“I have fat thighs!”
My jaw dropped and I could feel my heart crack open as I heard those words come from the mouth of my 6-year-old daughter strapped into her booster seat on our way home from school. I must have misheard her.
“What was that, baby?”
“My thighs are fat! Look. When I’m sitting down they mush all together. It’s just gross.” I turned in my seat and looked at my beautiful girl staring forlornly at the relaxed muscles of her thighs, sure that it was fat she saw. I wanted to cry. Right then and there, stopped at the red light, I wanted to cry. I almost did but realized that I had to take my emotions out of the equation and reach out to my daughter in a meaningful way.
I was a chunky child. There are pictures of me around the age of 4 or 5 in a pink ballet leotard and tights and my whole life I heard Miss Piggy jokes. I liked to read. I did not like to sweat. As I got older, I began to appreciate sports more and I grew out of the chunky phase, but I was never thin. I could never share clothes with my friends; they were always at least a size smaller than me.
In college when I put only the obligatory freshman 15, I was always told how lucky I was to be tall because people really couldn’t tell when I gained the pounds. Perhaps it was meant to be a compliment, but that chunky child in the back of my head only heard, “you’ve gained weight again.”
It was this child who wanted to cry when I heard those awful words spring from the mouth of my beautiful and otherwise self-confident daughter.
My instant reaction was to tell her that she was most certainly not fat. In fact, this little girl of mine is, in my opinion, verging on too thin. She is tall for her age and clothing supposedly in her size is either too short in the legs, causing her ankles to poke out, or too baggy around the waist, meaning she is constantly pulling up her pants.
But her statement wasn’t about the reality of her situation or size. It was about perspective. Somehow or other my baby came to believe she was fat and that, I feel, is worse. Far worse.
But from where does this belief emanate? We don’t watch much TV in our house, not out of any overarching philosophy about children and television. We simply don’t have cable because cable costs are high and most shows worth watching can be streamed over the internet. I know she didn’t get these ideas from watching television because when we watch, we watch together as a family.
Her friends! My mind latched onto the idea that she must be getting these ideas from her school friends. And, yes, I suppose that is possible, but I think that by placing the blame on the words of other children, I would have shifted the focus of the discussion irreparably.
Truth be told, it isn’t the TV. It isn’t other children. This sickness, this obsession with being thin, or more accurately, with not being fat, is an epidemic that permeates nearly every aspect of our society. Magazines, TV, movies, toys, everything. Go to the supermarket and peruse the shelves. There is a non-fat or low-fat version of nearly every product. Calorie counts are on display on restaurant menus. Ten minutes spent on any social media site will inevitably bring a viewer to at least one comment about being fat or how to lose weight.
We have become a nation obsessed with weight. Sadly, we are obsessed with the wrong thing.
This conversation should not be about weight. It should be about health.
So that’s how I answered her.
We talked about how different people come in different shapes just like they come in different colors. We talked about the importance of eating foods that are good for us and how we should exercise to keep our hearts and bodies healthy. We talked about how there is nothing wrong with eating desserts as long as we find balance. We talked about how taking care of ourselves and accepting ourselves is what is most important in this life.