Do not tell your child they are fat

Parents, please do not tell your child they are fat.

I recently had a mother tell me she wanted to buy my book on parenting girls as she suspected she was doing “the wrong thing” with her daughter. When I enquired as to why she felt this way, she told me that she constantly tells her daughter she can’t wear particular outfits as they make her look fat. “And when we’re out,” she continued, “I will find a chubby girl and say, “See, you don’t want to look like her do you? There’s no way she should be wearing those tights.'”

Yes, I wish you would buy my book.

The sad thing is that this mother is by no means the only parent assuming it is her duty to weigh in on her daughter’s size.

The very next evening, in fact, my daughter came home mortified from working in her part-time retail job at a clothing store teen girls love to frequent.

She told me an 11year-old girl was in the store with her mother and sisters looking for a dress to wear to her First Holy Communion. Mum and the sisters had all stood around dissecting this child’s body and pointing out her flaws to my daughter, “See! She looks pregnant in this! Look at all her fat rolls at the back! Are there bigger sizes? Something that will cover her up?”

My daughter wanted to scream at them (but instead could only continually tell this little girl how lovely she thought she looked).

If you find yourself yearning to point out to your child that they are larger, please ask yourself why you are so afraid of bigger bodies. As author J.K. Rowling once said, “Is ‘fat’ really the worst thing a human being can be? Is ‘fat’ worse than ‘vindictive’, ‘jealous’, ‘shallow’, ‘vain’, ‘boring’ or ‘cruel’?”

Make no mistake, the world will tell your daughter she is too much – or too little – soon enough anyway. She will be bombarded with messages about what defines beauty in this culture.

We are, in fact, obsessed with obtaining the elusive body beautiful.

Many of us already have dieting down to an art form.

Our relationship with food, which surely should be so simple, seems to have become incredibly complex. Large numbers of women and girls routinely go on diets: as many as 50 per cent of teenage girls say they have been on a diet. Health experts warn that we are simultaneously in the midst of an obesity epidemic. Australian Bureau of Statistics figures show that up to 54 per cent of the adult population may be overweight.

A Sydney study of adolescents aged 11 to 15 reported that 16 per cent of the girls and 7 per cent of the boys had already employed at least one potentially dangerous method of weight reduction, including starvation, vomiting and laxative abuse.

This is why nutritionist and parenting experts have raised concerns this month over WW’s (formerly known as Weight Watchers) decision to launch an app aimed at 8 to 17 year-olds.

It’s easy to see why the weight-loss industry would set its sights on our kids – the sector is worth billions of dollars each year: once we are its slave, we are forever in its service (hence the phase “yo-yo dieting”).

Tragically, we are all too often sold a big fat lie. Within two years, 95 per cent of people who go on weight-loss diets, including commercial diets, regain all the weight they lost, plus more.

Then there is the even darker side of weight loss: the eating disorders anorexia and bulimia. Whilst they are complex mental illnesses understood to have various causes, we do know that they are most often triggered during adolescence through dieting.

If you are genuinely concerned about your child’s health, then offer less packaged and processed foods, and do some fun movement together as a family.

But do not use the word “diet”. Do not encourage your child to download an app so that they can track their eating and movement.

And if you feel you need to work on your body image, please do so. I get it – it is hard work making peace with our bodies.

But we mustn’t pass the battle on, or recruit our children.

As parents, we should be our child’s safe, reassuring space.

We should focus on raising our daughters (and sons) to be a somebody, not just a conventionally attractive body.

This post was originally published in The Daily Telegraph