In a recent episode of the NBC show This Is Us, pre-teen daughter, Kate, asks her dad, “Am I fat?” This question appeared in teasers for the episode before it aired and my husband Chad and I talked about it before viewing the full show. What’s the right answer? What if our future children ask us a question like that? What do we say? There are resources and opinions on this topic out there. I have a couple books on our shelves at home that talk about girls’ body image and weight since I do a lot of reading and studying on girls and media. But I kept thinking about the question, wondering what I would want to tell my own daughter if I have one.
We later watched the show. Kate’s dad responded with something along the lines of, “You’re my favorite looking person in the world.” Chad and I were both skeptical of his answer. It wasn’t a great response if you ask me, but it’s a hard question, and I appreciate that the character didn’t know exactly the best thing to say. It was realistic for how many parents may respond, even if not completely helpful. Because what should we say if the girls in our life question their bodies?
In a society where girls are bombarded with media images of thin, beautiful women, it’s extremely common for them to question the way they look and feel about their bodies. Even many girls who are not overweight will still question whether they are. And overall, I think we shouldn’t focus too much of our conversation with girls on weight or looks, since it can create unhealthy fixations and obsessions. But these questions are going to come up and I also don’t think we should brush them aside or disregard them. I still don’t know what the best response would be to Kate’s “Am I fat?” but in thinking more about it, I came up with this:
Fat is a troubling word, mostly used to make people feel ashamed and insecure and sad about who they are. I don’t want you to use that word about yourself because I don’t want you to feel ashamed and insecure and sad. You are beautiful and there is so much more to you than what’s on the outside. You are kind and compassionate. You are a good friend and a good listener. You are witty and clever and strong. You are a body, yes, but you are also a soul and a mind and a unique personality.
There are too many people willing to tell you that you aren’t good enough and I don’t want you to let them do that. I don’t want you to compare yourself to others or try to live up to someone else’s standard of “pretty.” Those standards change all the time so you’ll always be chasing something that you aren’t and I want to you to chase your dreams. I want you to learn about yourself and figure out what you want from life and then go after it with abandon. I want you to be a person who lifts others up and doesn’t let others put you down or put your friends down. I want you to be a person who isn’t afraid, who doesn’t shrink away, who knows what is right and stands up for that.
So let’s not talk about fat. Let’s talk about healthy. Let’s talk about how you feel when you run and swim and jump and play and breathe the world in. Let’s talk about whether your body lets you do the things you want to do. Because healthy comes in all shapes and sizes. Do you remember that we are all made in God’s image? God’s image is on the inside and outside of all of us. His image isn’t just one thing, it’s a multitude, a diversity of size and shape and color. And it makes you beautiful. It makes us all beautiful.
We need our bodies to be as healthy and strong as possible — and that’s looks different for every person — so that it doesn’t stop us from doing all the good things we can do in life. We need our bodies to be healthy because they house everything else we are too, all our thoughts and feelings and dreams come from within these bodies. So I don’t care if your body lives up to some arbitrary standard of what other people — or magazines or Instagram or whatever — tells you you should look like. I want you to be healthy and strong so you can keep being you; so that you can keep loving your family and laughing with your friends, reading your favorite books and practicing your music, doing science experiments and traveling the world. I want you to keep being generous and kind and empathetic and funny for as long as you can. Just be you.