When Baby Fat Bumps Into Self‑Esteem
When my daughter was just entering first standard, she asked me: “Mama, am I fat?”
I whipped my head around to catch her staring at her reflection in our mirror. I never would have imagined that my six-year-old would ask that question.
We live in a society that is extremely preoccupied with appearances. Almost every women’s magazine contains pictures of models and suggestions for the latest way to lose weight. During every commercial break, you will be treated at least once to an ad for the latest gym, or revolutionary diet pill or food. With our children silently soaking in all of this, it’s no wonder that they begin to question themselves at younger and younger ages.
If we can’t control the messages from media, we can at least make sure we are part of a solution at home. We must do our best to protect our girls from learning to judge and hate their bodies, to keep out of reach a lifetime of issues, ranging from poor self-esteem or depression, to anorexia or bulimia. I began to speak to my daughter about how size doesn’t matter, only health does.
“You had two teachers in baby school, remember?” I said, by way of example. “One was very small, and the other was a bit bigger. But both of them could run after all of you for hours, so both were very healthy.”
I have reiterated this message countless times and will continue to do so. I also make sure she eats healthy food for kids at home and has an active lifestyle, filled with lots of fun exercise that allow her to rejoice in all her body can do.
I also changed my language around my daughter. I banned the word “fat” from my own vocabulary, and if someone mentioned losing weight, I quickly changed the topic. But of course, you can’t control everything and our children don’t live in protective bubbles. In spite of my best efforts, a friend mentioned in front of my daughter that she wanted to go on a diet to lose some weight. My cringe turned into a grin when my daughter nonchalantly replied, “Why Auntie? Size doesn’t matter, only that you are healthy. Maybe just exercise and eat lots of healthy food if you don’t feel healthy.”
As my daughter grows, I want her to know that her size will change. She will sometimes be bigger and sometimes smaller. And I want her to know that it is not her dress size that will define her worth. Far, far more important to her self-esteem is what she is capable of doing with the body inside that dress (regardless of its size) and with the brain in her head.