It's Hard to Teach My Daughter That 'Skinny' Is Not the Same as 'Beautiful'

Rant 10

"High five for mommy! 104! I haven't weighed that since I saw Pearl Jam," exclaimed the svelte adorable mom to her toddler who cheered along from her perch in the supermarket cart. I stood behind her waiting to weigh myself and watched her triumphant moment, which may have caused me to throw up in my mouth. Did I really witness that? Are we not more evolved?

I found the scene so upsetting on so many levels. Was it the fact that this fit little chick weighed 104, a number I haven't seen since since I saw The Bangles? Or the awareness that this little girl was receiving a message that could change or define how she sees herself in years to come?

Of course, this immediately led me to that introspective place all moms go:

Have I said things to my own daughter that would lead her to believe she needs to be skinny to be happy? I mean, if I'm being honest, I'm quite sure I've asked my hubby a thousand times if things make me look fat, and I mean anything, from, "Does this new dress make me look fat?" to "How about this new toothbrush?"

As a gen Xer, I recall the age of fad diets and fad workouts. I remember my own mom, who was always a bit overweight, trying so many different things -- to no avail. I can picture Jane Fonda and how she rocked her sweatband, Richard Simmons sweatin' to the oldies, and Susan Powter telling everyone to "stop the insanity" while touting the benefits of eating like a gazillion baked potatoes a day.

I was in college when Kate Moss brought us the "waif look," and I embraced the way my double As added to the whole "heroin chic" thing I had going on. Look, if that's what it took to see Marky Mark without his Calvins, I was in. Yes, I got the messages the magazines, the stars, and the gurus were selling -- loud and clear. I needed to be thin ... nay, to be skinny. If someone were to say I looked like I should put on a few (out of concern), I'd have done a cartwheel on the spot (heck, I might still do it). Look, I said I would be honest with you, and I am!

That said, I feel that I've gone to great lengths to focus on health when it comes to body image as far as my kids are concerned. We are huge fans of The Biggest Loser and I'm always so careful to describe the contestants as beautiful from the start of the process to the end. My daughter seems to be on board, telling me how attractive she thinks so and so is (while so and so still weighs 300 pounds). I talk about how being that overweight can be so detrimental to your health, hoping that she will want to be in shape for the right reasons. And I never use the term "skinny."

Which is why I was so surprised the other day when my 8-year-old daughter asked for fried dough at a carnival. It wasn't that she asked for something void of anything healthy, she does that all the time, it was how she responded when I said, "No, I think you've had enough junk for one day." 

"Mom, I'm skinny, I can eat junk sometimes without you worrying about it so much." I couldn't figure out where this reasoning came from. Had I ever given the impression that my attempts at keeping us healthy was about maintaining a certain weight? Had I somewhere along the line done the triumphant mommy dance over a pound or two (without even getting to see Pearl Jam, no less)?

Maybe I had, maybe she'd heard this at school, on TV, in a movie, from a friend, during a clothing campaign. That talk will be out there, tween stores will have little models wearing padded bras in their catalogs, the messages our kids receive won't always be in line with our own.

As unexpected as her statement was, it was the perfect opportunity to reiterate my message: that skinny doesn't necessarily = healthy or beautiful (no matter what my own screwed up inner psyche has to say about it). So I did, and I'll continue to do so because I have to make sure the positive messages drown out the negative ones. I owe that to her.

Did you ever chat with your daughter about weight?


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tuffy... tuffymama

No daughters but I had to have a serious talk with my little sister about anorexia. We've both suffered with it now, and I was also bulimic. My mother gave me big, fat, destructive messages abor weight, health, and personal value all my life. I had to cut her off for a number of reasons, and all of them equate to her being toxic to all life on earth. I had to see her recently when some family business required it, and the first thing she commented on was my weight. Loudly. In front of strangers. GRRRR.

I understand your concern for that little girl in the store, Jenny. What I heard growing up was definitely destructive to my sense of self and my health, and I think there is a fine line in some families between loving guidance and good example, and hurtful, faulty information recorded on growing souls.

Mrscj... Mrscjones

I'm black so we tend to appreciate the thick thighs and fat butts. But even if we didnt you have to be secure in yourself. You have to understand that you will never be able to please everyone. At my smallest size 9 some people still called me fat but I knew most people who talk about you are just unhappy with themselves.

amazz... amazzonia

Skinny is underweight, you should teach her to be a normal weight which isn't overweight either. Many times when we discuss of weight we see anorexic and healthy, and many times that healthy is considered overweight, and normal weight is considered thin. We are a fat country, I'm fat, but we have to remember that normal weight is not skinny 

amazz... amazzonia

Then if that woman is 5' tall 104 is normal weight 

Todd Vrancic

Wouldn't it be more important to teach her that skinny doesn't necessarily mean healthy?

Angie... AngieHayes

Its not about being skinny and attractive, its about being skinny and healthy. Lets face it, when your body is at a good weight, you are comfortable, have energy and are happy. Just be HEALTHY!!

Tracey Hobt

I agree with Angie that most of the time skinny and healthy is just that..healthier. While the country is in a huge race to be politically correct about obesity and overweight- the fact is overweight is NOT healthy. There are greater risks in diabetes, hypertension, heart disease... the list goes on. We try to discuss eating healthy, working out or being active, and being a healthy weight for our height/BMI. Underweight isn't healthy either but I think for the most part most people use the term skinny to equal what SHOULD be a normal body size for that height and bone structure.

irish... irishmama1007

I have sons but we talk about what is healthy for our bodies and what isn't.

butte... butterflyfreak

I do talk to my daughter about weight vs. health. My husband and I are both overwieght and we have been trying to eat healthier. My daughter is only 5 but I feel that it's important to talk to her. I have told her why we no longer buy certain (processed, "convenient") foods, that they aren't good for you and that the people who make those foods, don't care about the people (us) or our health. I've explained to her that it's not good to be overweight because it can cause all kinds of health problems and makes it harder to get up and around to get exercise. I NEVER say anything associating fat with ugly or skinny with beauty. When I talk to her, I tell her that Mom and Dad want to lose weight to be healthier, not that we want to lose weight to look better. That's really the key, I think. Make sure your child understands that being skinny doesn't make you beautiful any more than being fat makes you ugly.It's about being healthy, and really, healthy comes in all sizes depending on an individual's body type. Because, let's face it, there are some supremely unhealthy skinny people, and not just those who suffer from eating disorders, just as there ARE some healthy people who are overweight.

nonmember avatar cas

No daughters but I have suffered from an eating disorder on and off for many years and I now see some signs of weight obsession in my son. I worry about him and I am trying to talk to him, but I do not show a very good example so I don't know if he hears me. I wish everyone would stop judging each other and mind their own business. Personal weight is PERSONAL.

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