Weighing in on my Daughter’s Body Image

Recently, my husband took our daughter to a barbecue.  She dressed herself in an outfit best described as climate-appropriate for the balmy June afternoon.  Her ruffled skirt exposed her bare legs and I didn’t think anything of it until my husband casually mentioned later that people said she was skinny.

She’s four and a half.

That people thought they should vocalize ANY observation about her little body throttled me onto the defense.

“Who said that?”   “How old were the other kids there?”  “Was she with you?”

I only backed off when he assured me she had not heard the comments.  At least she was oblivious to the judgments strangers felt the need to pass on a little kid.

I was furious.  And then sickened.  Because I realized I felt…proud.

“Skinny” is not in my genes.  I worked my ass off, literally, to get to a more comfortable weight in my mid-20s, after a pudgy childhood and a bloated college lifestyle.    I had to work even harder to disconnect my self-worth with the scale’s number, as low as it was.  And it wasn’t until my late 30s, after I had two wonderful pregnancies and birthed two healthy babies, that I finally felt at peace with my body.  It had performed fabulously for me, and I was damn proud of it, even though I was not at my former “goal weight.”

Still, imagining a childhood for my daughter free of those feelings of inadequacy that accompanied my extra pounds, was sounding wonderful.  Not needing to wrap a towel around you at the pool, or thinking everyone was watching with every bite of birthday cake, swallowing dignity and self-worth alongside it.  Going on a diet when you are 8 and cursing the injustice of thinness wasted on your younger brother who didn’t even care what size his clothes were.

I only see one beanpole. And a happy, healthy kid.

I was assuming my daughter would feel about her body as I did about mine.  That she’d hate it if it were considered fat.

And then, a few days later, she held up a hula hoop and said, somewhat disgruntled: “I need to be a little fatter to get this to work, Mom.”

With that remark, she snapped me back into motherhood.  She saw her thinness as a detriment.  And I could see it hurt as much as my fatness did when I believed it was the reason I wasn’t good at something.

I was a lot of things besides overweight as a child: I played the lead in school plays, I had a lucrative babysitting business, I was published in a kids’ literary magazine, I received scholarships and I once won a camp Ugly Face Contest.  So what wasn’t I good at?  Chemistry, and that had nothing to do with my size.

Now, it’s my job as her parent to lead by example and show her that confidence and happiness are not tied to how much space we take up in the world.   She just needs to practice hula hooping.  And if that doesn’t work out, we’ll find something that does.

So as she grows up, and out and around, or not much at all, she will look to her mother and understand that size doesn’t matter.   And if she’s bigger or smaller or wider or narrower than you think she should be, best keep it to yourself.  Don’t call my kid skinny unless you want a fat lip.

UPDATE: This post is nominated for Babble’s “Best of Blogs.”  If you liked it, please go here and click the FB “like” button (you don’t have to publicize your vote on your timeline) to show your support.  Thank you!

How are YOU championing your child’s body confidence?


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3 responses to “Weighing in on my Daughter’s Body Image

  1. Pingback: Click the Vote! | Mama Jabber.

  2. lynne

    As a mother of two girls, I will bookmark this post whenever I need a reminder of how best to deal with other people’s judgments. It seems to be more challenging all the time as they get older and out into the world more. And the same goes for comments about prettiness, too (within their earshot, even from people who should know better), but don’t get me started. After feeling riled up, your ending made me smile.

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