Poor body image starts early, and often, it’s unintentionally supported by well-meaning parents who are accidentally fat-shaming their children. Parents are their children’s first teachers, and the messages kids receive in their home can have a huge effect on the way they view themselves. As parents being raised in the same world full of unrealistic beauty standards, it’s easy for us to internalize the same messages we’re trying not to pass down to our kids. But it’s important to work on undoing that conditioning, because it’s affecting the next generation.
Earlier this year, a study by Common Sense Media found that 80 percent of 10-year-old girls have been on a diet, and more than half of girls and one-third of boys ages six to eight want a body thinner than the one they have. Yikes! What this data implies is that we, as parents, have some serious work to do if we don’t want to be part of the problem.
So what are some ways that you might be unintentionally fat-shaming your child? Here are some things to look out for, and to work on changing if you find them cropping up in your parenting style.
1Calling Foods “Good” or “Bad”
Food is just food, and assigning it positive or negative power can make a child feel anxious and judged. It can also support disordered eating behaviors. “Talk about foods in a non-judgmental way," Judith Matx, a licensed clinical social worker with a specialization in binge eating, suggests on Everyday Feminism. "Children can learn that some foods are more nutritious and help their bodies grow strong; other foods are less nutritious but taste good.”
2Calling Certain Outfits “Flattering” On Your Kid
Over at Bustle, Jodie Layne makes the case to do away with the word “flattering” completely, and I couldn’t agree more. As long as your child feels good in an outfit, it shouldn’t matter whether you, as a parent, think it “flatters” their figure. This kind of language is not just fat-shaming, but it sexualizes our children, as well.
3Talking About Their Weight
Unintentional fat-shaming can come in the form of comments like, "you are beautiful inside" or "you have a curvy body." This gives kids the message that compliments are based on weight and appearance — nothing more.
4Concern-Trolling About Health
This is subtle and hard to catch — it masks fat-shaming as “concern” about your child’s health. Even asking your child if they really want to eat that is harmful, as is focusing as exercise on a weight-loss strategy as opposed to something healthy.
5Commenting On Particular Body Parts
Ilana Masad, a woman who has struggled with eating disorders, says that her mother told her that when she was little, she used to drink a ton of water and her belly would distend. Her mother’s intention was to stress how cute it was to see her round little belly, but for Masad, it became an obsession that anything she ate or drank was immediately apparent on her body. She’s not sure that her mother could have done anything differently, since the comment seems incredibly innocuous, but it’s a good example of just how much of an effect our words, as parents, can have on our children.
6Talking About Your Diet
When you talk about your dieting behavior or scrutinize the foods you eat, your children are listening. Your own unhealthy eating behaviors can lead your child to mimic you.
7Criticizing Your Own Appearance
When you say disparaging things about your body, you may think you're only putting yourself down. But those words affect your children, too. In one study of elementary school age children, kids picked up on their mother’s dissatisfaction with her body before expressing dissatisfaction about their own. Try to keep the body talk positive, especially around your child.
8Telling Fat Jokes
Fat is not a punchline, and telling fat jokes sends the message to kids that fatness is something that should be mocked.