Body shaming and its impact on children

My daughter was body shamed.
She is 4 years old.
She was body-shamed by none other than her “friends”.
While she was with them in the play area.

 

There. I said it. My dear darling doe, who is barely 4, was body-shamed right in front of me- in front of the person who she is supposed to feel the safest with. Now, my daughter is well within the right weight parameters for her age, except for a little extra baby fat around her tummy. Her friends called her fat and started poking her belly. She was at a loss. It all happened so suddenly that she didn’t know how to react and why being a certain way was suddenly so bad.
It all lasted for a couple of minutes before I intervened and asked the kids to not bully my child.
The after effect? You would think that she would have forgotten everything in a few minutes and went on about her day. But that wasn’t the case. She was glum the entire evening and refused to play. Let alone play with those particular kids. Later, she confided in her father, who was equally astonished and surprised as to how kids this age can be this aware of “fat” and “thin”.
It was beyond agonizing to see the confused look in her eyes when we tried explaining to her that what happened to her wasn’t her fault. Or she was any less precious. At the same time, I kept thinking how had it come to this?
That is when it occurred to me that we, as mothers, sacrifice so much in bringing the new life that we forget about nurturing our own bodies. And when we finally get a chance to look at ourselves we use labels like ” fat”, “disgusting” and other heavy words not realizing the young minds around us. Their brains are like sponges- soaking every single detail we utter and filing it away in a corner.
To be honest, that entire evening I was worried about how I would explain to her the various intricacies of life such as puberty, where hormones wreak havoc on skin and body.  When you grow up in a culture that places physical appearance over anything else. The magazines and other social media platforms are filled with instances that set unrealistic standards and expectations of beauty.
Surprisingly, some people believe that making a person more “aware” about their ill appearance is a way of motivation in order to transform themselves.
The generation today sees “expressing themselves” as a way of life; regardless of the fact that the person towards whom this was directed might not be able to take this easily. More and more girls are afraid of becoming “fat” and have asserted to a lifestyle of diets. But in reality, people who are clearly intent on hurting you will not stop targeting the weak point with distasteful opinions. We need to realize and make our children understand that discrimination causes stress and negative effects on people. The harmful effects of body shaming can lead to disastrous outcomes such as eating disorders, low self-esteem, and depression.
Fat shaming is not just targeted at heavy individuals. Shamers have an opinion if you are skinny, heavy, short, tall. It is a vicious cycle of judgment and criticism. It manifests in many ways like criticizing your own appearance ( especially in front of young geniuses with susceptible minds), criticizing others’ appearances in their absence. It perpetuates the idea that an individual is only supposed to be liked based on their physical appearances.
How they make you feel or how patient or talented they are, become secondary.
How do we deal with this? Especially with the kids?
  • We can stop talking about our bodies ( grudges and achievements, alike) in front of our young ones.
  • We can stop talking about others in the same manner when children are around.
  • We can start adopting a healthier lifestyle not to become “thinner” or more “magazine-like” but to keep our health in check.
  • We try to teach our children to appreciate a person based on how they treat you. As well as others. If they make you feel safe and happy instead of making you self doubt.
  • When we feel that it’s time for self-assertion, I use lines from the movie “The Help” (also a wonderful novel by Katheryn Stockett) “You is kind. you is smart. You is important” with certain variations. Emphasizing on the fact that it’s utterly important to be kind and brave.
While I am trying to bring them up in a manner where they don’t hurt feelings, I also pray to the Almighty that my children’s feelings and innocence stay unhurt. The light of love that emanates from them for us, stays the same for others.
After all, you don’t encourage people to take care of their body by telling them to hate it.

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26 Comments

  1. It’s really sad to know that kids have to face such things. Each body type is different have to tell them to ignore such comments and Love the way they are

  2. Bodyshaming is so wrong. I’ll admit I did this once out of anger to somebody. But it was so wrong and I do not wanna be a bad example for my girls and let them think that bodyshaming is okay.

  3. Well written, it’s so important to make sure our kids here mantras like “your smart, your kind, your important” we have used the very same quote to our kids, again, with varying alterations. Thank you for sharing.

  4. Couldn’t agree more.Health comes first , looking good can be one of the benefits. Children should be told about taste/peer pressure vs health benefits, looks vs inner beauty, expensive stuff vs simple pleasures, pampering vs mindful shopping and love vs show off. I hope with age and right guidance from parents our children will do well in life.we have to lead by example and show them the right approach of life.They will all be fine.

  5. This broke my heart to read. How does body shaming happen at all, yet at such a young age? I wouldn’t even know what to do because I would be in such shock. Things need to change.

  6. Oh wow! Very beautifully written!! So many times we as adults just ignore how the child feels, think the child’s reactions are insignificant and silly and do not go deeper into what something like this ‘actually means’ to the child.
    One of the most important aspects of parenting is to ‘listen’ to our child and take that tiny hand in ours to assure him/her that there’s someone who believes in them and will always be there for them !!

  7. Very well written article and an important msg given. I think while we teach our children how to defend against such situations, we must also teach them not to body shame others. It’s to early for children of 4 yrs to be thinking of such things but looks like it has come as a situation. All the best parenting and look forward for more such topics.. please do share ur thoughts..

  8. Love and care for oneself in an appropriate manner is what we need to teach our kids in todays world of psychological marketing wherein biggies are playing with the vulnerable minds of youth and now young kids are also in the vicious process!

  9. Very nicely wrote yes it’s TRUE we have to make our kids to feel good and love the way they are,irrespective of what others think.

  10. It’s harsh to see kids going through such turmoil at this age..it reminded me of my childhood.
    The best way for them to cope with such issues is ignore such comments & love yourself anyway!

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