Girls and Body Image

In light of two friends posting these links from
I thought this needed to be said.  It starts as young as 8!

“Mom, I’m fat.”

These words came from my daughter’s mouth as we tried on clothes one day not long ago.

She is not fat.  Not only is she NOT fat, at the age of 8-almost-9, she weighs only 42 lbs.  We are actually trying to find ways to fatten her up.  At this point, it’s a health issue.

She must have seen the shocked/appalled/panicked look on my face, because she instantly giggled and sheepishly said “no, not really.”

I asked her, “Meems, why on earth would you say such a thing?”

She shrugged.  Tried to backpedal. “I’m just kidding.”

But the air was thick with the meaning of those words as they hovered above us.  I looked at her little body, at the vertebrae I can see clearly and the rib cages that are so prominent.  I can see every bone in that child’s body.  EVERY SINGLE ONE.  It worries me to death, so you can’t imagine the horror I felt as her words began to settle to the ground.  I felt sick.

“Where did you hear something like that?  Has someone said something to you?”

“No,” she shrugged.  “I just hear girls saying it sometimes.”

“You don’t think you’re fat, do you?”

“No.”  Although it was more a question than an answer.

Historically, this impish little girl has said thing specifically for a reaction.  She has always enjoyed testing boundaries, so a part of me thought (hoped) that’s what she was doing now.  And maybe it was.  That is the point.

I turned her to face me.  She was embarrassed and confused. 

“You are not fat.  Those words are very painful and once you say them, you can’t take them back.  That's why it is very important that you never say those words again, to yourself or anyone else.  God made us all different, and we are all perfect, including you.  Beauty, TRUE beauty, comes from the inside…from kindness and generosity and integrity.  Girls will say those words to each other, about each other, and about themselves.  It’s very important to 1) not believe them, and 2) disagree with them and encourage them not to feel that way.  Finally, if you DO hear those words, directed toward you or anyone else, come talk to me.  Do you understand?”

A nod, then she turned to look in the mirror, and immediately freaked out because she was cold and standing there practically naked while I was talking and talking and talking and can’t we be done already?

That’s my girl.

Chances are, she will be the girl the other girls envy because she’s thin.  Which has its own set of problems that are bound to give me a headache if I let myself think about it too much.  But just because she may not ever BE overweight, doesn’t mean she won’t ever FEEL fat.  

Gosh I hate that word. 

This conversation only serves to remind me that little girls are far too susceptible to negative body image at an age far too young.  She doesn't look at fashion magazines yet, but that doesn't mean she's not exposed.  That glimmer of doubt and confusion I saw in her face is all I needed to see, and it breaks my heart and angers me to no end.  I hope she’s never heard those words out of my mouth.  I am determined now, more than ever, not to ever, ever LET her hear them.       

Which means I have some work of my own to do, now doesn’t it?


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