel fat they hang around with their skinny girlfriends. If they want to feel smaller and not fat they hang around with their friends that are similar or bigger in size.

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answers from New York on

I haven't been through this myself. Nor have I had occassion to lead a child through these issues. I don't think you would go wrong though in telling her that every body has a body. Each is shaped differently than the next. It is our responsibility to take care of our bodies and to make the most of them that we can. We should all strive for good health, strong and fit bodies. Our bodies are all beautiful. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. You think her body is beautiful and perfectly shaped for her.

Explain too that inner beauty, strength and fitness should also be cultivated. These stand the ravages of time, age, and the environment. They also help to make a person seem beautiful regardless of what body they occupy.

F. B.

I am short. I've always been short. I continue to be short. I stand 5'1" tall. While I secretly wish I were two inches taller, it isn't a major hangup. I just wish I could get to things in my kitchen without needing a stepstool. I've been blessed with good health, a healthy apetite, and nice curves. My weight is 125 in all the right places. I wasn't one to exercise until law school, but I like it because it increases my stamina, and by energy. While it won't likely ever grace the cover of a magazine, I love my body, and I hope that your daughter will come to love hers.

Hubs on the other hand, tells me that he was for a while self conscious about his. He was tall and hefty by 70s standards. He stood two heads taller than most boys at 12, but topped out at 5'10" tall. Eventually most caught up and some got to 6'1-6'3" but for a while, he was the outlier. It was tough being taller and bigger than most, and he had to use extra self control because nothing would have been a "fair" fight.

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answers from Las Vegas on

My daughter is 8 and weighs 95 lbs and is 4'8". She is a little chubby around the middle. She shares with me the girls call her fat. I just remind her she is not and yes, I tell her she is beautiful. After a few pokes, she forgets about it and moves on.

Her problem is that she is a mirror reader and writer. She has pretty good control of things and the grades are good, but once in a while the buck is a duck. We get after her about that because the teacher will no longer excuse it and will mark her wrong and she says she is embarrassed. We just tell her we are all embarrassed about something or another. So she started picking on us asking what our faults were. I let her pick on me and then asked if I should feel bad for myself because she had questions.

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answers from Sacramento on

The Today Show just did an entire segment today about body image. You should be able to find it online. Savannah Guthrie talks about how she hated being tall when she was younger but loves it now. All of the anchors talk about their issues and there's a Q&A at the end that mentioned talking to kids about body issues. One anchor mentioned that she purposely doesn't talk about what she doesn't like about herself with her niece because she wants her niece to focus on the positives. The advice, too, was to focus less on appearance and more on positive qualities -- intelligence, humor, etc.

You might also enlist the help of her pediatrician. Let the pediatrician know she's concerned she's overweight. Maybe an email from the doctor saying she's right where she needs to be will hold more weight than input from mom?

So sorry you're dealing with this at eight!

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answers from Honolulu on

Its so hard right, how our kids, girls or boys, think of themselves?

I have a girl that is 11.
But ever since she was a Toddler, in a random casual manner, I would talk/chat about appearance/looks/body shape etc. and about how it does not matter, what is inside counts, and that SHE is HERSELF. Be who she, is. To KNOW herself, etc. I also would, when talking to myself or when shopping, make no comments about "appearance" but rather on what I like or prefer to wear and that I have my own, style and personality etc. and how I feel good about myself.
So I don't know if that impacted her, but she is the type that does not compare herself or her appearance, to others. She just knows, herself. And she is, her.
And when/if my Husband would critique or say things about what she is wearing or how she looks, I would step in, in a firm but casual manner and say "SHE knows what she likes to wear. That is HER style, her taste... that's okay sweetie, you are not Daddy and Daddy is not you....just because his niece dresses like that does not mean you have to..... you are yourself....."
You see, my Husband grew up in a culture in which "girls" were a certain way in dress and demeanor. But that was then, and this is now. And we are not in his town. My kids are, themselves. I emphasize that with my kids. Per looks/appearance/tastes/per what their friends may be doing or wearing, versus, themselves... and how EVERYONE is different.
And so my kids feel good in their own skin. And they know themselves.
And accept themselves pretty well.

Anyway, my daughter also has a friend, that at 8 years old, would really critique herself and her body shape and weight and appearance. She was a totally NORMAL girl who was NORMAL shape, and was not anything abnormal. Except that, she always thought she was "too fat..." or something. And she would be self conscious. I told her Mom. Her Mom didn't know her daughter was thinking that way. But come to find out... a Grandma of her's was the type that always critiqued how she looked or what she ate or how tall or not she was, or what she was wearing. So then, she got, hang ups about it.
Poor thing.
My daughter would tell her that she was fine. She was not even "fat" and she should feel good about herself etc. But well, young girls are impacted by many things.

It is how a child, feels about themselves.
Or not.
And how well they know themselves. Or not.
And also how others may talk to them or not, even a Grandma. Like in my daughter's friend's case.
Or about how the other friends are, that a kid may have. Or on and on.
But it is how a person feels about themselves.
Even for an adult.

And ever since my son was a Toddler, I talked to him in the same manner about stuff like that, as I did with my daughter.
He is comfortable in his own skin. He knows himself. He doesn't try and be someone else.

Its how you talk with them daily.
About their feelings/decision making etc.
When my kids say they like a certain thing, I ask them "Do you like it because you like it, or its what your friends are doing/wearing/liking etc.?"
So that, they self-reflect. And know who, they are. In the midst of others.

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answers from Albany on

I have horrible body image, always have, just cannot stand the way I look. There really isn't any "reason" for it, I don't think.

Anyway, I asked a related question awhile back. Maybe you can find some help there, too.



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answers from Detroit on

I don't remember at that age, but I know in 6th grade I was "the tall girl". Didn't think much about it until I hit 7th grade and Jr. High. Then I was jealous of the petite girls. I felt like the Jolly Green Giant!

Unfortunately I think that some girls just tend to be more self-conscious of things. I think that the best thing to do is acknowledge that , yes, she is taller than the other girls so that is why she weighs more. Maybe even show her a chart and let her know that skinny is not necessarily healthy. We are all just built differently. Maybe if she sees some athletes or actresses that she looks up to and sees that they are tall, too, it may make her feel better.

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answers from Dover on

I have never be the "tall girl" although I am taller than all my dad's sisters (I'm only 5' so that clearly doesn't take much). All of my childhood and through 8th grade, I was a little on the chunky side...didn't think much of it til about 6th grade or so but kids today focus on appearance so much these days...it's a different world. I lost a good amount of weight over the summer going into 9th grade and weighed about 95 when I graduated. Considering my height, I was perfectly healthy but for someone my size, my thighs have ALWAYS been big...hasn't changed. No real body is perfect.

After having my son, my weight has always been on the heavy side of normal. I have recently lost some weight (the healthy way) and am still a few pounds heavier than my ideal but I feel good.

To this day, I get comments about how short I am and you can let your daughter know that it gets very old (even when you don't mind being short or thin). My hubby has been commenting about "how thin I am" (and I am not too thin) and it's getting on my nerves. I am fine with my size (height and weight) but get tired of everyone commenting...too short, too heavy, too thin...it gets old. My point is, let your daughter know that being the opposite of whatever she is or thinks she is has it's frustrations too and she needs to embrace herself.

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answers from New York on

Eight is really young to be starting this. Keep a close eye on her. Lots of suggestions in other responses. It it becomes an obsession seek professional advice.


answers from Columbia on

When was her last well check with the pediatrician? Take her so she can see, at the doctor's office, where she is (and likely has always been) on the chart. If she's 70th percentile and always has been, she needs to know that's normal for her and she needs to quit comparing herself to girls who have always been on the 20th percentile.

I have one on the 10th percentile for height and weight, and one on the 50th percentile for weight and 95th for height. They know that they are two different kids and only look at their own chart to see their "normal."

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