When Lillie was 3 years old, she grabbed her thighs, sighed very loudly and said,
“Ugh, my legs are sooo fat.”
I would hope your reaction was the same as mine – surely, she didn’t just say her legs were fat. So, I turned down the radio (we were in the truck) and asked her as calmly as I could, “What did you say Lillie?”
And she repeated, “My legs are fat.”
My mind immediately ran through any and everything I may have said over the course of her entire lifetime that would have pushed her towards this conclusion. I came up with nothing. I don’t even say fat. I’ve even stopped other people from saying that in front of her. (I don’t have a problem with the word, to me it’s just an adjective, I have an issue with the context in which it was used.)
While I have had my fair share of weight issues, when I had Lillie, my perspective changed. My behaviors changed. I no longer made audible comments about my body or talked about food in a negative way (ex: I can’t eat that. It has too much fat. etc.) I became more active and my focus switched to being healthy as opposed to just being thin or restrictive. I had hoped by doing these things, by pro-actively sharing a positive body image in the woman she is around the most, that she would recognize her self-worth is not tied exclusively into her body – even though it can often feel that way for a girl, heck for a woman.
So, when she made this very wrong assessment about her growing body, about her toddler body, all I wanted to do was hug her, squish her close to me and tell her she was beautifully made no matter what size her thighs appeared to be. In fact, that’s probably what I would do to any of you lovely people reading right now but since she was only 3, I needed a more logical approach, one that would appeal to her current interests in the event that this would happen again. I didn’t want to ignore this comment and excuse it by thinking she wasn’t aware of what she was saying (but I mean, what if she knew exactly what she was saying and I just let her talk about herself in that way? Not acceptable.)
I decided to pull the truck over to the side of the road, asked God to help me find the words I needed and unbuckled my seat belt.
I knew by stopping the truck it would catch her attention and she immediately questioned, “Why are we stopping?”
And as I turned back to her, I found the words.
“Do you like to run?”
“And you love to play really hard, right? Going down the slide and swinging, right?”
“Well, the only way we are able to do those awesome, fun things is by having muscles. You know how we show our muscles in our arms?”
“We actually have muscles all over our body. In our legs, our back, even our face! Pretty cool, huh?”
IN OUR FACE??
“Yep, that’s how we can smile. And that’s how we can run because of those muscles in our legs. That’s how mama runs. And how I pick you up in the air. It’s muscles.
So, saying your legs are fat isn’t exactly right. You just have big, strong muscles that we want to keep growing so we can run faster and play harder. That’s why we drink water and eat our fruits and vegetables, because they help our body grow those muscles. Okay?”
I turned back around and we went about the rest of our day. And for the last year, I’ve tried reinforcing that conversation whenever I could. She runs “super fast” (her words) and when she finishes she’ll show me her muscles. When she asks for a water instead of juice, I give her a high-five. When she chooses to eat a banana instead of ice cream, I comment on what a good choice she’s made for her body.
I hate that she ever thought her legs were fat but it did help make our health a part of the conversation and for that I’m grateful. I strive to show her a balance and I’m learning as I go. We still regularly cook chicken nuggets from box, eat ice cream, share a soda, make cookies (which includes eating the dough!) and enjoy what we eat. Food is not something we revolve our life around, it’s just something we take care of in order to have the energy to do the things we want to do.
As she gets older, we’ll work on expanding our knowledge of health & food & exercise based on her maturity and what’s going on in her life. (I remember kids making fun of others in my 1st grade for their size!)
This particular incident helps serve me as a reminder of how easily influenced small children can be, even if they don’t realize what it is they’re saying/conveying.
I still don’t know where she picked up that thought – whether it was from a friend from school who has heard her parents talk about being fat, or from something on television/radio, or from someone close to us who maybe made an off-the-cuff remark to another adult without realizing the impact those words would make, this is an important conversation to have with our children. Hell, it’s an important conversation to have with ourselves.
I know I’m not going to be able to protect her from everything. From people’s opinions, from the media, even from her own voice of doubt – but I do plan on giving her the tools to break free from those things. Kindness being one of the most important tools in my book – and not only to other people but to herself. Speaking kindly and positively about your your body and your character can drastically change your own attitude (living proof right here) and create a better quality of life for you & those around you. And that’s why, I stopped the truck. And why I didn’t chalk this up to a kids say the darndest thing moment. Because one day, that kid is going to be an adult and what a terrible waste of this beautiful life we have if all we concentrate on is how ‘fat’ our thighs are.