“My legs are fat, Mummy.” Five words that chilled me to the bone!
Jenny is a bubbly, confident, chatty 5 year old, who has just completed her first year at school. Initially when she pointed to her thighs and said they were fat, I brushed the comment away. I was desperately trying to convince myself that it was a “lack-of-adequate-vocabulary” thing, and she was really just making an observation that the top of her legs was wider than the bottom. However, since then she has brought it up again, this time actually pinching at the skin to show me the ‘fat’.
We Don’t Use The Word ‘Fat’
How has this happened?! My best friend at university was sectioned over a highly complex eating disorder so I have always been extremely careful about what I do and say in relation to food and body image in front of my girls.
- I try my best not to use the word ‘fat’ to describe anyone
- I have never dieted or talked about dieting in front of my children
- We talk about being ‘healthy’ rather than being fat or thin
- Family meal times are fun, social times
- I encourage my children to eat as much as they feel they need, rather than as much as they want
- We have set meals, three times a day
- We talk about how all foods are good for you as long as you eat them in moderation
- I tell my children daily that I love them
- I make a point of noticing little things that they do (e.g. helping a younger sibling down the stairs, tidying their toys without being asked, using good manners)
- We talk about how amazing our bodies are (fighting illnesses, healing wounds)
- Even when my kids were babies and had the so-called ‘baby-fat’, we made a point of not commenting on it
- We do lots of exercise as a family, from cycling to ball games to swimming
- Food is a positive experience in our house – we love cooking it and we love eating it
- As a general rule, I’m quite happy in my skin so I’m modelling that confidence to my children
- We only watch CBeebies, so there’s no media pressure to look a certain way
- We have a strong family emphasis on spreading kindness and including everyone
What Did I Do Wrong?
So where has this come from? Well I know it must have come from someone at school. But I mean, why hasn’t my strategy worked? Why isn’t she resilient to this pressure? What did I forget to do? Which base didn’t I cover?
To be honest, I never expected it to come up so soon. I’d never put an actual age on it, but I guess I was thinking she’d be at least 9 before my tactics would be put to the test!
I’m not blaming anyone, but whichever of Jenny’s friends told her she was fat MUST have heard it themselves from somewhere else. What are we doing to our children, that at 5 years old, they think they’re fat?!
Am I Overreacting?
Am I overreacting? Possibly…
No doubt in a couple of weeks, it will all have blown over and she will be back to worrying about the normal 5 year old things like who will be the ‘mummy’ in the most recent mums and dads game, or what to take to school this week for ‘show and tell’.
That’s what I’m telling myself anyway.
I have to be honest, though – the whole experience has shaken me up a bit. It has reminded me that she is growing up. It has upset me that I can’t shield her from difficulties. It has made me question my parenting (again!).
I generally like to finish my posts on a positive conclusion, something along the lines of, “I have done my best with the circumstances I was dealt”, but today I just can’t do it because, when all’s said and done, I am sad that society’s pressures are already infiltrating my beautiful daughter.
You are not fat, Jenny. And even if you were, I would love you just the same. Xxx
Thankfully, it seems to have been a phase. Jenny has not mentioned anything about being fat for about 2 weeks now, but it has really shaken me up. I am more determined than ever to promote good self esteem and body image in her. I just hope it’s enough when the real test begins…