My 9-year old daughter (who is built like a racing snake) told me today that sometimes she thinks she is fat. She showed me her thigh to demonstrate why she thought this way. I knew this would happen at some time but I hoped not this early.
My first thought was "How can you think you're fat, you're bordering on skinny?" but I was able to quietly process that without speaking. What I actually said was "And what would happen if you were fat?" She didn't know. So, she knows that she mustn't be fat but she doesn't know why. This kind of illogic puts me in mind of some organised religions and I guess that makes sense because body image, fashion and popular culture is a religion to some people. It is certainly as costly and causes as much angst as religions do.
My final word on the matter was "I don't think you're fat and if you were, it wouldn't make any difference to how I felt about you. If you know anyone who would think differently about you because you were fat then they're probably not interested in the person you are anyway". I don't know how helpful this was but it was the best I could do under the circumstances.
I expect this topic will come back frequently over the coming years, (with 3 daughters, I think that's inevitable), and I hope that my responses will avoid judgement of the system that is giving them these thoughts and that they value so highly at the moment, and yet still maintain their positive self regard and confidence.
Ironically, I have a post-it note on my shower-room mirror which this same little girl put there about 6 months ago. It reads: "You don't have to change, you're beautiful just the way you are". So why doesn't she believe that about herself?