Skinny vs. Healthy

I’m opting for a very serious topic today. My daughter has come home from school several days saying that people have called her “fat.” She didn’t seem too upset about it, but she did say that she wanted to start walking in the afternoons and eating more fruits and vegetables for snacks. All good things, right? Especially since this gives me a reason to get up off my butt and walk with her. You would think this is a win-win, but then she said something else that made me stop in my tracks.

She said she was doing it because she really wants to be skinny.

She is only eight years old.

I have dealt with body image issues for my entire life. I remember back in high school buying jeans in a size 8 or 10 and feeling rotten about myself because I couldn’t fit into a 4 or 6. I look back at pictures of myself and wonder what the hell was wrong with me – compared to what I am now, I was tiny! But I remember feeling so insecure about it and nothing and no one was going to change my mind.

When I was sixteen, I wanted to be thinner so badly that I tried to eat as little as possible. I never actually had an eating disorder, I don’t think, but I would go for days not eating all that much. I was never able to keep it up for long – because my body was still growing and needed nourishment!  And it made me feel bad about myself because I wasn’t disciplined enough to keep up with my “diet.”

It scares me to think that my daughter could possibly go through the same thing. For the record, I personally don’t think she’s fat at all. She’s got a little bit of a tummy, but that’s it. She’s just going through the slightly pudgy stage that all kids go through at this age when their gearing up for their next growth spurt. Besides that, she’s going to be tall. Her legs are almost as long as mine are already.

I’ve been hesitant to bring up the weight issue because I don’t want her focusing on it. Since both of her parents (and most of their families) have had weight issues, it’s likely that my daughter will too. If I push her to exercise, will it make her feel bad if she doesn’t do it? If I try to get her to eat less crap, will she think I’m trying to get her to diet at this young age? I don’t want her to be overweight, but I also don’t want her to feel bad about herself if she ends up that way.

So how to handle this situation? I’ve been trying to not emphasize the word “skinny.” Or “thin.” Or “fat.” When we talk about exercising or eating more fruits and veggies, I tell her we’re doing it to be “healthy.” Her body will change a lot as she grows up and as long as she is healthy, I’m fine with however she looks. But I want her to be fine with how she looks as well. I don’t want her worrying about dieting in middle school, or binging and purging in high school. I want her to have a healthy body image, but in today’s world, that is so hard, especially for little girls.

For any other parents out there reading this, what do you think?