Young children start off loving their bodies in a way that's nothing short of inspiring. They are uninhibited and marvel at their amazing selves and stick out their perfectly round, toddler bellies. They run and dance and skip and they're at their happiest, when they're naked. Then something sinister starts to happen, especially to girls. Our image obsessed culture begins to eat away at their confidence and self esteem and they'e subjected to the things people feel fine saying to girls about their weight; things that erode their natural, wonderful body confidence they were innately born with.
As a teacher, I was always horrified to see girls (sometimes 8-year-old girls, which is so very young) discussing diets and referring to themselves as "fat," when the word "fat" was meant to be a bad, hurtful and negative connotation. A report in The Journal Eating and Weight Loss Disorders advises parents not to mention children's weight at all. Even well meaning comments can start obsessive and unhealthy behaviors. It's far more important to encourage body positive language and to focus on your daughter's achievements and talents, rather than simply her appearance.
We need to be role models for young girls (and boys), encouraging them to see all bodies as equally important, vital and able. We need to use body positive terms when we talk to our kids and always talk about our own bodies in kind and accepting terms. We need to teach our daughter that a number on the scale does not define them, and does not take away from their self worth. We definitely, definitely, need to stop saying the following things to our daughters, when it comes to their weight:
"It's Just Puppy Fat"
There's so much wrong with this phrase.
First, putting "puppy" in front of the word "fat" doesn't change the fact that you're calling someone fat. Secondly, using the word "fat" in this context suggests that being fat is bad, because don't worry you'll grow out of it. If a pre-pubescent person is feeling unsatisfied with their changing body, you could say something more positive than this toxic phrase. Consider phrases like, "Puberty means change," or, "You are growing stronger," or, "You're becoming an awesome woman."
"Men Like Curvy Girls"
Nope. Just, no. This is such a gross phrase that many people, sadly, assume to be supportive. Girls don't need their body size to be validated by whether or not a man finds it desirable.
"Men Like Skinny Girls"
Can our society just make up its mind, already? Big butts are in and big boobs are out and skinny is "hot" and curvy is sexy and blah blah blah. I mean, enough already. Women's bodies are not public property, and girls shouldn't have to worry that their sense of self worth is dependent on fashions and trends or the arousal of others.
Our value to the world is not based on the body we inhabit, but on our actions, our talents and our accomplishments.
"You're Too Big/Strong/Heavy For A Girl"
When you say this to a young girl, you are attacking her still-developing sense of what it means to be a woman, as well as what it means to be fat or strong or heavy.
I had a boyfriend when I was a teenager who found out my weight when he saw a medical form I was completing. His reaction was to say, "That's heavy, for a girl," and that comment has stuck with me for years (I mean, much longer than this particular boy was in my life).
Thoughtless, judgmental and shaming comments change people.
"You'd Be So Pretty If You Lost Weight"
This is a two part insult that can (and usually does) inflict horrific damage. Essentially, you're saying someone is not pretty when they're fat. The notion that you're attractiveness is dependent on your weight is ridiculous, but more importantly the idea that your worth is related to your physical appearance is deeply damaging to a young girls sense of self.
Anytime Someone Uses The Word "Skinny" As A Compliment
You can be guilty of body shaming even if you never use the word "fat" as a negative. Constantly praising bodies you perceive as slim and using "skinny" as a compliment, is just as destructive as calling people you think are too "heavy," fat.
A good rule is that someone else's body size or shape is none of your business.
Talking About Celebrities Or Strangers' Bodies
Describing those in the public eye or people around you in everyday life by their body type, brings an unhealthy attention to body image that isn't necessary.
When people comment on celebrities weight, they are almost exclusively discussing female celebrities. How about talking about their latest movie, song or crazy antic, rather than solely focusing on their appearance?
Negatively Talking About Their Own Weight
Children repeat patterns they see around them.
If people close to them are constantly taking about "good" and "bad" foods, diets, and saying they hate their "chunky thighs" or can't wear skinny jeans because of their "muffin top," they are instilling a negative and pervasive value of beauty and health. Instead, love your own body and talk about it with pride.
"Maybe You Shouldn't Have Dessert"
Maybe you should watch your mouth? Woe betide the fool who tries to come between me and a chocolate brownie. I mean, seriously. Plus, drawing connections between food you are "allowed" to eat and a person's weight, is an extremely dangerous exercise in self-loathing and deprivation.
Young girls have enough to contend with when attempting to navigate our male dominated society while simultaneously striving to make their mark on the world. They don't need body shaming and judgement. Instead, what they need is support, understanding and strong role models.