Thursday, June 10, 2010

Does This Make Me Look Fat?

The other night, I pulled Teagan's nightgown over her head and she said to me... "Mommy, does this make me look fat?" I was stunned. I didn't know what to say. My mind was racing while I tried to remain very calm. Men fear that question from their wife or girlfriend. But for a parent to hear it from a child? For a mom to hear it from her daughter? Terrifying. Here's what I did not want to do... I didn't want to focus on her appearance. I didn't want to be negative about people who are fat. Here's what I was desperately trying to figure out in my head... Where did she ever hear that phrase? I guarantee you it wasn't at home. Jeff can confirm- it's a question I've never asked. I know that I don't stand in front of the mirror and judge my appearance. At most, I check myself just to make sure I don't have anything sticking out or stained or just to make sure the pieces really go together. I'm truly not someone who focuses on appearance- even as I journey to be healthier. Most days, I leave the house without ever passing by the mirror! Here's what I ended up doing... I asked a couple of questions back and then let the subject change. "What do you mean by that, sweetie?" "You know... fat. Do I look fat?" "What do you think it means to be fat? Do you know anyone who is fat?" "Well, big, you know. Fat." And then the subject changed in a natural flow kind of way. But I'm not prepared for the next time this happens. I need to formulate a plan. I need to know the best way to respond. A simple, "No." doesn't seem to be enough. But I also don't want to make an issue out of something that isn't an issue. Do I go into a mini schpiel about how all bodies are different and look different and that God made each of us the way we are? And that we all have choices to make about how we take care of our bodies? And that how a person looks on the outside doesn't represent who they are on the inside? Do I emphasize that she is actually thin and not fat? Do I point out all the ways that she is beautiful? Do I assume her question is one of fear or concern? I can't protect her from hearing this wherever she picked this up.... school? church? I don't know. But I definitely need a game plan for the next time it happens. Photobucket

13 comments:

Lola said...

My oldest is nearly 4 and in preschool. She keeps bringing home phrases I wasn't ready for (like the word "hate") and just recently had a brush with an older girl (who was 8) in our neighborhood. Not like a confrontation- but the girl asked how old Ash was and she said 3.5 and the girl said "You are small!" and Ashley said "No I'm big!" (because she so desperately wants to be a "big girl"). It isn't the same- but I think it takes a similar walking-on-eggshells approach.

I was a bit obsessive about weighing myself after my 2nd was born- trying very hard to get to my pre-baby weight. When my oldest started wanting to get on the scale every time SHE went in the bathroom- I knew *I* had a problem. I put the scale away- I will NOT do that to her. Instead, I focus on cultivating my, and her, healthy habits. Eating different foods- trying everything but not forcing her to clean her plate. Active play where she's moving and dancing and running and jumping. And making sure she KNOWS that I'm running or working out. It just so happens that when I pick her up everyday, I've usually just run, so I'm still pretty sweaty. (embarassing, but hey- gotta fit it in when I can)She asks me almost every time "Mommy, did you win the race?" - and I tell her that I'm just running for exercise...and I know this will make a future impact on how she sees fitness as part of her life.

Sorry- all that to get to this, I think your response should focus on health. If she asks if she's fat- say "no honey, you're perfectly healthy- you eat right, you exercise and do all the things you're supposed to" Eventually, if she really has doubt about that- she'll expand on her reasons why she needs to know. But girls will be girls- and school can be cruel- you can bet there is a leader of the pack calling someone "fat" and its probably come from that.

kbiermom said...

I think that kids sometimes ask things that are simple in their minds, but they don't realize are very complex -- sometimes scary -- questions in ours.

I think a response like, "No. Why?" would do it. That way, she gets a simple, straightforward answer to a question that is -- to her -- simple and straightforward. She won't feel as if you're hiding bad news behind a big discussion. And her answer to the "why?" is your window into what's really on her mind.

C. Beth said...

Ugh, not looking forward to those questions!!

This sentence stuck out to me: "Do I assume her question is one of fear or concern?"

I think finding out WHY she's asking that might help you to know how to respond.

Good luck! This is one of those tough parenting things!

michelle said...

Tough one. Especially with daughters. I comment on and judge my own body in front of my kids but always with humor. And acceptance. There's no getting around it... it's the culture in which we live. So I acknowledge my numerous spider veins and my multi-dimpled thighs. I also acknowledge my saggy boobies that were woman enough to feed them for a really long time. And my strong toned arms and back. And they know I am healthy and look good for my age.

My skinny minnie daughter says she looks fat unless her clothes are hugging her skinny minnie body. My oldest wears a swim shirt cause his rib bones poke out and he's smaller than all his friends. My middle one wears a swim shirt cause he has a speck of a pot belly still.

I let them do what they need to do and I always remind them they are gorgeous

Garret of Jim and Garret said...

I'd make sure to let her know that "fat" when used to refer to weight isn't a friendly word to begin with.

I suppose fat, ugly, skinny and several other adjectives are bad too.

Katherine said...

My boys right now are in a phase where they think being "fat" is hilarious. They pooch out their stomachs at dinner and shout about how "fat" they are. It's all a joke. But what to do when they have those concerns for real? I'm not sure. I would ask her why she asked that? Reassurance that she is healthy and beautiful and emphasis on being healthy, regardless of how you look would be my approach. Please give us a follow up on how all this goes.

Flartus said...

My first reaction, as some other commenters, was to ask "Why?" As in, "Why do you ask?" or "Why do you want to know?" Or even: "Why does it matter?" As a teacher, my instinct is to use open-ended questions* to get past the window-dressing to the real question--which in this case, is probably much more innocent than you're thinking.

*My absolute favorite question, when students are complaining about the general unfairness of their lives, is "What do you want me to do?" Very few will come out and state what they really want: for me to just change their grade! I bet this would be a useful question with kids, too.

Kori said...

I am only surprised that it has taken this long for her to ask that question; more and younger kids, boys included, are becoming focused on body image, and hey, they are bombarded with it EVERYWHERE. Girls are supposed to be skinny and sexy (hello? things for 6 year old girls?), boys are supposed to be muscly and tough-and I think it is horrible, and that you should focus on the "you are exactly right" angle.

Katina said...

Wow! I am struggling with the same thing at my house. The issue is that I do think my daughter is over weight and I struggle not to be the food police and make a big deal about her weight!

Lori said...

I have had these conversations with my now adult children and my 11 year old granddaughter. It is hard hearing these things and I understand your concern. But living in this world there is no way around it. I think the best thing is that you listen and talk to your children. You are creating an environment that is safe for your children to come to you.

I honestly think that the best thing us parents can do is being present for our children...listening and being honest with our children, teaching them and helping them to discover themselves. As much as we want to protect our children from these things, we can't but we can prepare them and equip them to handle all that comes at them, whether it be a wrong message about their bodies or being influenced by the latest fad.

You are a great mom Liz...after not being able to stop by and visit for months, this post reminds me of what a beautiful thoughtful woman that you are. XX

Jason, as himself said...

Yikes! Being a parent is so indescribably hard sometimes.

Teacher Tom said...

When I realized that I was going to be a SAHD I started reading. I can't recall where I came across this, but one author suggested that boys in our culture tend to judge their bodies by what they can DO, while girls tend to judge their bodies by how they LOOK. I took that to mean that when my daughter asked me questions like Teagan's, I would usually answer with questions like, "Can you run fast?" "Can you jump high?" "Can you climb the monkey bars?" When she answered, "Yes," to each question I could conclude -- with facts at my disposal -- that her body was just right.

Eternal Lizdom said...

Oh, I really, really like that Tom. And it so perfectly matches my own definition of my personal fitness. I'm not about the pounds or the size or the inches. I want to run a 5K, I want to run 5 miles, I want to run fast, jump high, and climb monkey bars!