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.
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.
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.
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?
Written by: Jill Castle, MS, RDN
Published on: February 10, 2011
Updated on: May 19, 2019