How Do You Respond When Your Child Calls You Fat?

Sidenote: I ADORE THIS PICTURE.

None of us want our children to grow up up with body image issues. All of us want our children to believe that what’s inside is what really counts. These are easy concepts – in theory.

In practice – it’s a little harder. I do what I can not to talk about my insecurities around my children, but I’m certain they feel it. I try to compliment them on their strength or their intelligence, but I often also tell they they look pretty and handsome. I don’t ever talk about losing weight around them. I repeat 1,000 times a day that I’d rather them be kind than pretty. This is the easy part.

The hard part is what to say in those moments. Those moments we all have when our kids say something that hurts our feelings, something about our appearance. We all have the stories. Your child called you fat. Your child made fun of your wrinkles. Your child laughed at your zits. Something that – of course – was innocent in their young minds. But in our jaded and insecure minds? Something that hurt. Those moments probably teach the most important lessons…and I swear on all that is holy, I think I fail every time.

I had two just last week and I thought I’d share them with you. I’d love to hear, how would YOU react? How would you turn those moments into a valuable lesson that includes the idea that A) Appearances are not the most important part of someone BUT… B) Slights on appearance will definitely hurt someone’s feelings.

It’s a fine line. “It’s what’s inside that counts!/But don’t insult my outside because it upsets me!” OR “It’s more important to be healthy than skinny!/But don’t call me fat because it makes me sad!”

Incident 1 – I was holding Wes on my hip the other night in the lobby of a performance we were attending. He patted my stomach and said, “Why is your belly so fat?”

Incident 2 – Nikki was with me in the dressing room when I was trying on clothes. First she said, “When you take the shirts off, why does your fat belly wobble so much?” And then she got very grossed out when she noticed all of the stretched marks on my hips, “What are THOSE?” with the lovely disgusted expression on her face.

I think I handled both moments okay. Not great, because it’s hard. I usually like to eventually divert the attention and say something like, “Who cares about that flabby belly…DO YOU KNOW HOW MANY MILES I CAN RUN?” But, in the moment, sometimes it’s hard to do that successfully without making it really obvious your feelings are a tad hurt.

I’m just curious, how would you handle those moments? How would you turn them into lessons about both A) Positive body image and B) Consideration when commenting on another person’s appearance.

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29 Responses

  1. Cate says:

    Oh Kim I am so right there with you with my personal insecurities… and I’m working on it… and I don’t want my daughters to EVER see me doubting my own self-worth and awesomeness. I get those questions all the time because I am insanely stretch marked and will never not have a flabby belly and my daughters are 3 and 5. So when they ask I tell them the truth: I got this extra belly fat and all these stretch marks because I grew you in my tummy. I’m proud of every mark I have because they show that I’ve done something more amazing than anything (even running a marathon) – I grew an ENTIRE HUMAN INSIDE MY BODY. That’s a big deal! So yeah, there are battle scars. And that’s quite all right with me. (not so alright that I’ll wear a 2 piece bathing suit, but pretty alright).

  2. yueqing says:

    You look great in the picture!~~

  3. PomJob says:

    Sidenote: I adore that dress!

    I saw something floating around on Pinterest about stretch marks: they’re tiger stripes.

  4. Jess says:

    I tend to go with honest/scientific/straightforward.

    About six months ago, my oldest (8) asked me why my belly was all folded over. I explained to her that when women have babies, our skin stretches out, and sometimes takes a long time to go back. If ever. Then we talked about how amazing the baby is (she was 6 mos at the time), and how awesome that women’s bodies are made to do such a cool thing like making babies.

    I told her about stretch marks, even pointed them out to her, and explain that it’s why I use coconut oil on my skin every day, and why I use sunblock so diligently. So that my skin stays as nice as it can in spite of all the crazy things that can happen to it.

    I pointed out a couple of broken capillaries in my legs, and told her what they are. And then I showed her my muffin top and told her that every single part of my body is a blessing because it made me able to have all four of my children.

    I think as women, we tend to attach too much emotion to things related to our bodies, and without realizing it, impart those things to our daughters. I have three girls, and I tell them they’re beautiful, and strong, and smart, and capable. I also tell them that I’m beautiful, and strong, and smart, and capable. If we tell ourselves something often enough, eventually we start to believe it.

    I don’t know that this helps, or is even all that relevant. And I’m totally not trying to sound preachy, so sorry if I do. :)

  5. Kate says:

    My just 4 year old has started down that line a few times and I go with the ‘fat’ is a word that makes people feel bad so we don’t use it (another on the list is stupid). Other than that I do what you do and what the other commenter suggested – I tell the truth according to their level. I tell them my stretch marks are because they were in my tummy. I tell them my tummy is wiggly because of the same reason. Sometimes I go teachable and say its because I don’t eat enough veggies. FYI – my husband who is heavier than me by body type, and, he works out a lot, is also sensitive about it from the kids. He tells them it’s a muscle… I think letting your kids know they have the power to hurt feelings is a fine line, you don’t want to give them a weapon but you don’t want them blind to it either.

  6. Heather says:

    Yeah, I’ve been having some pretty bad zits lately, and the 6yo asked me, “Heather, do you have chicken pox?” Haha no, kiddo. At least those would go away more easily :P It’s definitely a fine line, there, for sure. I’ve totally responded to the “why are you fat?” with “because I eat too much ice cream”. (Which really is the truth, sadly.)

  7. Steph T. says:

    Ahhh, yes, the dreaded comment from a child. I actually had a little girl in Walgreens turn around to me and state to me, “You’re fat!” to which I replied “You’re short.”. Her mother, instead of using this opportunity to teach her daughter that people are different and that’s okay, shot me a dirty look and stormed out of the store. She didn’t wait for the rest of the response, which is… “and that’s okay, because it’s what makes us unique. Being is different is a good thing.”.

    Being plus sized my entire life, I have always endured comments from people. I try not take them personally and with kids that I know, I try to use it as an opportunity to talk about how people are different and that’s okay. When I get them from adults, I tell them to grow up that we aren’t in middle school anymore. I could go on about this for hours, but I will tell you this…you are beautiful and you are uniquely you. Don’t ever change that!

  8. Tara says:

    Oh, Lady. I’m sorry you had to deal with that. I’m not sure how I will (inevitably) react when this happens. Eriana already thinks it’s funny to poke my stomach and she furrows her brow like she disapproves when she does it, then laughs when her finger bounces back. Not super excited. I’ll bookmark this post and come back for tips. You’re beautiful and awesome and wonderful and such an inspiration to me!

  9. Lonnye says:

    That sets me off on my “people come in all shapes and sizes” speech and how that’s cool because we’re not all the same. Life would be so boring if we were. Usually, I wind up with, but yes, I’m fat because I don’t eat healthy or exercise, which I should do. But…we don’t point out things about people that might hurt their feelings, besides, I know I’m fat. People don’t always need us to point out our differences (this is hard to explain for me, but I think it’s super important); we know about them already. It’s fine to notice them, though. I don’t know if it’s the right thing to do, but I’m trying to walk the fine line of self-esteem (mine and theirs), dealing with bullying and verbal abuse in school (mine–hopefully not ever theirs), and hoping to teach them that differences are ok, accepting differences is super awesome, but that it’s also ok to admit that we’re not quite where we should be (eating healthfully and excercising–me, not them). That’s probably a jumbled mess of words, but I hope it got at least part of the point across.

  10. Sarah Lena says:

    Um, your kids sound like complete assholes.

    (I’M KIDDING. TOTALLY KIDDING.) But you should totally take them back. What? You can’t? THAT IS WHY YOU SHOULD NEVER EVER THROW AWAY A RECEIPT, KIM.

    Okay, I was kidding about THAT too. It’s easy to see that I deal with humor as a defense mechanism.

    We have discussions all the time about how people are just different. Some people are bigger, some people are smaller, some people have long legs, some people have one leg that’s two inches shorter than the other one. We’re all different, and we’re all perfect.

    I’m not saying that this WORKS, but we have the conversation all the time. It does not prevent my four year old from shouting “LOOK IT’S A GROWN UP BABY!” across the grocery store as a little person was doing their grocery shopping.

  11. Sarah Lena says:

    YES! I finally tripped a “your comment is awaiting moderation” threshhold! SCORE FOR ME.

    • zoot says:

      HA! Evidently my blog doesn’t like you calling my kids assholes. Stupid blog. Obviously hasn’t heard me mumbling under my breath lately…

  12. Carrie says:

    I agree with Cate, I’d probably relate that my belly pooch and stretch marks are from being a mom and that i’m proud of them. But I’d also secretly probably hate that they noticed it. I do my best to accept my body for what it is but I want to stress to my girls that exercise is important. I hope that I can encourage them to be active with me as they grow.

  13. I read this… and I had to go searching because I thought of this…

    http://mooshinindy.com/2011/10/20/squashy-parts/

  14. melaniek says:

    my soon-to-be 4 year old tells me all the time that I sure look full, (as she points to my belly) and probably I don’t need to eat again for a LONG TIME I am so full. My 6 year old asked me last year if I was growing another baby in there… and while it wasn’t good….. I suppose I should thank the kid from waking me from my stupor, I’ve started Zumba and lost 20lbs so far, sadly I still have 25billion (or 25-30) more to lose but its a step in the right direction… it sure does break your heart when you hear/see disgust in your kids voice. *sigh*

  15. brit says:

    You are my hero because you right about this stuff. This stuff that I trivialize in my mind because why am I such a bad mom that I care about my belly wobbling? “Mom the babysitter has not so much belly as you!” (the babysitter is 15!! Would I be a better mom with arms of steel and abs of ….I don’t know. I’m lost. Maybe I would be, maybe I would feel awesome all the time and so I would be awesome all the time? I don’t know. What I do know is that what I read here is so often, what I”m feeling, maybe not right now, but maybe yesterday and maybe tomorrow. It comes full circle and I am inspired by you. Inspired because, not being alone, can be inspiring, hearing that someone else feels these crazy feelings (which I validate in others but feel crazy when Ihave them! ? hello Crazy!)

    You are my favorite.

  16. Jack says:

    This is an interesting conversation. But, I am a man with a son who called me fat an hour ago. I weigh about 225 and drop about 1.5 pounds a week. I had a gastric operation about a year ago because my weight kept going up and down and nothing worked long term. I did not have the operation for me, but for my son so I can be there for him for a long time to come. This was about the worse day of my life. How does a dad deal with something like this? I did not know what to say. My wife talked to him. They are takng a nap right now and the hurt feelings I have running through me right now are beyond words.

  17. claire says:

    how about wen your child calls you fat and your not? i think this just shows that its a phase ALL children go through. im 5foot and weigh 7 n a half stone ive had 3 children and dont really have much of a tummy..but my child is still adament im fat…i dont think people should get to upset about it. although im looking from the opposite side of this i still think children use the word fat without really understanding its meaning.x

  18. Carissa says:

    What about if you are must overweight? My daughter is adopted and is 5 years old. She has begun using the “fat” word. We have told her it is hurtful, and to not say it, yet she continues. We have given consequences, time in her room, etc. Nothing seems to work. I do not have the my stomach is big because I had you in my belly argument.

    • Nicole says:

      Carissa,
      Maybe you could tell her it’s because God makes all of our bodies different. And if you don’t believe in God, you could just say we’re all made to look different from each other. My 5 year old just recently told me I should exercise more. I agreed with him and he said “It’s ok mommy, I can show you how to do it!” I kind of laughed and told him “I know how to exercise buddy. I used to exercise all the time.” He stared at me surprisingly and said “Then how did you get SO BIG?” I tried to kind of chuckle it off and said “Oh honey..” then he kept on and said “Your belly is so huge and your arms are so puffy, Mommy” It was very hard for me to hold back tears. The sad thing is he’s right. My weight is out of control and I need to do something about it. But it hurts. I wish I had used the moment to tell him how hurtful that was but I couldn’t find the right words to explain to him that while it’s true, it’s not nice to say. I need to set a better example for my kids.

  19. Tess says:

    My 4 year old told me last night that she wished I wasn’t fat – that she wished I was thin like her and Daddy. I was crushed. When I asked her why, she said that she doesn’t like my fat body. I was ashamed, embarrased, and sad for her. I cried until about midnight when I fell asleep.

    This morning, I addressed it as calmly as I could. I said, “When you said that, it hurt my feelings. I am kind, I work hard, and I am smart. You are kind and smart and a hard worker, too. It’s not about looking at what we see, its about knowing who the person is on the inside.”

    To which she replied, “I just don’t like fat people.”

    Now, here’s a twist: she’s biracial – black and white. Won’t it be a surprise when she realizes that there is an -ism for her, too? I’ve been trying to instill a sense of pride in who she is so that when that time comes around, she will feel confident with herself. But I seem to have failed.

    I failed. I’m fat. I’m her mother.
    And I’m sorry for all three.

  20. Resi says:

    Powerful discussion. It just happened to me tonight. I never use the word fat in front of my child. Never. I hate my weight but I never comment on it in front of my child. But still, there that word was tonight. I was talking to my 4 year old princess about mommy’s baby brother. I asked her if it was weird that mommy’s baby brother was taller than mommy and she said “but you’re much fatter than my uncle.” She then said “big sisters are supposed to be tall not fat.” I tried to laugh it off and admitted to being fat but moved right on. I’ve learned with my child that if you dwell on a topic she’ll never stop bringing it up. But I must say, mommy is kinda hurt.

  21. Tami says:

    I noticed a newer post and felt compelled to reply.

    My daughter called me fat right in front of two “new” parent friends…they both chuckled. Yes, I’m big -it’s not a secret as I’m 185 and 5′ 7″. What a blow to the ego, though!!!

    Yes, my face reddened -more from the shame of having a daughter who is nearly 8 who thinks that it’s OK to humiliate her mother in front of her friend’s parents. It was devastating enough that I am still kind of sad and I told her privately that it hurts mommy so badly when she says hurtful things to get a laugh from others.

    I’m sure I wasn’t a perfect angel when I was a kid!!! I always keep that in mind!

    • Jj says:

      Tami,
      I am sorry that that happened to you. I can relate. This morning, my son said something like, if you weren’t so fat, you could get out of the way. I am fat, 5’7, broad shoulders and frame..not huge and am working on losing the added weight from menopause. He knew that would push my button and said that. I was so angry and hurt I wanted to lash out at him. Instead, I went home and cried. Motherhood really can suck. We get stretch marks and added weight, our feet get bigger and our hearts get bigger to make room for the children we brought into this world. I think they break or crack at the unkind things they say. We can only teach them that isn’t kind and hope they don’t do it to others. But, it still hurts. My child is 16.

      • Tami says:

        Wow, that’s really awful. I’m sorry to hear that this happens. A lot of kids today have a weird sense of entitlement that numbs them to reality. That’s my take on it, anyway. It’s really difficult to raise a child that is sensitive to the feelings of others, when the world itself is so commonly cruel. At 16, this might be somewhat normal, but thinking back, I never called my mother anything out of blatant disrespect. Teenage years are so hard -there’s a lot of pressure to fit in and of course, we all know they “know everything”, right? We’re just the dumb parents that made them.

        Maybe you can take him aside if you feel comfortable and tell him how what he said made you feel, and that you cried over it. Even if he doesn’t act like he’s hearing you, I’m sure he will. My daughter actually said something so unbelievably hurtful to me (she was outright testing my limits and went way too far) and it caused me to just burst into tears right in front of her, which scared the wits out of her…I’ve never seen her cry like that -it launched me into a 3 day depression and I’m still reeling from it a little bit, but I’m pretty sure that’s not going to happen again. A lot of parents with teens have an extremely hard time…parenthood is never easy, but those years in particular are unbelievably tough on a person. I wish you peace and hope that you can find something that helps you somehow -maybe spend more time with mom-friends or find an activity that’s just for you that helps you feel good about yourself. Right now I’m trying to get healthy because my excess weight just launched me into pre-diabletes and I have the very fortunate option of working towards getting better or letting the disease take me. I suggest if your weight is causing you health problems, to work on it immediately.

        Motherhood is really difficult. I never really understood how hard it can be, emotionally. Kids give and take, but they take more and more as they get older, it seems. Just be sure you MAKE the time to do things just for you so you have a life outside of your family. Give yourself permission. That’s what I’m learning and I’m working to make it a habit. Take care & bless you.

  22. Meredith says:

    I got this today from my five year old! She said “Mom you said I probably got my curly hair from my birth mom. So I don’t want to be an adult because I don’t want to be fat like her or get fat like you.” What the heck do you say to that! I just told her I loved her and she was fine however she looked and it took everything in me not to cry because I can’t even spill some crap about my stretch marks being from her because it’s just that I’m 25 and a size 12/14 because I like food.

  23. Meredith says:

    P.S.
    When we first got our daughter she said “my foster mommy asked if you were skinny, I told her you weren’t.” FML

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