“Look at me, I’m so thin!” My five-year-old daughter proudly squeals, twirling in a dress-up fairy costume.
I watch her proudly dance around our house. She’s oblivious my stunned reaction, too young to understand what she’s said. I consider myself an intelligent and confident woman, but I struggle to pull myself together.
How do I respond to my young and impressionable daughter in this very delicate moment?
I decide to let the moment pass. I ignore her comment and go back to whatever mundane task I was doing, filing her words in a drawer called, “Things I Avoid Even Though I Shouldn’t.”
The next day I’m nursing my youngest daughter when my five-year-old bounces into my room, a big grin on her face.
“Does this outfit make me look thin?” She asks.
I don’t recall ever saying these words, and I wonder where she’s hearing this from. I pat the spot beside me and ask her to come and sit with me. I’m not ready to have a conversation about the word thin with my five-year-old, but it doesn’t seem that I have a choice.
“Penny, what does the word thin mean?” I ask.
“Thin is like, skinny.” She answers, confident in her word choice.
“Is it good to be thin?” I press her.
“Well, yeah,” she’s wondering where I’m going with this conversation, and then she adds, “it’s not good to be - you know - fat.”
I want to choose my words carefully. I don’t want to shame my child, or embarrass her, but I also want to shift her simplified understanding of our bodies.
“Some people might call me fat,” I say to Penny, because it’s true.
Since having my third daughter, I have struggled to lose weight. I’m about forty pounds heavier than many would consider healthy or acceptable. I’ve had to spend some time coming to terms with my body, buying an entirely new wardrobe in my new size, affirming my beauty as my hips expand and my fleshy thighs grow wider.
“But even though I’m overweight, I am still beautiful, on the outside and inside,” I explain.
I watch as her eyes shift downwards. She’s taking in my body, looking at me from a new perspective, her eyes lingering on the soft skin of my arms, and the round bulge in my belly.
“You are beautiful mommy, so beautiful!” Penny declares, her face honest and her words genuine.
I explain to my young daughter that there are many reasons people are the size that they are. I share some of them with her, hoping that she’ll grow to have compassion and empathy for each body that carries the story of our individual lives.
We talk about what is means to be healthy, and that thin and healthy are not synonymous, just like overweight does not equal unhealthy.
My daughter is young, and her sweet little mind is pliable. With one single conversation her word choices begin to change. Her viewpoint on body image matures, and I am proud to watch her re-evaluate the way that she approaches her language when speaking about bodies.
After our conversation I start researching statistics on young girls and body image. According to a study conducted in 2017 by Statistic Brain Research Institute, 81% of 10-year-old girls are afraid of being fat, and 91% of women are unhappy with their bodies. These statistics are alarming, and I believe related to one another. Of course, our daughters are fearful of gaining weight, because their mothers are unhappy with their bodies.
Maybe I was wrong when I assumed that five was too young to have a conversation about body image. By trying to avoid and ignore the conversation I may have done more harm than good, but I’m determined to keep the conversation going now that it’s started.
By talking about different bodies with my Kindergartener I was able to show her that beauty comes in all shapes and sizes.
Before she saw me through her own daughter lens, but now she sees my body, the roundness of my belly and the curves of my legs, and she knows that my body is beautiful. And part of that is because I know I’m beautiful too.