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!
Heather · September 22, 2022 at 7:36 pm
My daughter just called me fat and I don’t feel like I handled it appropriately. I told her that it wasn’t nice and it hurt my feelings. She couldn’t understand why because like you said, to her it is just an adjective. And she’s not wrong – I’ve always been overweight. I feel like I need to address it with her again and I’m not sure how to explain to her that it hurt my feelings without explaining the negative connotation. I like your advice for when they say it about someone else, but I’m at a loss for how to explain how it makes me feel without causing her to feel that being fat is shameful or bad. Any advice would be appreciated.
Mama Knows Nutrition · September 27, 2022 at 9:23 pm
Hey, I’m glad you reached out. One thing I’ve learned as a parent is that you can ALWAYS go back to something and literally just start with, “you know when we talked about __? I want to do that again because I wasn’t ready with an answer. Once I thought about it, I realized that you didn’t know that calling me fat could hurt my feelings, and I’m not upset with you. Everyone’s body does have fat on it, but sometimes people talk about being fat as a way to say someone looks bad because they have more fat, and that can be hurtful.” I’m not sure how old your daughter is so you may need to simplify that a bit more. But I would pause and see what she says, if she doesn’t say anything I’d ask her if she has questions! You’ve got this!
Claire · July 5, 2022 at 6:39 pm
Where’s the part on how to follow up with the person the child just embarrassed by calling them fat? Even if you are trying to make fat not a bad word, the child has still shamed someone else publicly.
Anonymous · March 10, 2022 at 2:12 pm
wow! this was so amazing. keep up the good work and keep telling people that fat is just an adjective not an insult. hashtag end fat shaming. could not find the hashtag key .BYE!
Kerry · August 18, 2022 at 8:57 am
I’ve been called fat by a few kids over the years and even once a group of kids around 10 years old stared and pointed at me, whispering behind their hands while their mothers where busy engaging in conversation. At that time, I was at an all time low just having been diagnosed with Lymphedema. I can tell you it really hurts. If my kids did that to someone I would be appalled. Some people are useless as parents, shame the rest of us have to deal with the result.
Bill Green · February 20, 2022 at 3:58 am
I hated all those skinny jokes so I prayed to Jesus to get fat and cool Jesus answered my prayers I’m now fat and chubby and happy amen in Christ always john3:16 God Bless everyone ps.look up in Google search engines in alt.magic.secrets look up bill Page gets fat look up bill Page and friends get fat look up bill Page and David Copperfield get fat look up YouTube videos search engines bill Green our sub trunk illusion magic tricks how to videos VBS Skits MaskingGreenmagician WilliamMarcelpage soildier2010 Facebook williamnp
Bill Green · February 20, 2022 at 3:51 am
I hated all those skinny jokes so I prayed to Jesus to get fat and cool Jesus answered my prayers I’m now fat and chubby and happy amen in Christ always john3:16 God Bless everyone ps.look up in Google search engines in alt.magic.secrets look up bill Page gets fat look up bill Page and friends get fat look up bill Page and David Copperfield get fat
LaFonda · December 23, 2021 at 6:18 am
Thank you for this article. Teaching our children is the first place to start. Unfortunately, not all parents will take this approach or even be interested in learning to be better people themselves. As a result, my 4 year old grand daughter is presently feeling the brunt of other preschoolers being mean with their words such as she is too big to be on the seesaw and calling her a pig. Her heart and soul is so kind and full of love. Her eyes tear up when telling her mother of the incidents and she says “It breaks my heart into a million pieces.” I would interested in any advice or articles to which you could direct me to help in coping with this situation now and in the future.
Liz · August 13, 2021 at 10:40 am
Excellent. My 3yo grandniece just told me that another aunt is “more much chubby than you.” She and her twin were born prematurely. As they grew, the larger twin was referred to as both “piggy” and “the chubby one.” Their mother is constantly criticizing her own appearance (and apparently everyone else’s), as her mother and grandmother did. I can trace it as far back as my great-grandmother. This is not the legacy to leave!
Susan Galbraith · August 13, 2021 at 8:36 am
Excellent! Changing societal perceptions.
Rakhinationwide · August 13, 2021 at 6:20 am
I read a lot of blog posts!! This is great content work.
Susan Galbraith · February 9, 2021 at 5:57 am
Thank you for continuing the conversation about our diet culture and the power it holds over so many people. You are so on target by educating your followers to talk to their children about recognizing positive qualities in others and not their “looks”.
Steph · February 8, 2021 at 8:54 pm
I love this post Kacie! Thank you for sharing.