Discussing Body Image: Don’t tell your kids they aren’t fat

I was recently discussing a friend’s 13 year old daughter with him. She came home one day and declared that she was fat. “I am fat” is a dreaded sentence for any parent! His reaction was to tell her: “no you’re not fat!”. Which is absolutely true, she is a very small person. He also discussed how he wants her to be able to talk to them about anything. All of that is really great, hooray for open discussion parenting! I didn’t feel like I could talk to my parents about this sort of thing. Growing up there were certain things we did not discuss, body image and sexual health being a couple of them.

But, there is a “but”. No, this particular girl is not at all fat. She’s TINY. But, what if she wasn’t? How would the discussion have gone then? We need to focus not on reassuring people that they aren’t fat, but instead on health. Are you healthy? Can your body do the things you want it to do?

I lost 20 lbs and then gained about 50lbs over the course of one year due to an eating disorder. I have finally learned how to accept my body and eat intuitively. And I have been leveling out to a healthy weight for my body over the last few years, which is looking to be between 140-150 lbs on my 5’7″ frame. Most people would probably look at me and consider me a little chubby. And if I were to show you a photo of myself at my lightest (when I was counting every calorie), at my heaviest (when I was binge eating), and now, people would probably say I was “at my best” at my thinnest. That was when I was chronically tired, could maybe make it 8km running, could hardly carry my climbing gear for the hikes into climbing areas, and actually had to quit midway though an exercise bike lab. I was not capable of doing the things I wanted to do. In the last year? I backpacked 52km over 3 days, I ran 21 km a couple weeks ago, I rock climb 3-5 days per week, I have a job where I sprint after butterflies and dragonflies with children, I am really good at AcroYoga (google it) and you better believe that if a frisbee ends up in a tree I’m going to be the one climbing up to get it out. That is how I am going to gauge my personal healthy weight. This is my body, it does amazing things, and I love it.

THAT is the conversation we need to be having with our kids. Is there a legitimate health concern due to their weight? Are they actually too heavy or too thin? If the answer is no and they are a healthy person who is capable of living the life they want to live with their body then the conversation should look like a discussion about media portrayals of health and beauty, about changing weight as you age, about how healthy looks different for every person, and about self confidence.

Don’t tell your kids they aren’t fat:
Teach them that “fat” is a noun, not an adjective.
Teach them that some people naturally have very low body fat, some people are muscular, and some people are curvier.
Teach them to appreciate the beauty of every body type.
Teach them to live their life pursuing the physical feats they want to accomplish, not a body type.
Teach them not to compare their bodies to others.
Teach them to not give a flying fuck if someone tells them they are “too skinny”, “too muscular” or “too fat”, because their body type is theirs.
Teach them that their value and self worth is in no way dependent on the amount of fat they carry on their body.

As for me?

My body is flexible, I like to do yoga

I like to do yoga

I like to do AcroYoga

I like to do AcroYoga

My arms are strong and I've got pretty good balance: I like to surf!

I like to surf!

My favourite thing to do: rock climbing!

My favourite thing to do? rock climbing!

I can go ziplining with my mom, who is also beautiful and loves to kayak, cross country ski, and go for walks with friends.

I like to go ziplining with my mom, who also has a body which lets her do the things she wants to do. She loves to garden, kayak, cross country ski, watch cool documentaries and go for walks with friends.

Please excuse me while I portage this 70 lbs canoe for 1km

This is my body. It’s not for everyone, but these are the things I like to do, and it lets me do them. Now please excuse me while I portage this 70 lbs canoe.

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7 thoughts on “Discussing Body Image: Don’t tell your kids they aren’t fat

  1. Awesome article! So true – we all should strive for health and that means slightly different things for different people.

    Also, you should consider posting some of these articles on medium.com 🙂

    • It most definitely is! Unfortunately many people don’t strive for healthy, but thin. My sharing of my weight and height, as well as my “chubby” comment (I’ve been referred to as “squishy” and “bigger” with a negative undertone) were meant to demonstrate that although I am a healthy weight our societal perception of body image does not consider healthy ideal.

  2. A beautiful distillation of a complicated topic to its essence, the elegance arising due to its simplicity: if the body is but a vehicle for the mind and soul, and we use this physical form to express the self, is it doing all we wish it to do?

    Applied to the general population, I think this is a good general rule. However, there are likely cases where one lies outside the 1st (or 2nd) standard deviation and could be either classified as obese or overweight but satisfied with what their body does for them, or the other extreme where one is Olympian-level fit yet not satisfied with what they can do. On a case by case basis, the former might be attributed to apathy and the latter to addiction, though I don’t think these phenomena are on topic here.

    I’d agree that the bottom line is indeed that self worth should not be dependent on the body. After all, it is impermanent like everything else and in due time old are and disease will take their turn. If one isn’t satisfied with what their body can do or how it looks, and their motivation to change it comes from a healthy, balanced mind, then I see nothing wrong with having a goal and working to attain it. One way or the other, self worth must come from a place of acceptance with what is, here and now.

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