“Mom, Do I Look Fat?”

Anyone out there deal with this one yet?

Just as you finally stop asking that question out loud as you realize that you want your daughters to feel great about their bodies, and you don’t want to reveal your own feelings or insecurities about your own, they pop this one out.

My ‘first time’ went kind of like this: My oldest daughter, now 14, hits about age 10, and starts to look at herself in the mirror. As I watch her putting on her pants, she mimics in the best way possible, turning one way and then the other: “Mom, do I look fat in these pants?”

I just about fell over. Partly because I have been so fastidious about never, ever, ever saying that out loud, (I stopped torturing my husband with that one years ago; it never did much for either one of us) and having three daughters, I wanted to model a positive body image/feeling, self esteem blah blah blah, yah da yah da yah da. (Not to minimize how great it is to have great self esteem now, of course.)

Okay, I just on some level knew I didn’t want my daughters to learn that old stuff.

So here I have this 10 year old kid, who is highly self conscious, highly self aware, has somewhat perfectionistic standards for herself, is not at all fat either, uttering that pet phrase of women all over. I thought for a moment she was parodying the girl/woman, ‘Do I look fat?’ thing; she does tend to have a pretty high level of irony.

Of course I was thrown and didn’t know what to say beyond the old “Of course you don’t look fat, you are perfect”, thing. Yeah, that really sunk in. I crack up now, because it is never really the issue. The reassurance we seek, the idea that a few words will assuage any anxiety or help us deal with whatever we feel is not so great about ourselves.

I certainly didn’t’ in the moment do what I suggest to other moms. Easy to be the therapist and give advice and then out of office hours, of course, do the ‘wrong’ thing.

What I realize of course, after all of this, is that she doesn’t really need an answer from me anyway. That her own anxiety, and struggle with this, is her own to navigate and I will continue to be the Mom there, “Oh, you just say that because you have to, you are my Mom” she says back when I tell her how beautiful she is.

Whenever she says those words at any given time, I try different things, from: “Please don’t insult my daughter.” or “Keep that as your inside voice”, to: “It sucks to feel that way; it is a feeling, not a fact.”


So how do we deal with the issue of body, beauty and self esteem with our daughters, when their reality is such (and our reality) that we live in a culture obsessed with the body. That the body beautiful for women is powerful, and a huge issue. No matter what angle you are coming at it from. We can’t escape the fact that our girls are having to navigate the images of beauty in any way they get it, and we can’t protect them from what they are exposed to. We can’t stick our head in the sand and pretend that this world doesn’t exist, even if we don’t want them to be obsessed with America’s Top Model

This is a big part of their body/ego/image as they grow. It is a reality. However they respond to it, is going to obviously dovetail with our own ideas, experiences and feelings based on our own experiences. We can’t change that. Best to not deny it by expecting them to realize that they are ‘Perfect and beautiful no matter what’

I am fascinated with how we struggle with this very real issue. An issue which is tucked away, at the ‘back of the closet’ of our mind. Not that it doesn’t occur to us, we just don’t seem to talk very openly about it.

I am not giving answers here, because I think the dialogue is what is key. I am also endlessly fascinated with the different issues. Moms are comfortable talking about this in the consultation room, but are embarrassed to say to a friend: “I am uncomfortable with how I don’t like my daughters’ body; I worry that she may get fat as she takes after my husband.”

So, let’s bring this topic out of the back of the closet. Please email me or make comments about any of your own experiences being a mother raising a daughter and the issue of Beauty and the Body. Theirs, yours.

Being able to process this I believe will and can be key to helping our daughters to do so. To process the very real feeling they have about their bodies. No, it isn’t easy. But it is there. They are dealing with this, even if they don’t talk about it. The feelings of competition, envy, and anxiety about their own, and their friends’ bodies. The comparisons as they are all growing. How this impacts on their developing self esteem.

Please write in your comments, or thoughts, either to this website, or directly to me at: donna@donnafish.com

I welcome your part of this dialogue


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