Google+ Authentic Parenting: Your Belly is Really Fat - Body Shaming and the Child

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Your Belly is Really Fat - Body Shaming and the Child

"Your belly is really fat. Maybe you should exercise a little more. Or eat less."

Shocking isn't it. This surely isn't something that's someone said out loud, to another person?
But it is. It is what was said to my daughter, who is a perfectly healthy toddler, following her growth scales and who's just gorgeous. She was but 2,5 at the time. And those hurtful words were spoken to her by someone she loves, her grandmother.

Image: Oana Hogrefe Photography
"Don't run around naked like that. That's ugly."
"Pretty girls wear dresses."
"You should do something to your hair, it's a mess."

I am not just making it up as I go along. These are actual sentences that have been uttered to my sweet daughter.
When it comes to children, it seems like all boundaries are overboard. People permit themselves to say the harshest things, in order to "mold" the children to the image they have of how a child should be and behave. Irrespective of what that child might want. Irrespective of how much it might hurt or shame them, and even irrespective of what the parents might think of it (because if a child is running around naked, clearly the parents are ok with that).

When it comes to children, there is no respect, there is no courtesy, and there is no holding back. All limits are off.
Do people think children have no feelings? That they are not hurt by such disrespect and shaming. Do they really think it might actually be beneficial?

And girls get it worse then boys, when it comes to appearance (let's not talk about character here). If they run around with uncombed hair and stains on their clothes, hey: boys will be boys.
But girls? They need to be molded from the very start to know they have to diet, watch their posture, look good... Women have been fighting to dissipate stereotypes for centuries, but it is mostly women who maintain these ideas in each other. The importance of the female appearance is so important in our culture, that no one even notices this perversion any more.

If we would come from a place of acceptance and respect, no child would have to be shamed, or made to  feel less than.



  1. So far I've not encountered body image remarks toward either of our toddler twins. They do, however, get compared constantly by other people (including extended family), which can only set them up for failure in the long run. I quit looking at such projections as "people mean well" a long time ago. If they truly did, they'd educate themselves.

    Thanks for this insight.

  2. Definitely way too much emphasis is put on appearance. One girl I know struggled into adulthood because of the insensitive remarks made by her grandmother. "X is pretty, but her sister Y is _beautiful_." It really strained the sisters' relationship for years.

    Thank you for posting this. I sincerely hope (maybe naively) that my DD never has to face these kinds of comments...

  3. Oh, don't get me started. I've written plenty on the things we say to our children. It REALLY upsets me that there are two rules for people and children. Yip. People and children. As if children aren't people. Great reminder and your daughter is lucky to have such a conscious mommy.

  4. Someone made a comment last year about the way my 1.5 year old daughter was sitting in her dress. Legs spread and exposing her diaper. They said something to the effect that she shouldn't be sitting like that. I thought "what an idiot, babies don't know and don't need to know that it's proper behavior to cross your legs while wearing a dress". Some people need to chill out! Let kids be kids. They have the rest of their lives to worry about what other people think about them. When they are with family they should feel safe to be who they are, and loved unconditionally.

  5. OMG - I would flip if someone said something like that to my child. My mama bear would be unleashed! You're dead on in your assessment of our culture. My husband doesn't understand why I have body image issues and worry constantly about how I look. What I try to explain to him repeatedly is that it has been ingrained in me ever since I remember to feel like I have to look a certain way in order to be accepted, all merely because I'm a woman. I hope to try to counteract that should we have any daughters.

  6. My mom and grandma STILL talk to me this way (I think because I am their child/grandchild they feel it's OK). The refrains I've been hearing since childhood... lose weight, do something about your skin, your hair, etc., etc.

    All I ever want my daughter to know from me is how beautiful she is. Also, my relatives and/or in-laws are going to be in for more than they bargained for if they ever start spewing this crap to her!!

    OK, calming down now. :) Thank you for the gorgeous post - I hope it gets shared far and wide!

  7. This post really saddened me because it resonated so strongly. My mother has often said things like this to me, both as a child and now as an adult. She also says things to my three year old son that I am sure he will remember as I did. She is a good woman but so screwed up by her own upbringing and sadly she doesn't have the awareness to change. if I object to any of it, we end up arguing and she goes into martyr mode. Your daughter is lucky to have you!

  8. I agree that saying this kind of thing to children is wrong, but just want to point out, as a Fat Person, that I have had plenty of comments about my size from other people in the past. It's not just kids who get this.
    When you are fat, suddenly it seems you are fair game!

  9. It made me sad to read this. Your poor daughter. I'm glad for her sake that she has a strong mother who understands how harmful it can be. no child should have to hear those types of words.
    What is so glorious about children at this age (boys and girls) is that they are natural and have no body shame, unless it is imposed upon them.
    You may want to talk to her grandmother, who probably doesn't even realize what she is doing. Those types of statements get more hurtful as children get older and more aware.

  10. I think this is an important topic to discuss. These types of comments belittle and bring down children. Just because they are a child, and just because the speaker loves them, does not mean this is OK. In fact, loved ones should be even more careful when talking to children. Loved ones have a greater responsibility for what they bring to the kids, because the kids trust them more.

    I think these comments are said unconsciously- without even thought- to kids. I know I hear them said (by loved ones) to my own daughter. My question is, how do we, as aware parents, stop or counter these kinds of comments?

    What I try to do (outside of loving her up and never speaking like that myself) is respond with comments directed at my daughter, such as "she's perfect" or "that's not true." It's less confrontational but still gets the message across that I disagree with the speaker.

    Is that enough? I'm definitely going to add this to my sunday surf as further food for thought. Thanks!

  11. It makes me sad to hear people say things like this to kids. I find it's the people who are the most insecure about their own bodies who feel free to say things about children's (or anyone else's) bodies. If we could all accept ourselves first, maybe we could accept each other a little better. It's such a bad cycle we are in. :(

  12. I can relate to this post. My 6 year old has heard some very hurtful, shaming things from her grandmother on her father's side. She still has a lot of hurt and sadness because of some of the cutting things that his mother has said to her. I wish I could keep her safe from meanness like that.

  13. I have to say that if my children's grandparents said anything of the sort to them that they would not be enjoying my children's company anymore, if at all possible. Not acceptable.

  14. my son is 2 and gets picked on my his grandfather for having chicken legs and running like a girl... :(

  15. Great post. Yes, when it comes to children, there is not limit. I remember when perfect strangers would come and touch my son's face when he was a small baby, without asking my permission.
    And boys do get their lot of comments about what they shoul be, too : my son's hair is too long. A boy at school told him he looks 'like a girl', my ILs tried to make him ask me to cut his hair by saying it was long and took time to untangle it (and he's got a sensitive head). And he shouldn't cry (and he's got a sensitive heart, too).

    I loved how you said that the parents are ok with the way the child is... So true ! Yet people comment, make demands to the child...

    It is so difficult when the grand parents are making remarks like that, because the child is entitled to grow up knowing his/her grand parents...

    Your daughter is perfect. Don't change a thing.


  16. It is so sad people, especially loved ones, feel entitled to speak this way to children. I still remember my own mother saying these things to me and it still hurts. Not to mention all the "eating disorders" I've had throughout the years.
    I do believe comments on a appearance may be worse when it comes to girls (or maybe that's just my personal experience speaking) but we shouldn't forget boys get a dose of this as well. My 2yo son hears Things like "isn't that too girly? " regarding clothes, when he plays with jewelery, or princess costumes at playdates "that's gonna confuse him" or the fact he likes playing/looking at himself in the mirror makes him so vain (because all toddlers don't do that), etc. He also gets the shameful nakey comments. And let's not even get into "boys don't cry" like my mom has told him when he was crying for me. I tend to react like lovenotesmama, but sometimes I just right out lose it with the commentor.
    Unfortunately your daughter will probably hear many more things like this, but hopefully you've given her such safety that will help her see it for what it is: other people's issues.
    And btw, great new look :)

  17. This makes me so, so sad. If ANYone said anything similar to my child, I would come undone! There would definitely be correction and repair in front of my girl and then a separate conversation in private to lay it all out! She's only 7mo now, I'm really, really hoping this day doesn't come...

  18. I was lucky to have a mommy like you. She let me play in the dirt and I never regretted it!

    Unfortunately, when I was a teen a got hit pretty bad with the curse of the perfect mold. It's been a few years but with help from my diligent mommy I have been able to start to bounce back!

    If there is anything to learn from this story and mine, its LET YOUR CHILDREN BE THEMSELVES!

  19. I'm so glad I found this post! My daughter is one month old, and her aunt as already called her chunky - when she clearly isn't. I struggled with body image because of my mother, and I never want my child, and future children, to feel that way.

  20. Thanks for your comment Mar. I distinctly remember a woman saying my baby was chubby and 'look how fat her fingers are'. I am not sure if it was meant nicely, but it really stung. I have always had body image issues and had some eating disorder episodes as a teen, so how we talk to our children about their bodies, especially about our daughters is so very important to me.

  21. People also tells me that my toddler is chubby! And then they remark that it must surely be the breastfeeding! (two negative remarks)
    I don't think she is! She is a perfect weight and size for her age!
    What is the comeback remark here?

  22. It isn't just about bodies. I was in a group of moms one day and with the son right next to her a mom went on to say that he was not the brightest bulb in the room. These things do effect kids.

  23. Oh wow, that's so true! On holiday there was this woman and all she said to her five year old was things like: I'm not interested in what you have to say. I've heard that all before. When will you ever stop talking. Nobody cares...
    My three year old said one night during her holiday that she was happy with her mommy and didn't want the other bad mommies... SO yes, they hugely effect kids


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