You never know what’s going to come out of your kid’s mouth. What do you do when your kid calls someone fat? Keep reading to learn from a registered dietitian on responding to body image comments, talking about body fat, and the truth about fat.
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Let’s set the scene. You’re at the park or mall, and your kid points to someone and says, in their loudest voice, “that guy is FAT!” Your face goes red, and you freeze. How do you respond?
What should you keep in mind?
First, it’s normal to feel embarrassed. Our society has told us for so long that fat is bad and something shameful. Our kids, especially young ones, likely have no idea about fat having any associations unless you’ve previously talked about it. If your kid calls someone fat, it’s merely them pointing out something they see. It would be the same thing as them noticing a big dog and saying, “Wow, that dog is BIG!”
Second, it’s important to note that the way you respond can help prevent them from perpetuating the cultural stigma around fatness. A fat body says nothing about a person’s value, worth, personality, or relationships.
How do you respond when your child calls someone fat?
Alright, your kid just called someone fat. What do you do? Without any emotional response, say, “oh, you’re noticing that body shape.” Staying calm helps them understand that there isn’t any shame in having fat on your body. The word “fat” isn’t inherently wrong.
Next, explain to your child in simple words that people don’t like when you comment on their body. It can hurt their feelings. Instead, we can notice what people do and who they are. Tell your child that it’s best not to comment on how other people look, whether it’s their body type, skin color, disabilities, or anything else. Remind them that if they ever question how someone looks to ask when you get in the car or at home.
Talking about these kinds of things at home allows you to feel more comfortable answering any questions they may have, without feeling the pressure of anyone else watching. Especially on topics you’re feeling a little uncertain about. It’s okay to fumble your way through some things- none of us are ready with the perfect answers all the time!
Note: if you do feel comfortable and prepared to handle it in the moment, sometimes it may be appropriate to do so. A follower on Instagram shared with me that her daughter has a lucky fin, and that it actually is nice when another child kindly and respectfully asks questions, instead of just staring and whispering.
Use your best judgment on whether it’s the right time to address your child’s comments or questions publicly, or privately at home.
What can your child say instead?
Unfortunately, things aren’t so black and white for kids. It’s hard for them to understand the shades of gray at a young age. In my opinion, it’s better for them, at this point, to learn not to comment on appearance and find other things to say about someone like, “so-and-so is fun to be around!”
You see, some people don’t like others calling them skinny either. It’s not just a “fat” thing. As a teenager, people would always comment on how I was muscular because I was an athlete. I’m sure they meant it to be a compliment, but it made me feel like I didn’t look feminine. I’ve also had many parents tell me that they hate when people comment on their child’s size, big or small.
What if they ask, “am I fat?”
My response would be,
“Everyone has fat on their bodies, and you are perfectly made. People's bodies change over time, and sometimes they have more fat on them, sometimes they have less. At times your body may have more noticeable muscles than other times. The most important thing is that we take good care of our bodies to keep them healthy.”
There are many ways you can respond to this question, but this is what I would say.
Some parents commented on Instagram that they themselves identify as fat and call themselves fat without any negative connotation. And that of course is totally fine! But, I know that is not the case for everyone. And my conclusion is that since everyone feels differently about the word “fat,” it’s best to teach our children not to openly say that to someone else.
The Truth About Fat
If you’re reading this and thinking, “Isn’t it unhealthy to be fat?” It’s not that straightforward. As a dietitian, I surprisingly never care about the number on the scale. I focus on trends, adequate growth, and other factors like that for babies and kids. The weight percentile your child falls into does not tell us whether they are healthy. Instead, I want to know their habits, what kind of emotional, mental, or physical challenges are present.
This all is true for adults, as well. The number on the scale does not determine whether you have a healthy lifestyle or not.
“Being fat” is not inherently a bad thing. However, we do want to address any underlying health challenges, whether physical, mental, or emotional, no matter the person’s size. There’s not necessarily any significant issues just because someone has more fat on their body.
Ending the Shame Around Fat
Together, we have to stop attaching shame to the idea of being fat. There is no reason to raise our kids to fear being fat. Some of my clients try to prevent their kids from being fat because they themselves were overweight. They are so afraid their children will feel badly about themselves if they become overweight. They don’t want their kids to struggle in the way they did.
In my opinion, the larger issue is diet culture and what it teaches us:
- “Being smaller is better.”
- “The smaller dress size you wear, the more you’re valued.”
- “The more you can control what you put in your mouth, the more perfect you are.”
- “Only thin people are attractive.”
These are all LIES. Therefore, let’s start to protect our children from these concepts and start teaching them what it means to be healthy. How we respond to your child calling someone fat is one way to prevent them from falling under the spell of diet culture.
Let’s keep talking!
I’d love to keep the conversation going. Comment below if you have anything to add! I’d also love to hear the ways that you help your little one avoid judging based on appearance!