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Do You Think I’m Fat?

In a culture plagued with weight problems and thin idealism, it’s no wonder kids are asking their parents, “Do you think I’m fat?”

In fact, according to a 2008 Canadian survey, 37% of ninth grade girls and 40% of tenth grade girls believed they were, in fact, too fat.

Many parents are blind-sided with this question and are left stumped into silence or heading to Google, the doctor, or a friend for advice.

In this article, I will explore what to do when your child asks you, “Do you think I’m fat?” We’ll ask a therapist how to handle such a question, and when you should look for more help.

Girls whispering about another girl -- Do you think I'm fat?

When a Child Asks a Weight-Based Question

According to Laura Newton, a psychotherapist and eating disorder specialist in Nashville, TN, the timing of the question “Do you think I’m fat?” is an important factor in deciding how to respond.

“If this is the first time this question has come up, tell them they look fantastic, and make sure to stay away from using words like ‘big’ or ‘small’, ‘thin’ or ‘heavy’,” states Newton. 

If this is not the first time this question has been asked, then this is a real concern that needs your time and attention.

“Sit down with your child and have a conversation, beginning with, “you have asked me this question a couple of times—what’s this about?” advises Newton.

Why is Your Child Asking about Weight?

Newton states that kids get these questions from a variety of influences, including their own parents, peers, and the media. Coming up with a thoughtful and meaningful response depends upon the influence your child is concerned about.

do you think I'm fat

Did You Unintentionally Spur this Question?

Without even knowing it, parents pass on their own body image and weight concerns to their children.

“If you find yourself asking, “Do I look good?” or “Do I look fat in these jeans?” to your hubby or other family members, you may want to temper those questions in front of the kids,” says Newton. 

Rather, Newton suggests parents consider using this mantra for themselves and their family,

“Enjoy your own body, as if your body is more than a clothes hanger. Revel in the beauty of a functioning body, which is the vehicle that will take you where you want to go in life.”

For more on the parents role in creating a healthy body image, listen to this podcast episode.

How Peers can Influence this Query

Children surround themselves with their friends and find themselves in situations where body comparisons come naturally, such as the gym and the locker room.

Particularly during pre-adolescence, the child has a developmental urge to find out if they are normal.

“Answering the question, “Am I normal?” is developmentally on target and relies, in part, on looking at others and comparing oneself with others,” states Newton.

The Media Influence

The ‘thin is in’ ideal makes its mark on children, too. When you combine media with a general desire to fit in, it’s easy to see how questions about self-worth and inadequacy can surface.

What Can You Do?

Most importantly, your child needs to hear that you accept and love them regardless of what they look like.

No matter what. 

Here are some other things Newton encourages you to keep in mind:

Respect and honor your own body 

No matter what the size or shape it is, respect yourself. It is your body after all and the body that produced your child.

It takes you where you want to go and allows you to do most everything you want to do.

Tolerate normal child growth  

Pre-pubescent girls and boys gain weight in preparation for the rapid growth of the teen years—this is a normal process.

Focus on your child’s inner qualities

Begin pointing out inner qualities, such as loyalty, intelligence, and compassion, as early as possible. This will help build self-esteem and worthiness.

Limit media influences

Think twice about buying that fashion magazine for your 11 year old and be sure to scrutinize the TV shows your child is watching.

Attitude is everything!

Every body has value, no matter what it looks like.

All bodies are good bodies — this mantra can aid in preventing body image issues.

An Opportunity for Conversation

When your child asks “Do you think I’m fat?” she is asking you to discuss your values and ideals about body weight, shape and size.

She is also giving you the option to debunk media messages, thin idealism, show your acceptance and assure love.

Seems like a golden opportunity to me.

Have you had this question? If so, how did you respond?

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  1. I probably would say, “No, you’re not fat, you’re skinny” and then point to someone who was fat. So thanks for the proper response!

  2. We constantly tell our kids what beautiful, strong, healthy bodies they have.

    We tell them about the nutrients and vitamins in the food they eat and how they fuel their bodies.

    We are active in our own sports and with our children encouraging them to be the same.

    We do not discuss body weight issues or body image in front of them and discourage anyone who might.

    As parents, this is the choice we have made to increase their health awareness, body image and self esteem.

    So far, so good… But hey, they are only 5 & 1, so we have a long way to go.

  3. This whole body image thing scares me. There are messages everywhere. Extended family on my husbands side telling one seven year old constantly that they are ‘skinny’ in a cutesy way, she won’t eat lollies as she thinks she will get fat. Her food was ‘cut’ back when she was two as she was getting too ‘fat’. Now the ten year old boy is putting on ‘weight’ (seriously he is skinny), and reading about pre-teen years etc this is of concern. One of the aunts say, “do you know why I am not eating, why I am drinking these shakes, it’s cos I am too fat’ and grabs belly fat (indeed she is obese)….Seriously telling this to a 4 year old when she cites her weight issues go back to her mother telling her she will get fat if she eats certain things!!! I did tell the aunt that it wasn’t appropriate to be saying things like that to a young girl.
    How do I protect my daughters when they recieve messages like this from extended family on one side???!!!

    We make an effort to NOT make comments about our body. We stress to our daughter that food is fuel for our body to make us strong and have energy. I even contemplated getting breast implants once (after having two bubs I lost two sizes and clothes fitting was an issue) and decided against it 1. because I wasn’t happy with the risks…for me the risks outweighed the benifits.and number 2 and most important. What message would this send to my daughters when they reached teenage years?

    1. I think you are doing a great job at making important decisions for yourself and your children when it comes to body image and self-esteem. Placing value on the inner qualities of your child, rather than the exterior qualities, builds self-worth and self-esteem. Good for you for standing up to the extended family! You provided a role model for your child in that moment–we teach kids not to put others down–it’s confusing for them when they see adults put others down, or even themselves. You’re right, it’s not appropriate for adults to speak that way to children or in front of them. Maybe you should prepare yourself and your child for the possibility of hearing these things when they visit, and guide them in how to respond and interpret these messages.

  4. Larry King once commented, “I remind myself every morning: Nothing I say this day will teach me anything. So if I’m going to learn, I must do it by listening.” That’s totally how I feel. I am thankful to have learned something new today.

  5. We don’t have children yet, but just reading the title had me hurting. Like Ashley, I’m also a dietitian, and these are some amazing ideas for answering such a difficult question. There are times when I am outwardly negative about my body to my fiancée — we have to remember there are little ears listening and drinking in everything we say. And, like you said, we should learn to accept and love ourselves as we are. Thanks for posting.

    Cheers,

    *Heather*

    1. Thanks for reading Heather! Yes, reality bites–this is a question that parents tell me about frequently. Parents are so powerful, and even though you don’t have children yet, it is good to be aware of your influence, both now with children you come into contact with, and for the future. It’s normal to have these insecurities–it helps children if parents are better at filtering their comments.

  6. This is such a great post! Although we can’t always avoid the influence of media or peers, parents still play a huge role in helping their children develop a healthy body image. Such wonderful advice to take a look at what we say about ourselves since we are their most important role models.