A little girl looking into a mirror and smiling

Family Health

‘Do You Think I Look Fat?’: 4 Tips On Talking To Your Kids About Body Image

Jan 22, 2018

If only this parenting job came with a manual — a comprehensive guide to the ever-changing challenges of raising healthy, young humans. Maybe then we’d all feel better equipped to handle the hard questions and uncharted territory with confidence. Thankfully, my work in health and fitness helped inform my response to this sensitive query by my eight-year-old daughter: “Do you think I look fat?”

I feel that having these conversations [about body image] with our children allows us to be more compassionate with ourselves.

We were curled up on the sofa watching a recording of her school concert when she posed the tough question. The video played and there she was, centre stage performing a hauntingly sweet solo in their grade three rendition of Neighborhood by Arcade Fire. As a mother, I wished I could simply hug and kiss her worries away. As a professional, I was prepared with talking points and recommended language to address her concern.

Body image — how we feel and what we believe about our bodies — is a tricky topic. I know smart, caring parents who question how to instill in their children body positive beliefs that they’ve not fully accepted themselves. How, then, does one effectively teach something they’re still figuring out? Expert resources and genuine compassion are a great place to start. Here’s how I applied the expert advice I’ve learned to our personal situation.

Open communication

We began with a conversation. I asked gentle questions to help understand what she was feeling and what sparked the concern. Did someone call her fat? Was this a perception she developed on her own? I listened attentively as she expressed her thoughts.

Use of language

We don’t talk about weight and don’t use the word “fat” in our home. But since it came up, I explained that fat — like muscle, bone and blood — is an important part of our bodies. Familiar social media posts came to mind as I explained that fat is something we have, not something we are. Furthermore, that we don’t describe anybody (including ourselves) as fat. It never makes anyone feel good, right? “Right," she nodded.

Focus on skills versus appearance

During our conversation, I described in detail what I loved about her performance and her singing in general: her confidence, poise, range and tone. We talked about her talent, and about the abilities of some of the world’s most renowned singers, being separate and non-dependent on the size or shape of their bodies.

Encouraging healthy habits

In my opinion, body image is a part of overall health along with physical, mental, emotional and spiritual well-being. When my daughter explained that she cared about looking and feeling good, I completely understood. We talked about how healthy food choices and being physically active would affect how she both looked and felt, keeping the discussion age-appropriate (e.g., no talk of diets or burning calories).

I feel that having these conversations with our children allows us to be more compassionate with ourselves. When we approach the topic in this way, we can’t help but absorb some of the message too.

I know smart, caring parents who question how to instill in their children body positive beliefs that they’ve not fully accepted themselves.

Having these talks is also an opportunity to access our own biases about weight. A recent article by Nutrition for Non-Nutritionists cites rampant stigmatization of people with obesity in media, and being called “fat” as the most common reason children are bullied. Like other experts in the field, they suggest being aware, speaking with compassion and showing respect when it comes to attitudes and conversations about weight.

While there’s no manual for developing or discussing body image, we can increasingly find body positive messages through online and offline platforms. Seeking peer and professional advice with the same effort that we once researched car seats and daycares can yield helpful results. And while hugs and kisses may not solve your problems, a measure of compassion certainly won’t hurt anyone.

Article Author Debbie King
Debbie King

Read more from Debbie here.

Debbie King (aka SUPAFITMAMA) is a Toronto-based masters athlete, influencer, freelance writer, wife and mother of one. At age 42, she is training toward her goal of becoming a 2020 World Masters Athletics track and field champion. In her work as a writer and influencer, Debbie creates powerful content and connections in female fitness, sport, wellness and culture. Body positivity, inclusion and representation are strong themes throughout. As a regular contributor for CBC Parents, she explores a range of healthy living topics for individuals and Canadian families. Follow her journey at supafitmama.com and on Instagram and Twitter.

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