“Mummy, do I look fat?”. The dreaded question. The one that knocks you sideways and fills you with dread. Especially when those words come from a 4-year-old child. Yes 4 years old! My daughter, stood in front of me with her new school uniform on. Asking me, with those beautiful big blue eyes, the most ridiculous question. What the actual fuck? I was literally gobsmacked. And I had no idea how to respond. I know how I wanted to respond…probably like every other parent. I wanted to reassure her that she was in no way fat. I wanted to say,
“Sweetheart, you are not fat!” “Who on earth told you that?”
I wanted to know who had said it so I could hunt them down, and box their ears in. But I didn’t. I stopped myself. I knew that this response, with the best of intention, would send a very clear message. Fat is bad! And how I chose to respond would either make this a bigger issue, creating a negative association with fat, or would trigger some acceptance that ‘fat’ is normal, and part of healthy body. I really want her to have a healthy relationship with her body, so in the moment, it was really hard to know what to say.
Fat is not a word I use around my daughter, not consciously anyway. I know I talk about sugar and that we don’t eat too much of it because it makes us feel poorly, and makes our teeth rot. But I don’t talk about body shape or comment on people who are overweight. But it must have come from somewhere. That somewhere must be from us. Her family.
Our kids look up to us. Especially in their early years. So it makes sense that they see and hear everything we say and do. We should strive to be positive role models. This means really thinking about how we talk about our bodies. And the bodies of others.
If they hear us moaning about how chunky our thighs look in that pair of jeans, they start to look at their own thighs, and ask the same question.
If we begrudge buying gym gear, or going out for a run, they hear it. They may start to equate exercise with punishment for being fat. I know I’m guilty of just that. I’ve said, before munching down on a piece of cake, I’m going to have to run 30 extra minutes to burn this bad boy off!
Now I’m not saying we shouldn’t talk about and promote exercise. We absolutely should. Moving and being out in the fresh air has so many physical and pyschological benefits. But we should also promote and reward learning, bravery, kindness and strength in equal measures.
Ask yourself. How many times have you uttered the words, “oh don’t you look beautiful?”, to your son or daughter? Without thinking, we praise and reward them based on how they look. Not on achievement. So what about some alternative recognition and positive positioning,
“You look like you’re going to go kick ass in that exam today!”
“You are so brave”
“I’m so proud of how you played today”
Or ask a different question,
“How many rabbits can you see?” Versus “Oh look at those lovely fluffy bunnies!”
You get the picture.
But how to respond to the initial “F” question. This is how I did it. I asked a question.
“Why would you ask that question?”
“Where have you heard that expression before?” She didn’t know. So I followed up by saying. “You look perfectly ready for school and I’m very proud of you” Having thought more about it I think she was concerned she had too many layers on, hence the fat question. But it’s not just the answering of that one question that fixes everything. I have work to do. Here’s some tips to help you role model how to have a healthy relationship with your body.
- Get rid of the scales, or the sad step as Joe Wickes. Body Coach, calls it. It serves no purpose other than say to your child, our weight is important. We place huge value on it when actually it serves only to make us feel inadequate
- Don’t go on a diet. What is the point? They don’t work and only make us miserable. If we’re miserable, so are our kids!
- Unfollow those social media accounts that promote ‘inspirational bodies’. Little eyes and fingers can often be found scrolling, and we don’t want them to be bombarded with unrealistic, unattainable images to compare themselves to. Its harmful! Instead follow inspiration people.
- Praise your child, not for how they look, but the values you hold dear. Bravery, strength, honesty, creativity, kindness etc. They will start to value them too.
If you subscribe to Violet and Charlie, or have read any of our material, you’ll know we use the phrase, change the conversation, a lot. No more so than here. Change the way we talk about, react to and discuss the ‘F’ word. Fat is not evil. It’s essential. We need it to live. Let’s stop treating it with such distain. Fat is great. It’s part of a healthy body. So let your kids know that. Change the conversation. Your kid’s relationship with food and their bodies depend on it.
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