My child says she's fat. Now what?


I recently lost a decent amount of weight via the Amazing Diet Plan of going off Prednisone. A side effect of the medication is something charmingly referred to as "moon face," which means, yes, your face gets as round as the moon. For me, it also caused moon belly and moon body in general.

However, with that behind me, I was looking forward to basking in the compliments I was certain to be getting from my weight-attentive mother, visiting from Michigan when I gave her the big reveal.

"Hmmm," she responded, applying no filter to the rest of her sentence, a trait I have inherited. "Wouldn't it be great if you got toned?"

In that moment, I came to the kind of life-changing realization that's one of the perks of midlife - the voice in my head that told me my appearance was never quite up to snuff was actually ... my mother's.

Oh, she meant no harm. Honestly. She is the kindest, most generous mother, wife, friend and grandmother. However, she grew up in the 1950s, a time when women were supposed to be trim and attractive to nab a good husband. Even at age 71, she vigilantly watches her weight - and, sigh, mine.

Of course, she wasn't alone in her concern over my increasing general moon-ness. As girls leave the single digits (of age, not weight), society hands them a big ol' dose of self-doubt, like an unwanted parting gift. One minute you're running around outside like a true rebel, with an unwashed face and missing teeth; the next you're standing in front of the bathroom mirror, furtively eyeing your thighs, trying to determine their exact fatness/unacceptability. How do we break this cycle with our girls (and, increasingly, our boys)? How do we foster healthy body image?

Lead a healthy life yourself.

Stealthily promote healthy living with fun stuff like taking cool hikes, planting a garden or learning how to cook nutritious foods together. "Kids learn by what is modeled for them more so than what they are told," says Misa Butsuhara, a marriage and family therapist and director of the Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Institute of Southern California in Newport Beach. "If kids see their mothers as healthy, active, happy and not overly concerned by their appearance, they will learn to focus on having a healthy lifestyle more so than looking a certain way. It's challenging for a kid to feel good about themselves when they see their mother preoccupied by her own body image." In my case, it means that no matter how enjoyable I find it, I do not get to discuss moon belly in front of my girls (or at all, because, really, that's not good for anybody.)

Teach them that "images are not reality." Repeat 8 million times.

Use what your kids know about the wonders of Instagram filters to segue into discussions of what goes into creating media images. "Tell them that the celebrities being photographed for magazines, social media and TV/film have even more than just camera filters," says Butsuhara. "They have a team of professionals hired to do hair, makeup, wardrobe and even lighting. When TV and film stars are on camera, they get their makeup retouched before each scene is filmed. What they see is the final product of hours of preparation and work by many people involved; nothing natural by any means!" Even though we all "know" this, the human brain tends to accept whatever it sees as reality, so feel free to hammer the message in by watching YouTube videos on how drastically Photoshop can alter images or looking for Photoshop "fails."

Explore the deeper reasons why your kids say,"I'm fat!"

One day your kid is going to walk into the room and blurt out tragically, "I'm fat!" But instead of quickly reassuring him with "You're not fat," this is the time to go deeper, say Ty and Linda Hatfield, parent educators and founders of Huntington Beach-based Parenting from the Heart. "We want to hook into the feeling behind the statement," Linda Hatfield says.

First, you can ask why he thinks he's fat. Did someone tell him that? Did something happen that made him view his body differently? "Once you connect with that, then the child opens up more. You could say, 'I imagine it hurt your feelings when your friend said you're fat,' or 'I wonder if you're feeling embarrassed,' or 'I wonder if you're worried someone might not like you.' "

But ... don't expect to parent away human nature.

"Teens are preoccupied with themselves," Butsuhara says. "It's only natural that they will focus on their bodies and how they appear, so be realistic with your teen. Expect that they will be somewhat preoccupied with how they look and dress, etc. It would be unrealistic to expect your teen to never be concerned about body image, even when you have the good intention of teaching them that looks aren't as important."


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