The other day, my step-daughter came into the room in the evening for a few minutes of hang-out time like she does every night. (She will disagree with this statement, but it is literally our favorite part of the day).
Next thing I know, she’s saying, “Amanda-Lee, I just really wanted to thank you for what you said today.” At first I was totally confused; I barely saw her due to an all-day cheer competition where I watched her do her thing from a distance. She went on to clarify, “Someone told me that they talked to you about my weight, and I really appreciate you sticking up for me.”
NOW I knew. It wasn’t the first time that someone came up to me, questioning if my step-daughter was eating. “Isn’t she too thin?” and “Are you sure she’s eating?” have been questions that have come my way lately. I’m a thin person myself and I have also had to endure “well-meaning” people telling me to “Eat a cheeseburger” while they try to pinch my stomach looking for something to grab onto. I know that feeling. I remember how it played into my already warped sense of body image.
I could tell she was really bothered by the conversation, and I knew it wasn’t the first time she had to fight this misconception. While she is thin, she is not too thin. She is curvy in all the right places and drop-dead gorgeous. (However, some days I don’t think she realizes this.) She went on to question why in the world people feel like they have the right to body shame her for being thin. She’s right.
In a world where extra curves are now being celebrated and put on album covers and on the runway at fashion week, why is this having such a negative effect on those without the extra curves? She pointed out that if she told someone that they needed to lose weight, she would be absolutely ostracized for such a statement; so why is it okay for someone to tell her to gain weight?
The Weight of Others’ Words
As we continued this conversation, I could see not only the frustration, but the hurt her body language was conveying. Don’t people understand the weight that their words have on a child? At just 16, my step-daughter’s self-concept is fragile as she blooms into a mature, confident, young woman.
Don’t we all remember what these years were like? Navigating middle school and high school with changing bodies and hormones? I know I never felt beautiful. In high school, I was very thin, but it wasn’t for lack of trying. I used to look in the mirror picking apart every part of me that didn’t measure up. I lived through ’90s diet culture, where every woman I knew was always trying to get skinny and it was thoroughly broadcast at each meal.
She pointed out that if she told someone that they needed to lose weight, she would be absolutely ostracized for such a statement; so why is it okay for someone to tell her to gain weight?
My poor body-image continued and carried me into relationships that weren’t healthy, in large part because I felt lucky that “someone” found me pretty. I don’t want that for her. The more I thought about it, I began to think of all the times people said something about my weight – either when I was 16 or 36.
What Are People Really Trying to Say?
Do I think people mean well? Yes. While I know there are plenty of people that may say things out of jealousy, I know that some of them come from a good place. As an adult, I can see and appreciate that. However, that is harder for her to understand at this stage in her life. To her, it is body shaming and it’s not fair.
So, let’s say you are concerned. What do you do? If you are legitimately concerned, then yes! Please go to the parent and express your concern. BUT. Please do not ask the child in question about her weight. Going directly to them, even with the best of intentions, can set them on a path of questioning their own self-worth.
Now, us mama-bears can be a bit territorial when being questioned about our kids, so be prepared. Be careful on your approach and be prepared to explain why you are concerned outside of simply quoting size. If there are facts to back up your concern, we are much more likely to hear you, even if it is hard. Also know that, while we may not be receptive at the moment, we do appreciate your concern and it may alert us to something we previously dismissed.
Finally, it is hard to approach a delicate topic and we do know that it comes from a place of love, even when our emotional response gets in the way.
Lord knows that eating disorders and unhealthy weight problems are real and need to be addressed – on both sides of the BMI-Spectrum. However, without the correct approach, it can do far more long-term harm than good.
Body shaming often stems from judgment. But why do we do it and how can we stop? This episode of This Grit and Grace Life demystifies the phenomenon: Can We Just Admit We Judge Other Women? – 203