The First Time Your Daughter Thinks She's Fat

Updated on April 25, 2014
J.C. asks from Columbus, OH
17 answers

.... Or ugly, or too short, or too tall, or whatever. Comparing herself to her peers. What do you say to her - - while trying to keep your heart from ripping out of your chest?

I tried to convey to her that there are all types of people, all kinds of sizes. Different skin, different hair, different everything. And tried to tell her that she was absolutely perfect. (because she is, of course) And tried to tell her how awesome she is. I told her that if I had to start all over again, I'd want to be JUST LIKE HER.

What on earth did you say to your girl? And thank you in advance for your response. I'm a little shaken about this.

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So What Happened?

Thank you all. My daughter is 9 and not at all fat. She's got a rail-thin friend who does ballet and I think that's who she was comparing herself to. I don't even think anyone has said anything to her - at least she said no one did. Going forward, I will validate her feelings more, but continue to remind her of all the good her body can do. (she's the fastest runner in her class). Thanks again, folks.

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answers from San Francisco on

I explain that beauty comes from inside. I tell her how you can see someone who you think is absolutely beautiful. Then you get to know then and find that they aren't a very good person. It's amazing how, after realizing that, they no longer appear to be so beautiful to you.

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answers from Richland on

Not much you can say, you are her mom, you are supposed to say nice things about how she looks. Compliments from parents just don't have the effect as compliments from peers. Just keep an eye on it. It is normal for girls to go through this, it only becomes an issue if it becomes obsessive.

Oh, just to try to make the other moms feel a little better, not all girls go through this. Both my daughters march to their own drums and don't get caught up with other's opinion so I have never heard this and one of them is an adult.

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answers from Washington DC on

well, for me it was my little boy, and he WAS fat. and it broke. my. heart.
he was SO hard on himself. so self-conscious. but he also loved food, and i could see the struggle on his little face when there was another cupcake at a birthday party he could have, and how it hurt him when he got teased.
i did all the usual stuff about how he was a wonderful person, and perfect just as he was, and how true friends behave. we all like to think it's the right stuff to say, but i tell you true, it has very little impact.
to this day i'm not sure how i could have done it much better, though. finding exactly the right balance of healthy eating, great self-esteem, preventing societal norms from taking too much precedence, and oh yeah, overall health is a walk through a minefield.
in retrospect we all should have been eating healthier. but the world is full of treats.
i think what finally made a measurable, practical difference was doing a nutrition unit study in our homeschool. learning about how food actually is processed in the body, and how different types of nutrition interact with each other, seemed to finally give him the tools he needed to take control of it himself. it didn't happen right away, and puberty certainly worked in his favor, but i can't take credit for the lean, buff young man he became and is now at 23. it was all him.
i know your heartbreak. i know how hard you're working to let her know she's loved, and unique, and beautiful. kids know when we're blowing smoke- don't oversell the 'you are perfect.' keep looking for ways to empower her, to downplay ridiculous media standards, to make good choices a little easier, to gain another smidgeon of self confidence.
i'm rooting for both of you.

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answers from Washington DC on

UGH. We have been through this, with my 10 year old. She is not fat, but she is by no means skinny, or even thin. She has a little belly, and some rolls when she sits down. That being said, she runs around the yard everyday after school. She's a competitive swimmer, and she's pretty darn good at it!

So it happened a couple of years ago when her BFF at the time was a very skinny gymnast. My daughter came home and asked me if she was fat. My heart broke. I asked her why she thought that, did someone say something, etc. She said that no one said anything directly to her, but that girls in her class were talking about how fat THEY were. When a kid like my DD hears a skinny kid say "I'm fat" then of course what is she going to think?

One of the things that made it a little easier for me to deal with (I think) is that I was built JUST LIKE my DD when I was her age. I was always a little chunky, and my growth spurt was late. Now I am 5'8", 140 lbs, and in very good shape. So it was easy for me to talk to her about myself, and how I know it's hard not to be the tiniest girl. But that she needs to hang in there.

Part of what makes it difficult in my house is I also have a 12 year old who is tiny. My 10 year old is about the same height, but outweighs her sister by about 20 pounds. So there have been issues while we shop for clothes, and one day my 10 year said, "Why does she look so cute in everything she tries on, but I don't?" Another heartbreaking moment. So we talked about how to find clothes that flatter your body type, etc. Just recently we bought a few new things for Spring Break and my 10 year old tried some stuff on and just said, matter of factly, "This isn't really flattering for me." She put those things back and kept at it until she found stuff she was happy with. The 12 year bought 2 bikini's for the beach, and the 10 year said, "those would not look good on me." I just told her, "yeah, they wouldn't have looked good on me at that age either." and that made her smile.

I guess all I can say is be as supportive as you can, and listen to what she has to say. I don't lie to my daughter and tell her she's skinny. I tell her she's beautiful, because she is. But we do talk about her shape and we're realistic about it. One thing I tell her is that she needs to remember what this healthy body can do for her. She's a faster swimmer than her older sister. We hang onto things like that. I say, "this is what your body does for you. You get chosen for every meet. That's a great thing. You are healthy and fit!"

Good luck. It is soooooo not easy!

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answers from Honolulu on

My daughter is 11. Have not had that happen to her yet. Hopefully won't.
Then again, I remember some of her classmates, even in THIRD grade... making negative comments about their looks/body/weight/hair/height, etc.
One girl, who was just a normal typical girl, got hung up on her weight. Even if she was NOT overweight at all. I knew her Mom. I mentioned it to her Mom. The Mom never knew, her daughter was worrying about that stuff. And come to find out, it was all because, the Grandma would make comments to her daughter, about how she looks.
It is NOT always other kids, that make a kid feel that way.

Sure, at 3rd grade, a child's body shape is one way, but they grow and spurt so fast and so many times, a kids' body morphs into ALL types of shapes/sizes all through out childhood. And this girl, is now a tall lanky girl, who is graceful as a Gazelle and is so self-assured with herself.

The thing is to feel and be, comfortable in your own skin. And to know, who you are.

Once, a catty noxious kid tried to criticize my daughter. ie: "how come your skin is so white? Don't you ever surf and go out in the sun?" (in my State, so many people are tan just from all the water sports they do and surfing etc. and it is common. The girl who told my daughter that is a Surfer). So my daughter knew the girl was just trying to stir up trouble and be a brat. And my daughter just said "Because I don't have skin damage and am proud of it." And then she just stood there looking the girl in the face. The girl slunk away, frustrated she couldn't make my daughter feel all insecure.

No matter, how a kid looks, the thing is to feel and be comfortable in your own skin. And know yourself. If not, anyone, even an adult, can be self-critical. Even if they are perfect and even if everyone tells them they are perfect.

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answers from Dallas on

The thing that stood out to me from your post and my only suggestion is: don't put yourself down while trying to build her up. I know it wasn't your intention but telling her you would rather be like her is putting yourself down and you don't want to teach her that.

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answers from Jacksonville on

Well.. the first time she said something like that wasn't really comparing herself to anyone. She made a factual statement really.
"My thighs are fat." I asked her why she thought that. She said.. "Look at them! See it jiggle when I do this (as she flapped her thighs back and forth)" and then she giggled. She was probably about 7 ?

She also wasn't fat. Still isn't. But, the observation was exactly that... she saw the loose flabby thigh area and called it fat. Because that is what it is. It isn't muscle. So, we had a conversation about being HEALTHY. And that everyone has some amount of fat, because that is the body's way of storing energy. You don't (and can't!) eat continuously 24 hours a day, 365 forever your whole life. And if you don't have energy stored, you'll die when you aren't consuming it because there is nothing to power your body/cells.

We talked about having too much stored, too. And she didn't have too much, and I told her so. After that, she just liked to slap her legs back and forth on the seat and watch it jiggle. LOL

She is fairly health aware, and is in good physical condition. She is active in sports (martial arts year round, PE at school, she swims in the summer, and has decided to join the track team next year). She also used to do Yoga on the Wii.... for fun.

I honestly have never really gotten into the whole 'beauty comes from the inside' stuff, because it honestly sounds like a lot of hooey when you say it out loud and then look at what the culture actually teaches. So I try to be factual instead. She's a pretty fact based kid. So it works for us.

I don't say she is "pretty"... I say, "that dress compliments your eyes" or whatever. Just like I never told her when she was in kindergarten that her artwork was AMAZING! I just told her I liked how she used this or that color, or asked what this part of the picture was, or what made her think of drawing THIS thing in the picture...
Facts. They are fairly easy to work with.

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answers from Washington DC on

Why is this question gender specific? Both sexes struggle with identity-more so now than ever because of the overly sexual nature of their generation. Everything is just a little bit extra or just a tad more. We talk down what society hype deems appropriate every opportunity we get. We work on problems as a family unit. Everybody has to get on board and keep the momentum positive. Everything a child learns starts at home. That includes good and bad.

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answers from Santa Fe on

I'm sorry. I am going to hate it the first time my daughter says negative things about herself (she's only 4 so it has not happened yet). I hated myself. Kids were always saying negative things to me bc I was freakishly skinny. My brother was too. We both got picked on a lot bc we were outside of the bell curve and honestly, looked malnourished or something. I'd cry about it bc kids were so mean. I hated it when my mom would just say she thinks I'm perfect just the way I am. I hated it. But how could I not say the same thing to my daughter? I think she IS perfect just the way she is. I wanted my mom to help me. I wanted her to acknowledge my pain and suffering. She never did. I don't know the right thing to do. I wish we ALL could just see ourselves for who we are in our hearts and love ourselves just as we are. Now I know that it truly does not matter what your body looks like. How do we make our daughters KNOW this also and not suffer?

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answers from Washington DC on

My daughter is mixed and has a skin tone I would pay for. She literally has the perfect tan year round, and in the summer, just gets a lilttle darker, a nice bronze tan. But she hates her hair. She wants "my hair" and hers is my husband's texture. We manage it, but sometimes she hates it.

However, her friends tell her they love her hair. It will hold almost any style you put in it! So I love when her friends tell her that, it lets her know that while she wants what they have, they want what she has - nothing is perfect.

I show her and tell her how she is beautiful and can't compare to others. No one else is the same as her. Doesn't mean others aren't beautiful or that she can't want different things, but it isn't her. She is generally happy with herself...we'll see what middle school brings!

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answers from Denver on

Support her in questioning her own thinking. Diane B. had some really great suggestions. Ask your daughter to tell you what her own strengths are that have nothing to do with her body. Ask her how her body type works against her and how it works for her. Support her in understanding that our bodies are not what create our success.

Yes, it is true that a lot of people make a big deal about how people look. Validate that that feels really yucky. And ask her whether that has to matter in her life. You want to support her in really looking at her own thinking rather than just giving her information.

A great question that comes from Byron Katie's work is: "Tell me a good reason why you should be ____(fat, ugly, too short, too tall, etc.)" This will support her in having to look at some positives about a situation that she is labeling negative in her head.

Of course, it is also important to become really conscious of your own body image stuff. Get conscious about how you feel about your own body, the words you use about yourself (especially on "bad hair" days), and how you talk about other people. You are modeling for her body image and may not be fully aware of what you are teaching her. Too often we make comments about others and ourselves without really registering what we are saying. However, she has been registering every nuance of how you, and the other adult role models in her life, look at physical appearance.

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answers from Amarillo on

Do the best you can to be positive. All I will say is at10 her body is going through things to prepare her for her period and other things. Talk with her in a good way and let her know that she is fine the way she is.

Children get their image of what they should look like from TV, magazines and the like. Not everyone is "perfect" in the media ads and have the photoshop done.

I too was a "chunky" kid. I recall going to the bigger sized section and seeing unflattering styles of clothes. They look great on the mannequins but when you put it on, it did nothing. As time went on and I lost that extra fluff, things started working out to the better. When I came out of my cocoon, I had the perfect hour glass figure and it was hard to hide. I never wore a training bra went right into a 34b to c and stayed that way at 14.

Just be positive and reassuring and let her know that there is a beautiful swan in there just waiting for its turn to come out.

Kids are cruel sometimes but that is a fact that we have to address in the future with our kids. I have the sweatshirts, tee shirts, blankets and towels to go with this one.

Love to you both.

the other S.

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answers from Houston on

I don't know how old your daughter is but perhaps the Dove Beauty Sketches video would be a good conversation. The bottom line is nearly every person has a hang up about some personal feature or trait; envy is a normal feeling but one you should teach her to get a handle on. It is important to learn to acknowledge that false belief within ourselves, make our peace with it and move forward positively. I think talking to her about why she feels the way she does (acknowledging her feelings even if they are false) would probably help more than trying to talk her out of how she feels with compliments and other positive cheerleading. Sure the compliments from you help but talking to her about how she feels and why she feels that way would probably make more of a dent in changing how she views herself. Good luck.

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answers from Muncie on

My daughter is 7.

It helps that she and I have very different body types. I'm overweight and she's super slim. I've told her about how I lost the ability to be active like she is as a child. That I miss it and I wish I could run around and be healthy like she is. I've told her that there are so many different types of beautiful and everyone has a different opinion of what they think is pretty. That while I may not be what the world thinks is "pretty", her father thinks I am. I try to be a good person and a good mother. My "outside" isn't what makes me truly beautiful. I've told her that every little thing about her is so unique and prefect to us. She's a good girl, a funny little crazy goon and that's what makes her beautiful.

These conversations are not a one time deal. You have to have them again and again. Focus on encouraging her to be healthy and happy. Disney's Beauty and the Beast helped too. The story had always been a favorite of mine and it's helped her see that sometimes true beauty isn't always the way you look, but always about how you behave.

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answers from Salinas on

I think the most important thing you can do is focus on the rest of the world and the value we put on a specific type of "beauty" and focus less on her and how she's perfect. She is likely not perfect in the eyes of the world and when you say that, it's her MOM saying it. Of course you think she's perfect, she will tell herself that even if she doesn't express it to you.

I've had ongoing conversations with my girls about this for most of their lives. Here are a few points we've talked about:

There are so many examples of very successful women who are not conventionally beautiful or super thin. Point them out and talk about them.

Some of the most "beautiful" people can be very ugly inside

Some people assign a lot of importance to looking a certain way. Do you think that's right? What type of person would you prefer to be around, superficial or deep?

Point out the air brushed craziness around her, find the "mistakes" online. It's funny to see what they'll do in the name of beauty that ends up looking totally weird.

Make sure she has lots of ways to show her beauty to the world. Being involved in sports, activities, being a leader, a great student, a kind person. These things will boost her self esteem, keep her busy and keep the focus off looks.

You're in for a ride the next few years. In my experience the focus on appearance intensifies through middle school, especially for girls. It seems for a few years many tweens latch on to society's rigid scale of who is attractive and who isn't and it becomes very important.

Then something funny happens around the middle of HS, they all grow up a bit. Suddenly the awkward, chubby girl becomes the valedictorian or prom queen. The too tall, skinny girl develops into a truly beautiful, confident woman. The wallflower finds her footing and all the boys start to notice her. They start to care a little less about whose hot and whose not and a little more about what's coming up in life. In short they start to see past 12th grade to all the possibilities in the world and realize differences in people are interesting and attractive.

Help her see that all this is just a moment in time. It doesn't define her or who she will become. Help her to stay focused on what is important to her. To stay healthy and choose good people to be around. Most of all remind her she is not alone. The ridiculous race to physical perfection is like a hamster wheel. Focus on the real stuff and true beauty will follow.

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answers from Missoula on

Some other posters have had some good suggestions, especially Tiffany S. and Diane B.. I would add that you might try to help her focus on the aspects of her that are awesome and not related to physical appearance. Compliment her sense of humor, leadership skills, strength, generosity, grit, intelligence, bravery, compassion, determination etc. Remind her that there is so much more to her than how she looks and that the other stuff, though often harder to see, is so much more important.

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answers from Rochester on

Pigtail Pals and Ballcap Buddies is a great resource for this. Melissa Wardy has some great blogs and links to research and resources for dealing with this very issue. Just google Pigtail Pals and her blog and website will come right up. I love her advice on media literacy and how to use media to address body image with girls.

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