“He is going through a chubby phase.”
“She has always had a belly on her.”
“If I didn’t have her in sports, who knows what she would look like!”
“She is finally losing her chub.”
“Chunky is only cute on a baby.”
I could think of a thousand comments I have heard over the years, many of which are much more severe than what you just read. Something inside me cringes every single time I overhear comments like these. Even if you can’t quite put your finger on it, chances are your thoughts about your children’s weight is somehow related to how you viewed weight issues growing up. Are you insecure about your own weight? Did you grow up in a home that criticized overweight people? Did you learn that value was attached to the number on the scale? Our society plays a huge part in how we talk about weight, physical appearance, and value. I think we all know how much emphasis the media puts on physical appearance. But are you, even subconsciously, reinforcing these same negative values at home? It is time to take a long hard look at this issue.
The Weighty Issue of Growing Up
Physical beauty was stressed a lot in my home and community growing up; weight played a large part in whether someone was considered beautiful or worthy. People were pretty candid about what they thought about someone else’s physical appearance. I observed this and assumed it was normal, even when it felt a bit harsh. I am guilty of participating in these discussions growing up, but I knew deep down it was not right. What in the world did someone’s weight have to do with their worth? Why were they better if their belly was flat? Why did my dad demean obese people under his breath? When these discussions happened, what was I learning?
Here’s the reality: children are watching and listening, always. They are forming beliefs about themselves and their world from what they hear. What are we teaching our children when we make comments about their body or someone else’s?
Social Media Has Made it So. Much. Worse.
With social media being such a large part of our lives now, the messages about physical beauty are played 24/7. As parents, we have to work a lot harder on intentionally speaking to our kids about what healthy means and where their worth comes from. So please stop commenting on your child’s belly. Stop ‘joking’ about their rolls or legs or butt. This is serious. These are the very things that, coupled with society’s messages, lead to eating disorders. And eating disorders are no joke. I’ve spent hours outside a door listening to my loved one puke up her last meal. I’ve witnessed a close friend spend years in a counseling office trying to rectify anorexia due to things she learned at home. Recently I’ve watched families split up because serious clinical intervention was needed.
Know When to Worry and When to Not.
I will add that serious weight issues should always be addressed with your child’s doctor. Obesity is a disease, and there could be other issues causing weight issues with your kids. Talk to your kids about healthy eating and activity in a positive way. If there is a health issue, please address it. But, if there is not, it’s time to stop and consider the words you are saying that your kids are hearing. We equate physical appearance with worth. Every day. At home and in the public sphere. When you lean over and whisper to your friend about how you wish your kid looked a little slimmer in that new outfit, or you act embarrassed about the size clothes they are in now, you are saying that their worth is equal to their weight.
We are responsible for the words we speak and the messages we send. We need to encourage and speak the truth to our kids. If that seems impossible, take the time to think about where your concerns about self-image come from. How can you speak in healthier ways to your child by speaking healthier words to yourself? I know that has been a large part of my journey.