Mom, is everyone fat? Or just you and me?

Last week brought unseasonably warm temperatures to New York City and everyone broke out the sundresses. Even after such an incredible non-winter as this one, I was psyched to put on some shorts and celebrate the warmer days ahead.

On our way to school, Maggie stood next to me in her own spring attire, looking at the two of us in the full-length mirror as we waited for the elevator to arrive. She decided to make a little conversation.

MAGGIE: Mom. Are everyone’s legs fat? Or just yours and mine?

ME: (feeling suddenly and incredibly horrible about myself) Maggie! Our legs aren’t fat!

Maggie hops up on the bench in front of the mirror and sits down.

MAGGIE: See Mom? When I sit down my legs get fat out to the sides. And yours do that too.

ME: Maggie, everyone’s legs do that. 

MAGGIE: They do? Oh good. I thought it was just my legs that were fat. And yours too Mom.

Maggie is four years old. And she already hates her thighs.

She didn’t get this from me. Well. She got the thighs from me. “Connor thighs” run in my family, and mine are larger than one would perhaps wish. But I’ve never brought the Connor thighs up with my daugher, because truth be told, I don’t really have them. And neither does she. (My brother has them. He has trouble buying pants. Of course, he’s a guy, so on him, they look muscular and virile and terrific.)

I don’t talk about my body negatively in front of my daughter. I don’t read her US Weekly at bedtime. I eat what I want and am lucky enough to also weigh what I want and I’ve always thought I projected a positive, or at least accepting, body image.

But my four-year-old daughter thinks her legs are fat. How did this happen? What got to her?

Is it the Victoria’s Secret ads we pass on the way to the subway? Is it some other preschooler counseling her on the importance of self-abnegation as we count down to bikini season?

I knew I’d have to protect my daughter from the toxicity of a society that tells her every day how imperfect she is. I just didn’t think it would start in preschool.

Has your daughter ever expressed negative feelings about her body? What did you do about it?

(painting: Girl at the Mirror, Norman Rockwell)

{ 11 comments… read them below or add one }

Paige April 6, 2012 at 11:58 am

Amy — recently I commented to Happy, almost nine, “You’re filling out, sweetheart,” and meant this as a compliment, since I can see hips and waistline developing on a child that was bone-thin with ribs protruding.  Since, she’s asked a few times, “Will this make me fat?  Will this fill me out more?” 

We don’t have a TV in the house, I don’t read US Weekly or People (except when I’m alone, with almost no one watching, while having a manicure), so she’s not getting the “skinny” syndrome from me, but it’s already in her mindset….

Love your writing,
Paige

Reply

amywlsn April 6, 2012 at 8:13 pm

Thanks Paige. Nine is also way too young to be worrying about such things. 

And by the way I am also an avid US Weekly reader while getting manicures only. Okay and on airplans.

Reply

Msenula April 6, 2012 at 3:53 pm

Amy, I love this post because our little peeps are so vulnerable! I have two daughters to worry about too! Society really puts a rift even when we are good role models. My 7 y/o with JD asked if diabetes makes you fat, she is 7 and only weighs 45 old. It’s hard to know what to say, beyond the obvious! Xo

Reply

Laura April 6, 2012 at 8:42 pm

I wish this didn’t seem inevitable.  But I should know better at my age, and I’m still influenced by these kinds of societal messages, so perhaps it’s not, sadly, surprising that even little girls absorb these messages.  Stuff like Toddlers and Tiaras and impossibly constructed Barbie dolls probably don’t help.

Happened to see this video the same day — while this isn’t the main point, it’s a poignant reminder of how easily kids internalize what they see and hear:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LagGSTiSnto

Reply

Dusty Earth Mother April 7, 2012 at 2:42 pm

We watch zero TV (except for Spongebob) and have no magazines in the house except the New Yorker and Sports Illustrated (NOT the swimsuit issue, which goes in the trash immediately upon delivery) and my daughter still talks about her body in this way. Perplexing! Do I take them out of the school and out of the world? No. There are always going to negative influences and you can’t leave the house without hearing about body image and childhood obesity and all of it, in huge waves. All I can do is continue to help her to see herself the way God sees her–perfect, the way she is. Thanks for writing this, Amy.

Reply

Courtney April 9, 2012 at 2:30 pm

You are doing all you can, and sound like you are doing a great job, in projecting a healthy body image. My mom is thin, but as us kids were growing up she never talked about being thin, she never said out loud that she thought she was too fat, so it didn’t really enter into my mind that there was something wrong with me or something right with me, ever, dependant on my body shape. She emphasized healthy eating and exercise and treats in moderation, which I now in turn focus on for my dauther and son. You can’t get away from the fact that they will be influenced by outside media and friends, but you can control the message you give out, which is the most important one.

Reply

Courtney April 9, 2012 at 2:31 pm

Oh, and I LOVE Us Weekly, People, anything trashy that takes me away from the daily stresses of my working and family life. But, I am 32, and I am allowed to do so if I so choose:)

Reply

Pink Dryer Lint April 10, 2012 at 12:53 am

Honestly, you seem to be doing a fine job navigating these tricky waters.  Just because your daughter commented once on “fat” legs doesn’t necessarily mean that she has body issues.  She’s making observations and this is the vocabulary she has to describe it.  And you’re right: everyone’s thighs spread out when we sit down.

I have three young daughters, and I’ve done what you’re doing: aiming to set the best possible example and never criticizing my own appearance.  If you permit me, let me share what I once blogged about it:

http://pinkdryerlint.blogspot.com/2011/06/why-i-never-criticize-my-appearace.html

Keep up the good fight!

Reply

amywlsn April 10, 2012 at 6:20 pm

Well, Pink Dryer Lint, I hope you are right. It still pains me that she looks at her body, compares it to mine, and finds them both lacking, compared to some other image that it somehow in her head.

But I’m with you: I don’t criticize my appearance in front of her, ever. If I might wonder IF my legs look fat, I’d never say it aloud. Of course now I don’t have to wonder.

Reply

Pink Dryer Lint April 10, 2012 at 10:03 pm

I think it’s safe to note that this is a conversation that we will need to continue with our kids for many years to come.  I’m with you, too: I wish that it didn’t have to start this young.

Reply

Leigh Ann April 11, 2012 at 1:38 am

I worry about this. Not only because I have some negative body issues, but because I have identical twins. One of them is a little larger than the other, and I fear that they will always be compared, and some day she will ask why she’s not as skinny as her sister is. Or worse — others will ask her. 

Reply

Leave a Comment