Body Image Blow-Up: The Moment My Daughter Called Herself Fat

body image
“Little Girl Running,” pat138241 from Getty Images Pro. Canva, 3/12/24.

Growing up as a teenager in the late 90s and early 00s, the notion of positive body image was non-existent. Heck, if anything, the cultural norm was to intentionally make women feel as terrible as possible about their bodies. I grew up seeing heroin chic models on the pages of my magazines, and reading tips — in magazines like “Seventeen,” specifically marketed towards teenagers! — about how to lose weight, keep yourself from feeling hungry so you could eat less, and even work out while you were sitting down in school all day. No, really; I remember reading an article about clenching the muscles in your butt cheeks while you were sitting at your desk and holding them, all day, to give yourself a nicer butt. Again, in magazines marketed to teenagers.

To say that our generation has massive issues with our self esteem and image would be an understatement. But I think that’s also why we are fighting so fiercely for our daughters to have it better. We don’t want our girls to spend their lives constantly hating their bodies the way we did.

So, needless to say, it rocked my entire world when my six-year-old watched a man running on the sidewalk in our neighborhood and said, rather casually, that she should go for a run… because she’s starting to get fat.

My six-year-old. Said she was starting to get fat.

Initially, I did everything I could to reassure her while still being casual; I told her that of course she wasn’t fat, and then did some internal soul-searching. How did this even happen?! We have tried so hard to have a relatively body-positive household. While my own body image has fluctuated, I have never referred to myself as fat in front of my kids. I don’t even mention the word. We encourage our kids to participate in sports, and focus on eating healthy — including allowing the occasional splurge. But these messages are still reaching out kids somehow.

I wish I had some kind of way to shield my kids from this toxic mindset which is still all-too-prevalent. We may have the appearance of being less hostile towards normal women’s bodies, but let’s be real. Nothing’s really changed. All that’s changed are the tactics (looking at you, Kardashians). Now, instead of magazines, our kids are being influenced by social media. And even in a family like ours, where my kids don’t have phones and can’t go on social media, it still filters down into the world around them. They still absorb these negative thoughts.

And, worst of all, there’s nothing I can do about it… except continue to be here, bolstering their body image however I can, and remaining their soft (literally) place to land.


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