Telling Your Daughter She's 'Fat' Is Not Your Job

little girl measuring stomachOne of the toughest things about raising a child these days, particularly a daughter, is the question of how to make sure she develops -- and maintains -- a healthy body image. So what's a parent to do when a kid starts to put on maybe a little too much weight, especially given the physical dangers of childhood obesity? Is it our job to tell our kids they're getting ... gasp ... fat?


Health conscious types might be surprised to hear this, but experts say the answer to that question is "no." For example, Dr. Rick Kausman, author of "If Not Dieting, Then What?" was recently quoted as saying

"Talking to children about their weight is harmful. Nothing good can come of it ... The research is quite clear that focusing on weight does not result in weight loss. In fact, it will mostly likely result in weight gain. It's also the most common pathway to an eating disorder, particularly with kids."

Well, I can vouch for that one. I was 8 years old when my well-meaning mother told me I was getting a little "chubby" and maybe it would be "fun" if we went on a diet together. Yes, fun! If by "fun" she meant that I'd be saddled with an at times severe case of anorexia for the next couple of decades, then sure!

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Because of my history, I've been preoccupied with the question of how to spare my daughter from the same fate since the second I found out I was having a girl some 14 years ago. And while I didn't know what to do, I knew what not to do: talk about weight -- mine or my daughter's (my mother was perpetually calling herself fat, which was a highly inaccurate assessment). Sure, I've always tried to make a point of serving and eating mostly healthy foods, but junk has never been off-limits, and we've never labeled any foods as "bad" or "fattening." So far (and boy, am I ever knocking on wood right now), my daughter has never wanted (or needed) to go on a diet, and has never expressed the slightest concern about her size or shape. (Her hair, on the other hand, is a different story, but can't win 'em all.) Not that we're out of the woods yet, but ... so far, so good, I tell myself. So far, so good.

That's why it makes perfect sense to me when medical professionals like Kausman say that instead of shaming a kid about her body or even pointing out a child's weight gain, parents would do better to emphasize healthy eating and exercise, and to focus on making a kid feel safe and unconditionally loved. Because feeling good about yourself is an automatic safeguard against behaviors like overeating anyway! We're taught to believe, in this society, that being fat is the worst thing that could ever happen to a person -- when that's absurdly far from the truth.

Sacrificing your health, happiness, and even relationships for the sake of being skinny is much worse, and a life that I wouldn't wish on my worst enemy, let alone my child. I know that my mother thought she was doing me a favor by putting me on a diet, but all she did was make me feel unworthy of anyone's love, particularly hers.

It took me years to get over, if one ever really does get over something like that. Years of my life spent obsessing over a meaningless number on the scale, years I could have spent doing something productive with energy I didn't have because I was starving myself to the point of delirium, years I'll never get back. 

So if your child is putting on weight, what do you do? You love her, that's what you do.

How would you handle it if your child was overweight?


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