My Daughter Says, “I’m Fat”

Madina
Young girls seem to struggle to fit into societal expectations of body size and shape. [Madina (Photo credit: peretzp)]
I am a runner. It defines me. Whether I’m kicking my training plan’s butt or in a running rut, I’m still a runner. So when it comes to my body, I am more into what it does than how it looks.

Even so, from time to time when I step on the scale I still critically examine my muffin top in the mirror, and go to drastic measures (like skipping dessert) once in a while if I feel like my physical form is “slipping.” I struggled with body image as a youngster because I was somewhat stocky, but I started cross country in high school and through running discovered my body could take on a shape other than round. Except for a brief period of time while I was in an unhealthy relationship and had to hear about how fat I was (it’s amazing what we let others convince us of when we are young and naive!), I’ve never thought I had a real problem with body image.

But then I heard my 13 year old daughter call herself fat.

There used to be a running joke between my husband and I, during which he would say –insert anything here, such as “do you want me to fix some queso?” or “did you have a chance to pick up milk on your way home?”– and I would reply, “Are you calling me fat?” It was funny, until it wasn’t.  It wasn’t funny when I realized that my daughter was picking up on it.

I’ve spent the last two years specifically not commenting on my body unless it’s positive, and not using words like fat or skinny. We give our almost 15-year old son a hard time for being too skinny.  He forgets to eat, I work outside of the house during the day and he skips breakfast and lunch sometimes if I’m not there to remind him, So I push protein on him and encourage him to do a bit of strength training. Our daughter, who will be 13 in August, is the athlete of the family. She plays soccer like nobody’s business, trains for several hours a week, and is stronger than her brother and probably stronger than me.

Sometimes she says, “I’m fat.” Okay, I get it – she is a young teenager, just going through puberty, and she spent years hearing me joke around and say it. She claims to be just joking when she says it, and I wonder if she says it because she is thicker than her brother. I usually roll my eyes and say, “yea right” or the equivalent, tell her she is stronger and faster than most adults I know, remind her that she wears skinny jeans, etc. I don’t say she is skinny, because she is not, she is built and has some meat on her bones (all muscle), and the word skinny to me has a negative connotation. I often tell her she’s perfect, but I don’t know if that’s a healthy response either.

Occasionally we get serious and I ask her, “you don’t really believe you are fat, do you?” She says no, but doesn’t sound convinced most of the time, and sometimes just shrugs. As a community of women, I guessed most of us have struggled at one point or other with the way we see ourselves, and that seems to be backed up by Ginkgo’s recent post about orthorexia. At present, I don’t think my girl is quite at risk of developing an eating disorder (if you don’t believe me, I’ll show you the grocery bill), but I know that things like that can sneak up. And as a parent, I worry.

Most of all, I just want her to have confidence and even pride in what a strong and healthy athlete she is.

Salties, what has been effective at helping you through your body-issue struggles? How have you been able to help others deal with these thoughts and feelings? And for you moms out there, what would you do?

A 30-something runner striving to hit that ever-elusive BQ. Mother of two young teens, fan of fantasy/fiction/sci-fi (<-read: geek), with a fascination for tortoises and a love of the outdoors.

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2 comments

  1. What would I do?

    Cry. I’m not so good at this stuff either.

    How about showing her different athlete’s bodies: real athletes, not women who sculpt at the gym. Like the Venus sisters: they are big ladies but super strong. Or runners, or swimmers: divers. They can be big girls.

    Personally what has helped me through my body image problems: I threw out the scale. I am at the point in my life where I can’t eat like crap and feel good anymore. I am trying to be fit and not worry about the mirror, you know?

    It’s really tough but running really helps with that.

    Running X km in a week doesn’t care how fat you are. Running a certain distance *without walking* (let’s hear it for the new girls out there!) doesn’t care how fat you are. Getting outside and *walking* doesn’t care how fat you are. Running a marathon doesn’t care how fat you are. Outpacing the fit looking guys doesn’t care how fat you are. There are all sorts of different goals and none of them care if you feel fat. All of these things depend on how much self care and focus you have.

    ROWR!!!

  2. I’ve hear both of my boys say it too (ages 11 and 13). Even though it is far from true, they worry about it. I’ve seen them pinch their belly roll when sitting and declare it is fat. I just talk to them very directly about it. No, they are not fat. And BTW, if you didn’t have that little extra skin to pinch, you wouldn’t be able to stand up. 🙂

    But I also remind them that more important than fat or thin is being healthy. We all have different body types and sizes. They eat well, they are strong and they are healthy. That is what they should focus on. It is hard with the media and society’s expectations, but it is our job as parents to help them navigate it. I also try very hard to never talk negatively about my body or other peoples’ bodies – not just in front of my kids – I don’t do it at all. If we are going to make a change in society, we have to start with ourselves.