“Mom, I’m Fat:” One Mother’s Inspired Response to Her 7 Year Old

By | January 12th, 2012 | 518 comments

by Janell Hofmann

I am sitting, cross legged, on the bathroom floor trimming my five year old daughters’ toenails.  My nine year old son showers his muddy body as I lean against the tub.  My three year old daughter wrestles herself into pajamas in her bedroom.  My eleven year old son bursts in from football practice and hollers upstairs about reheating leftovers and having a sore throat.  My husband is out dropping our minivan off for a tune up.  The sun has set and we’re putting another day to rest.  In the confusion of this typical weeknight, I glance up from the floor at my seven year old daughter, standing on the step stool, completely undressed, brushing her teeth.  I don’t like the way she is looking at herself in the mirror.  I don’t like the way she pokes at her belly and frowns at her profile.  I watch her for another minute and step in.

“What’s up, girl?”  I ask.  “I’m fat.”  she responds without hesitation.  I’m instantly weak.  She continues, “My stomach jiggles when I run.  I want to be skinny.  I want my stomach to go flat down.”  I am silent.  I have read the books, the blogs, the research.  I have aced gender studies, mass media, society and culture courses in college.  I have given advice to other mothers.  I run workshops and programming for middle school girls.  I have traveled across the world to empower women and children in poverty.  I am over qualified to handle this comment.  But in reality, my heart just breaks instead.  I am mush.  Not my girl.

I rally some composure and stay cool.  “You are built just perfect – strong and healthy.”  And she is.  But this doesn’t soothe.

I flounder.  This child – my first and wildly celebrated daughter – was breastfed girl power.    I read picture books with only central female characters, I insisted she wrestle her big brothers, demanded family call her words like smart and brave as much as cute and adorable.  I tell her we are all different – straight and thin to round and plump and millions of ways in between.  I tell her it’s what makes us all beautiful.  Unconvinced.

I send all the other kids away.  I shut the door and we sit face to face on the floor.  There is more here and I need to see it through.  I tell her I looked just like her when I was seven.  I tell her she will grow to be tall and strong and fierce, like me.  Not good enough.  I reach and scramble.  I tell her how fast she runs.  Remind her of the goal she scored in soccer.  What an expert she is on her bike and the amazing balance and tricks she does on her scooter.  I remind her of her high level reading, her artwork, her mastery of math facts.  “Fat.”

I grow desperate.  “Child!  What is the first thing everyone tells you when they meet you?”  She sighs, “I’m beautiful.”  Beauty is not helping me here.  I’m failing.  Pleading, I ask her why.  Her blues eyes meet mine.  She tells me on two different occasions friends have called her “kind of fat” when they were talking about bodies this summer in their bathing suits.  And she felt sad.  But she also felt good because finally she confirmed that what she thought about her body was “mostly true”.

I think a few bad thoughts about her peers and their mothers and wonder what messages are being sent.  I am out of tools.  And now twenty minutes later, I’m out of patience too.  I feel powerless to what seems certain to her.  And I cannot understand how she does not see all of life’s perfection in her reflection.

I stand her up on the step stool in front of the mirror.  I strip off my yoga pants, my tee shirt, my bra and underwear.  We are side by side completely naked together.  She laughs.  I start singing a song that I’m making up as I go.  It’s rap meets Raffi with lyrics like “We are perfect, just the way we are.”  It’s wild and silly, but I cannot be stopped.  We’re shaking everything, and she’s belly laughing and totally thrilled.  I pick her up.  We are a ridiculous and magnificent pair.  The other kids hear the commotion and barge in.  They are confused and horrified.  I carry her to the bedroom raving about all the ways we are powerful and naked and women.  We settle into comfy pajamas and read a story together.  Fat is not mentioned again.

On this night, I have no idea if I have succeeded.  I’m not sure if what I said and did had an impact, if I fixed anything, or even if I changed her mind.  But I do know that I must continue to infuse myself and my children with bold confidence.  I must check in, ask questions, take the time.  I must build and undo.  I must be open and genuine.  I must but willing to dance naked in the mirror, resist the urge to see all the ways five babies have changed me, and stare straight into my reflection with love.  Then together, with a twinkle in our eyes, we only see radiance shining back.

Janell Burley Hoffmann is a writer and modern day abolitionist who leads empowerment programs for girls on Cape Cod.   She is a lover of life and enjoys the wild ride with her husband and five children ages 12, 9, 7, 5, and 4. 

518 Responses to ““Mom, I’m Fat:” One Mother’s Inspired Response to Her 7 Year Old”

  • Lily says:

    This is a wonderful story and you handled a difficult situation beautifully. I hope though that the narrative in your house is about healthy food and the extent to which we can influence our bodies (and to which we can’t). From your description, I’m betting that the healthy eating part is already in place but please remember that your little girl is going to hear lots of garbage about dieting, fasting and purging. At her age she probably hasn’t yet made the connection between size and food choices. You’d be doing her a further service to start explaining, in short, child-appropriate lessons, concepts like calorie density and a properly balanced diet. That’s not in any way a criticism of your truly marvelous handling of this issue, or an assumption about what you already teach your kids about nutrition…just a suggestion to take it a step further. It’s great if your daughter learns to appreciate and trust her body; learning that she can keep it tuned up at her own discretion, without any extreme measures, would be a great next step. Cheers to you!

  • Mom of 4 who struggles with her own weight says:

    This made me cry — in a good way — for the wonderful mom your daughter has and for the little girl in me who didn’t have this kind of mom but sure needed to.

  • Ginger says:

    Beautifully written and beautifully handled. Fantastic parenting! Wish more parents would read this and teach their children to love themselves as they are like this!

  • Lisa says:

    Reading this blog post after reading about the Vogue mom, I have a huge smile and a warm feeling inside. You are a great inspiration to so many moms! Look at the number of comments! I raised 3 daughters and when my girls got to their early teens, I was hit, smack in the face, with this awful pressure that society puts on us as women. I had faced it also and I would say that I lost the battle. I refused to let my children diet. I told them that they should skip unhealthy things, snacks, and we would get more active. I explained how bodies go through changes as we grow and that it’s all okay. I homeschooled them for a few years which probably helped with that, also. I wish I had had your wisdom or even the wisdom that I have now to deal with it. I hope and pray for strength in all of our young women and women-to-be! Thanks for writing this.

  • Jocelyn says:

    I do think that you addressed/are addressing this in the right way. As someone who struggled with disordered eating up until my twenties because I went through puberty early, I remember what finally cured me. I began lifting weights in hopes of losing weight, but the appreciation for my body that doing so gave me changed everything. I remember thinking- sure, this body isn’t perfect, but look how strong it is. Look how much it can do when I take care of it and feed it the right kinds of food. Appreciating strength whether internal or external is the best way to combat the social weakness and body consciousness given to our gender.

  • Sad says:

    Your story made me tear up. You are a wonderful mother and human being. I can only wish that my mother had did something of the sort with me. Instead, she was almost an exact copy of that Vogue writer. And now, here I am, almost 30, hating my body as long as I can remember. I’ve had two liposuction surgeries. I starve myself, even though I love food. I have a husband who thinks I’m the most beautiful thing to walk this earth, and I know I turn heads wherever I go. But all I can see is jiggle, rolls and cellulite. Your daughter (and all your children) are blessed to have you.

  • Charlie Taylor says:

    You’re amazing. Really, I’m sure she’ll remember that when she’s older. My Grandma spent my entire young life telling me that my quite large moles dotted around my body were my “beauty marks”. On one occasion a kid went to make fun of them and without hesitation I said “they’re my beauty marks, not moles” and I believed it. I still like looking at them, because they remind me of a great lady who loved me a lot.

  • Barbara says:

    Beautiful. Bless you for showing others what true love is, and sees, and does.

  • Your daughter is a very lucky girl to have a Mom with such common sense and humour. Thank you for sharing…

  • Julie says:

    You are an incredible woman and an even better mother!

  • A Perfect Reflection! Mirrors reflect poorly. They only show us what we “think” into them. What a gift for a young girl (or a grown man) to have – a loving woman serving as a better reflection of ourselves than any mirror can. Thank you for being this wonderful reflection to us all!

  • Liz says:

    Your words are very inspiring! Just to tell you a little about me, I’m 24 and just finished my 2nd round of treatment for an eating disorder, which started when I was 12. When I was young, My mom did not try to counter those moments. She did not reinforce them yet she also didn’t try to stop them. Even today, when I’m 24, she tells me that I will probably always feel that way, (her exact words were “its a forever thing”). So it makes me feel really good to hear of moms who are determined to instill healthy body images in there little girls. THANK YOU!!!

  • Juli says:

    I & my daughter are the opposite. I was waif when waif wasn’t cool. I wore thermal underwear under my jeans to add bulk, even in hot weather. I would hide in the corner to change in the gym room b/c girls would remark about how they could see my ribs. I was desperate for curves, boobs, anything that would give me shape. One guy I one went out with scarred me with the comment, “even a dog likes a little meat on his bone.” My daughter (now 10)is the same. She has a dancer’s body, long torsoed & lean, a carbon copy of mine at that age. I think she is stunningly beautiful and just right. I haven’t shared with her my scars b/c, after 4 children, I am no longer thin. I have plenty of “curves” and bulges, unfortunately ALL in the wrong places. She has remarked on her “knobby knees” while trying on shorts. She has had several girlfriends tell her that she is “way too skinny” because they can see her ribs. This issue is not limited to girls who are heavier. I doubt there is a girl/woman in this world who thinks her body is perfect.

    • Mom of 4 who struggles with her own weight says:

      As a person who has been struggling with her weight since grade school (I’m now 40 and the only time I trusted and appreciated my body was when I was pregnant), I am guilty of commenting and thinking abut how lucky women who are naturally very slender are . . .BUT, I know that any intense focus on one’s body is uncomfortable. I am just as sympathetic to the women I know who are in your shoes as I am to the women I know who are in mine. We have an impossible cultural body ideal for anyone to live up to, except 1% or less of the population — and even they are airbrushed into perfection.

  • Kristine says:

    My 6 year old daughter had me in tears last week with the very same comments…. I felt defeated, deflated and determined. I am not thin… I was, but 3 kids later I am just not. She has grown up watching me struggle with my weight and I feel like I have failed her by discussing my “diets” not with her but in front of her. I have always assured her that my focus is on HEALTH-NOT beauty but she also heard some girls in her KINDERGARTEN class talking about who has a “big belly and a big booty” and she was in the big booty category. I told her that a big booty is for dancing and she loves to dance so she should shake it!
    It breaks my heart that she feels this way.
    Thanks for putting this out there. I am glad I stumbled upon it on our Sandwich Mom’s Club group on Facebook.
    I love reading what others have said to their daughters as I, too am left wondering if I made a difference with my chat.
    All we can do is keep “encouraging our little girls to look beyond what they see and be the best they can be”
    Thanks

  • Laurie says:

    Thank you for sharing this deeply personal story with us! What a struggle (and responsibility) we ALL have to our daughters, granddaughters, nieces, etc. I think you were successful with your daughter. God bless you for being so boldly honest with her. It was a lesson learned by her and your other kids.

  • Shannon says:

    Wow…..that is awesome. I stumbled upon your blog as I was searching for help/ideas because my 5 year old asked me if I would love her more if she was skinny. I about died….
    Thank you for your words….

  • mary loughran says:

    My daughter who is overweight took herself and my grand daughter, 13, to belly dancing class together three years ago. There are about 30 women of all shapes and sizes, and 4 other mother-daughter couples. This class now performs at festivals and always receives enormous applause for their skills, and for their courage to be joyfully themselves in public performance. The first time I saw them perform was at the end of a night of professional acts. They got a standing ovation from the audience of mostly women, who recognized their strength and their bravery. I will never forget it!

  • Bella says:

    Now that is woman enpowerment!

  • Christy says:

    I have a 9 and 7 year old daughter who also have struggled with this. My oldest struggles with being the smallest girl in most of her classes and my 7 year old is build differently. By anyone’s standards she is thin but compared to her sister, she has more curves. I have had moments like yours so I came up with a plan. We got dressed up in our cutest outfits and fixed our hair and went to lunch. I read them each a list of things that made them wonderful. It had contributions from me, my husband, their grandparents, aunts and uncles, and some friends of mine. It contained things like their ability to make people feel comfortable, the joy of having a converstaion with them, basically the things that really matter. When we got home we messed up our hair, changed into dirty messy clothes and again I read them the list. I told them that the list doesn’t change based on the outside, it would only every change if they changed on the inside. The next day I watched my girls go to school with messy hair just to prove their confidence in themselves!!! I have never been more proud of messy hair!!!!

  • […] Janells sätt att försöka hantera detta, eller en av hennes sätt, är tillslut att ställa sig bredvid sin dotter – också hon naken – och visa att alla ser olika ut. Hon utmanar på så sätt sig själv också, skriver hon, då hon vet att hon själv måste förbi se hur fem barn har ändrat hennes egen kropp. Ni kan läsa hela historien här. […]