Thanks so much for watching our video about 7 ways that we fat shame kids and might not even know it!
Do you have kids? Work with kids? Know some kids? Even if you know 1 child - you should watch this video. This episode of our fat shaming series goes over 7 ways you might be fat shaming your kids and don’t even know it!
Kids who feel bad about their body size and start dieting are at about three times greater risk for binge eating, weight gain and other eating disorders compared to their non-dieting counterparts.
Children are sponges! Not only are they exposed to messages in the media, on the playground, but as members of our body shaming culture, parents unknowingly instill their own attitudes about weight to their children. While we obviously can’t control all of the messages our children will receive, we can do our best to make sure we aren’t contributing to the negative ones.
Here are 7 common mistakes parents make about their kid’s weight and what we can do instead.
- Bashing your body.
Have you ever stood in front of the mirror and made comments like, “These jeans make me look fat,” or “I have to lose weight before I can wear a bathing suit,” “i have 3 weeks to lose 15 pounds before the wedding”. your child will quickly get the message that you don’t like your body and that barating it is NORMAL and expected. Your kids wants to admire and adore you, and when you bash your body - your kids thinks its normal and wonders what you might be thinking about theirs. So stop saying bad things about your body in front of your kids!
Instead, imagine looking in the mirror and uttering the words, “I like the way this dress looks on me,” or “I feel beautiful.”, “I feel smart” - What a positive message to pass down to your child that emphasizes your looks and focuses on your character. If you’ve always struggled with your body image, it may feel like quite a stretch talk positively about yourself, so start by trying to let go of the negative messages. If you can’t say anything nice, then don’t say anything at all.
- Promoting diet behavior
Diet talk is 100% normalized and even expected in our culture. For example, “I can’t eat that – I’m on a diet.” or you say to your kids “don’t eat that - it’s too fattening” or “too many cookies will make you fat”. This sends a clear message that weight loss is a admirable goal - which it is not and kids who diet are actually at a greater risk of long-term weight gain, binge eating, and eating disorders, compared to kids that do not diet.
Instead, don’t talk about your diet in front of your children—or better yet, don’t diet! We, as adults often have our own issues with food and body image because we have absorbed the cultural messages that idealize thinness. So, If you’re caught in the diet/binge hating your body cycle, here are resources that can help you develop a healthy relationship with food.
- Laughing at fat jokes
Fat people continue to be the target of jokes. If you find humor at the expense of shaming another person about their body size, your kids will learn that it’s okay to make fun of people who are larger.
Instead, stop laughing at other people's expense. turn these jokes into a teachable moment to share your values about size diversity with your child. If want some examples of fat jokes check out our video about fat shaming on TV.
Depending on the age of your kid(s), help them understand that fat jokes are based on stereotypes, which make unfair assumptions about people who are fat. Teach them that jokes based on weight hurt people’s feelings. Everyone (including them!) deserves to be treated with respect.
- Referring to food as “good” and “bad”
Ohh that’s not good for you - eat this, it’s good for you. Those donuts are bad! Too much fat? Too many carbs? Gluten free? Paleo? Of course, access to nutritious food is important but it’s also important that kids taste a lot of different types of food. Shaming your kids for eating ‘bad’ food and praising them for eating ‘good foods’ has shown that they are more likely to eat “bad” food when you’re not around - even if they are not hungry.
Instead, teach your kids the difference between nutritious foods and less nutritious foods, and how to have a healthy relationship with food through balance. Children can learn that some foods are more nutritious and help their bodies grow strong; other foods may be less nutritious but taste good - the jackpot is creating both! If you’re concerned about the connection between health and weight, I highly recommend reading up on the Health At Every Size approach so that you can actually support your child’s health and not just focus on their weight.
Dr. Linda Bacon is a brilliant researcher who developed the Health At Every Size approach and I cannot recommend her perspective enough. It is partially due to her work that I am able to be OK in my body. While struggling with eating disorders and body dysmorphia for most of my youth, her work helped me believe that my body was not my enemy and that I does love me.
- Treating children differently based on their size
Do you require one kid to exercise every day – while their thinner sibling is not, or do you allow some children dessert and maybe others not. This type of singling out fatter kids leads to feelings of shame that last a lifetime. Are you a gym teacher who has lower expectations of kids who are larger?
Instead, knock it off! First, decide what behaviors are age-appropriate for your kids, and apply them equally to kids of all sizes - like go on family walk together - give everyone dessert. The key is to take the pursuit of weight loss out of the equation. If you have low expectations of your kids, they will most likely have low expectations of themselves.
- Complimenting or commenting on other people’s weight
We’ve all heard (or even made) comments such as “You look great – have you lost weight?” or “I can’t believe how much weight they’ve gained.” we’ve talked about this before (in our Weight Loss Culture video) and when our kids hear these words, they learn that it’s acceptable to judge other people’s bodies. If we tell kids that they look great because they have a thin build, what happens if they gain weight? And if a teen loses weight and we compliment him/her, what happens if the weight comes back? Commenting or complimenting people based on body size is a recipe for shame.
Instead, best to say nothing! If someone you know is looking for a compliment, consider saying something like “I’ve always valued our friendship no matter what size you’re at!” or “I think you always look beautiful and value your character no matter what size pants you wear”.
- Focusing on your child’s weight
Were you a fat kid yourself? Do you have fat kids? Ask anyone who was fat as a kid what the adults in their life said them about their bodies, and chances are you’ll hear things like, “You’d be so pretty if you lost weight,” or “No one will want to date you if you’re fat”, “you’ll never get a boyfriend looking like that”, "you have a really pretty face”. Shame is insidious, and it is incredibly hurtful when we give children the message that thinness is the only road to becoming happy. Being thin is NOT the road to happiness.
Instead: Compliment their abilities and character; mention how strong they are when they help you bring in the groceries, how kind they are to invite a lonely classmate over, how creative they are in art class - and if you have to make appearance-based comments, compliment the cute t-shirt, the new hairstyle or hair clip - but not their bodies.
Let your children know that, weight is an aspect of human diversity and a simple characteristic, not a behavior or character. Humans come in many sizes, shapes, colors, sexualities and genders and these should each be honored and respected.