What to do when your daughter asks if she looks fat

A couple of weeks ago while we were getting ready for school, my daughter asked:

“Mommy, do I look fat in this?” (She was wearing her ski snowsuit)

I paused for a moment because I have been preparing for this question, but not at 5 years old. I matter of factly replied,

“Well no, you look all nice and warm and cozy…(pause) Why would you ask that?”

She replied, “Well, so and so said I looked fat in this.”

“Oh, I see.” I stated. “That wasn’t very nice was it?”

We then had a conversation on the way to the car about how “fat” is not a nice word to use to describe someone and that it can really hurt someone’s feelings. She just took it in stride and just nodded and said, “okay mommy” and that was that. She was quiet all the way to school.

My daughter has no self-esteem issues, trust me. She gloats in front of the mirror whenever she wears a pretty dress and talks highly of herself that she looks cute in the mirror. This comment caught me by surprise because I am making big efforts raise her with confidence and I felt like I was failing.

I take it personally. Growing up a “chubby” child back in the day, being called fat at a time when being an overweight child was not acceptable, it hurt my feelings. I guess it took me back for a moment. I am very conscious about the words I choose to describe myself in our home. I will not in front of my daughter say, “I feel fat”, “I look fat” or “I am fat.” I have my days where I feel uncomfortable in my skin, but I want my daughter to feel positive about her body and how she feels, so I keep those comments to myself or my husband.

I have learned we can pass our weight issues down to our daughters and not realize that we are doing it. For me in my home, it is important to keep things positive. Such as, I exercise to keep my muscle strong so I can chase my kids or I eat healthy to keep from getting sick and it makes me feel good. I wash my face to keep my face clean and practice good hygiene. You get the picture.

It bothered me. It bothered me so much that I emailed the director of our school and copied my husband. Now before you over think my reaction, we have a fantastic relationship with the director at our private school. She is encouraging, insightful and her wisdom on how we sheppard our children far exceeds my expectations as I look up to her for guidance and feedback. Her input is invaluable for me and she is a mom of a teen-age girl.

So I explained what happened and asked if I was looking too much into this? Was I overthinking that perhaps “fat” meant “big” to them? Did the word “fat” mean “fat” as we would think or say it? She got back to me and said:

“At this age they DO get really sensitive about how they look (not because of the fat or thin issue-that may start more around 2-4th grade, unless they are really exposed to inappropriate discussions of beauty at home or in the public arena) just if they think other kids like what they are wearing-approval of friends and fitting in with a group is more what happens big time at this age. This is the age when they break into boy/girl groups (no girls allowed; only kids with pink sparkly shoes can be in our club; if you don’t do want I say I’m not inviting you to my birthday party….) BIG developmental stage of belonging to a group and becoming aware of being same/different from others. We have kids every day who don’t want to want a to wear a hat because someone laughed or someone said they were puffy in their snowpants. It is a common thing for kids to comment on how fat, big or puffy snowsuits make them look. It is not a beauty statement, just a concrete observation. We find that many kindergarten and 1st graders are very sensitive about it when someone comments on what they are wearing, or says their name in a silly way, yet they don’t realize it when they do the same to a peer. A casual comment or observation or a friend who is delighting in being silly can be so hurtful to another, especially when misunderstood.

Here is what we do at school…practice talking through the hurtful comment and other scenarios the way we want them to eventually ‘self-talk’ so it will become automatic as they grow.For example:

‘Mary, I hear how sad you are that the kids said you look fat in that snowsuit.Snowsuits do make us look big or puffy, don’t they?We need that extra padding to stay warm. We are being so smartto layer up! Do you like your snowsuit? Good, so do I! So if someone says something about it, just say…I like my snowsuit and walk away.

Mary, this is a time when we need to practice overlooking. If someone says something that you don’t agree with, you can disagree or not believe it. If you know it doesn’t matter, just overlook.’

I was relieved at what I read and loved the fact that our school chooses to walk through these scenarios and roll play how they talk to each other and the words they are using to describe certain things can be hurtful, but also misunderstood. (After reading it several times, some great lessons we can use as adults too.)

We often can jump to quick conclusions about how our young children are speaking, not realizing their world view is much different than ours, especially at such a young age. I feel relieved that this was just “silly” talk among two little girls who really did not understand completely their choice of words that was used to describe how my daughter looked in her snowsuit.

Next week, I am going to talk about the importance of how mothers AND fathers shape their daughter’s confidence, self-esteem and body image.

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