‘Am I fat?’ asked the 5 year old

“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 workefat cupcake girld? 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…

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Add yours
  1. 1
    Mindful Mummy Mission

    So pleased it seems to have passed. I would also have been shaken if this had happened in our family. You sound like you are doing everything right to help your children be physically well and mentally resilient and still we can’t protect them from everything especially now they’re at school. Thought-provoking post.

    • 2
      Lucy At Home

      Yes I think that’s one if the hardest bits of parenting – knowing you can’t protect them, knowing you won’t always be there. All we can do is prepare them as best we can and then send them out into the world. Thank you for your encouragement. L

  2. 3

    It’s a worry isn’t it – I have a two year old and even when I’m carrying her and joking about her being heavy I think I shouldn’t be doing that ! I’m glad it seems to have been a phase for your daughter #brillblogposts

  3. 5
    Alison (MadHouseMum)

    This post really resonates with me. I’ve got 5 girls and have worried about this issue many times. You aren’t wrong to worry. It sounds as if it was something someone said and it has passed. However, I find it keeps popping back up in various ways. Girls are obsessed with how they look and it really hits in about Year 6. There is no stopping this. I haven’t written any posts about it because all my daughters read my blogs and it is of course too personal to them. You sound as if you are literally doing everything right in your approach and I am sure your daughter will be fine. Mine are all fine, but the body image issue, certainly with girls, never goes away. Keep up your brilliant work. Just your checklist of how you approach things should be stuck on a post it note on all of our foreheads. Alison x #brilliantblogposts

    • 6
      Lucy At Home

      Thank you so, so much for your words of encouragement! It’s good to know that someone with experience thinks that I’m on the right track. I’m glad that your girls are all coping with the pressure too. It really is sad that this is such a big danger these days. I hope we’ve done enough for them…

  4. 7

    I now have a baby daughter after two boys and, as I was an overweight and unhappy teen, I am so conscious of what you are talking about. I remember feeling alienated and alone when I was “fat” as if being fat is the worst thing in the world. The thing is that our bodies are made up of some fats and what your beautiful little girl was pinching probably was fat, and that is ok. Because it is normal healthy fat. I think that everything you are doing is spot on but I also talk to my 6 and 4 year old boys about their little fat tummies and my fat tummy. I am fit and healthy but I am not picture perfect. I want them to know that that is ok too. If she says it again, just say “yes they are and they are beautiful”. Give them a little kiss and reassure her that she is just normal. Then if someone at school has said something to her she should be confident to say back that she is perfectly perfect. I wish I had been confident that I was normal when I first started gaining weight. Then it might not have spiralled out of control. Sorry this has been a bit of an epic comment but it is something I really worry about too.

    • 8
      Lucy At Home

      Oh yes I think that is an EXCELLENT point which I hadn’t thought of – saying ‘yes they are and they are beautiful’. I will definitely include that if it comes up again. Thank you for your advice!

  5. 11
    Jane Taylor

    Hi Lucy, I found you via Geraldine’s website.
    This has been a really tough one in my family and one of my greatest fears.
    I had an eating disorder at uni and I was determined not to have my kids go through what I went through. My daughters are very different, for one, food is fuel and for the eldest she doesn’t have a ‘full button’ (It really is all in the genes) and it has been such a challenge as a mum having to try and set boundaries without making it an issue. For us, exercise was the key. She loves swimming and swims 4-5 times a week for a club and so its not a big deal. As a family we follow many of the really great tips in your list although I made a note of some I could do better at.

    We too, try and avoid talking about fat and thin or food thats good or bad…We talk about balance and being healthy and let our girls know they are loved…

    Also, this is where being Christians has helped. Our girls know how much they are loved by us and by God and Psalm 139 ‘we are fearfully and wonderfully made and knitted together in our mother’s womb.’ etc is such a wonderful reminder…As is John 3:16 that we are loved, we are precious and valuable and we try and make sure our girls know that.

    It is a battle because for every positive message we give them, they cross the threshold and go to school or work or watch TV or read magazines that seem to give them the message that they can’t be satisfied and satisfied with the way they are…That we are all either too fat or too thin or too plain…All we can do is love them, tell them we love them, show them we love them and pray for them that they will always know that they are precious,,,No matter the size of their thighs.

    • 12
      Lucy At Home

      Yes I think you’re right that exercise is important. And, as you say, being Christians and knowing that God designed us and loves us just as we are is another added layer of encouragement and confidence.

      It is hard when they are bombarded with so many unhelpful messages from elsewhere. And even harder when we are battling our own insecurities as well.

      I wish you all the best as you fight this battle for your girls! Lucy x

  6. 14
    Lizzie firstooth

    Oh gosh I can really empathise with how you must feel. That’s one of the last things we want our innocent young children to say but try not to beat yourself up over it. Your concern sounds like it wouldn’t have come from you, but we all have a little slip of the tongue occasionally. Chances are she’s picked it up from school or from the tv, they only need to hear something once. Try not to worry, you know she’s beautiful so she must realise it too x

    • 15
      Lucy At Home

      I think you’re probably right and it will blow over soon, but I just panicked! I was taking completely off guard as I thought she was too young to worry about that sort of thing. Thank you for your encouragement though. L

  7. 16
    Jules Pondering Parenthood

    I’m pleased it seems to have been a blip. Unfortunately, it’s impossible to keep our children in a bubble so there will only be more and more outside influences as they get older. You can only continue to do the brilliant job you’re doing and hope that the right messages stick. #marvmondays

    • 17
      Lucy At Home

      I know you’re right about not being able to keep them in a bubble 🙁 It’s just sad. Like you said, we just have to hope that the right messages stick! Thank you for commenting. L

  8. 18

    I’m so glad it seems to have passed. Sometimes children just pick things up and don’t understand what they’re saying, hopefully that was it. #marvmondays

    • 21
      Lucy At Home

      Yes I think they probably are inevitable 🙁 But I wish that wasn’t the case. On the positive side, it’s made me more determined than ever to keep fighting society for her! Thank you for commenting. L

  9. 22

    Oh I’m dreading having to deal with this when my little ones get older. I think you deal with the issue very well and I for one will be taking tips from the way in which you approach food and body image. Xx #thelist

  10. 24

    Reading this made me feel so sad – that body image is even an issue at this age. My daughter is also 5 and I will be keeping an ear out to see if she says anything similar. Thank you for this. #sharingthebloglove

  11. 26
    Right Royal Mother

    Oh, I’m so glad it seems to have been a phase. This scares me… NG is three and I don’t think she actually really even knows what the word means still. And the ‘meaning’ is so murky, isn’t it? Well done for promoting a healthy lifestyle – it’s so important. #sharingthebloglove

  12. 28
    Tooting Mama

    A great post.

    Just keep ‘love bombing her’, tell her how amazing she is, boost her self esteem.

    We can’t bubble wrap our kids all we can do is try and teach them to deal with situations as they come along.

  13. 30
    Katy - Hot Pink Wellingtons

    Like you, I’m amazed that this has come up at 5! I’ve thought about this a lot, as I’m aware that I have struggled with my own body image over the years and I want my children to have a healthier attitude. I’d like to think I’d do all the same things you’ve listed here, but it’s clearly not enough – they’re always going to hear these things from somewhere. I’m so pleased to read your update that it was just a one off comment, but I can completely understand why this was so concerning. And like you, I don’t have any real answers on it. Thanks for joining us again at #SharingtheBlogLove

  14. 34
    Laura - dear bear and beany

    I am with you I would not expect this to come from a 5 year old. Having 2 girls I am so careful about what I say and how I bring them up around attitude to food. I think that it’s important that they know we are all different shapes and sizes and that is ok. Everyone is beautiful in this world and that it doesn’t define you. I’m pleased she hasn’t brought it up again and that shows that you handled it well. Thank you for joining us at #SharingtheBlogLove Laura x

    • 35
      Lucy At Home

      It’s really sad that girls are under so much pressure to look a certain way, and boys too. As parents, we just have to do our best to counteract the arguments from the ‘outside’. Thank you for leaving a comment. L

  15. 36
    Rebecca Taylor

    I think the hardest part about parenting is realising you don’t have total control, especially as they get older. You can do what you can but you can’t control their external influences and that’s heartbreaking at times like this. But you are doing an amazing job so keep the faith. She WILL be OK. I’m sure she will grow up to filter out the negative and maintain her self-esteem. X #SharingtheBlogLove

  16. 38
    Baby Isabella

    Unfortunately I think we’ve got this all to look forward too 🙁 name calling and bullying at school is rife. My Aunty was sectioned for a eating disorder so my folks are also very wary too. I don’t think you are over reacting, it’s hard to shield little ones all the time xx #Sharingthebloglove

    • 39
      Lucy At Home

      Eating disorders are awful and so all-consuming. I’m sorry to hear about your aunty, but I’m glad that your family are taking it seriously and all on board with helping you raise your little ones to have a positive relationship with food. L

  17. 40
    My Petit Canard

    How awful! I really cant imagine anything worse and like you have made very similar efforts to instill a positive body image in my children. I’ve consciously done lots of similar things thinking that it would be something to talk about and deal with when they are much older, but your post goes to show that even at such a tender age, little ones are subject to and conscious of societies body ideals. A scary thought. Pleased to read that this was a one off comment and hasnt come up again, although im sure it still plays on your mind from time to time, as it would do mine! Thanks for sharing this on #MarvMondays. Emily

  18. 42

    Oh no it’s awful isn’t it? Do you know what though, I think I was about that age when I realised I was chubbier than other kids. I was in a gymnastics class and everyone was so slim and I just felt fat and ugly. I’m pleased to say I don’t really have any body hang ups as an adult, but I’ve always felt more self conscious of my legs. I honestly don’t think it comes from anything other than comparison. I remember also my niece, 3 at the time, getting really upset because she had straight hair and she wanted curly hair like her friend Erika. Seriously, comparisons exist and I don’t know why. I’m dreading the day my daughter comes home and says this to me too. I also hope it’s just a phase for your daughter and I’m pleased she’s said it so you can actually be conscious of it and hopefully remind her of all the positive things to focus on. And to never compare herself to others. #sharingthebloglove

    • 43
      Lucy At Home

      Yes I think you’re right – at this age, children are learning about themselves and learning that other children are different. Making comparisons is just a part of that. It’s hard not to just totally freak out though! Ha!

  19. 46
    jeremy - thirstydaddy

    our teenager has self esteem issues and its led to us being very careful about the things we say around the six year old. She could stand to lose a few pounds but we’d never say that to her. Right now she thinks her muffin top is funny. browsing over from #stayclassy

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