My daughter and her ‘too round’ tummy

I knew it would happen, one day. Perhaps naively, I wasn’t expecting it for another few years. I remember it sweeping through my peer group at secondary school, when we were 14 or so, and I remember how ill one of my fellow pupils became as a result, unable to pull away as the rest of us did. I know that as a girl, my daughter runs a higher risk than her brothers of this becoming an issue. But I also knew – or thought I did – that as she has only just turned seven, I had a little while before I needed to worry.

Wrong, wrong, wrong.

‘Mum, if I do lots of ex-tra-cise, will my tummy get smaller?’

‘What? Your tummy is fine as it is! Why on earth would you want it to be smaller?’

‘Well, it’s just that it looks a bit too round. You know. I’d like it not to stick out so much. So, should I do lots of ex-tra-cise? Or maybe just eat less?’

What the WHAT? Did I hear that right? It seems that I did. In fact she has actually broached this subject before, but in such a roundabout and convoluted way that I had managed to convince myself that I had misunderstood her meaning, and the conversation had turned to other things.

I’m gobsmacked. Though I am certainly guilty of passing on some of my own issues to my kids, weight loss and body shape has never featured highly on my worry list. I never, ever turn down food, or buy diet options. I am a member of a gym, and I run semi-regularly, but exercise for me is about keeping my mental health on track more than anything else. We don’t have a pair of scales in the house, not even because I think we shouldn’t, but because it wouldn’t occur to me to buy them!

I’m not unaware of the external influences surrounding her. The Weight Watchers ad that she saw in the cinema – before a screening of Moshi Monsters FFS. The fact that every time we go into a newsagent she can’t help but see magazine covers screaming out that some celeb or other has *shock* cellulite, or the latest way to a happy, healthy, THIN, you, is just inside these pages. The women she sees on TV – even on the kids’ channels – are all on the skinny side of healthy. She hears adults in her wider family talking about weight loss, she probably hears kids in the playground use the word ‘fat’ as an insult.

But I’d made the mistake of assuming that without any validation of all this tripe from us, she would disregard it. Big mistake. BIG mistake. I had completely underestimated just how pervasive the messages are. I mean, on an intellectual level, I know it. I’m aware of the cynicism which drives the ‘health’ food industry. I’m aware that women and their bodies are seen as public property, to be picked over and criticised in the drive to sell ever more magazines.  I’m aware of the media mis-representation of women and their shape. I know that the chance of me switching on the TV and seeing a woman larger than size 10 is pretty small. Even smaller if I’m hoping to see a woman larger than size 10 in a positive, aspirational role, as opposed to a downtrodden character in some soap or other.

I know all this, and yet I have ignored it. And worse, I have assumed that my daughter will be able to ignore it too, even though her childhood is surrounded by exponentially more of this shit than mine was, back in the in the days of only 3 TV channels, black and white newspapers and no internet.

It makes me absolutely furious that, short of locking her in a room for ever, I cannot protect her from any of this. I can hope that she follows my example of ignoring it all, I can say all the right things, I can give off the right messages, but it’s a tiny drop of sanity in seven seas of madness. And more to the point, I’m furious that I should have to protect her in the first place! Maternal instinct is supposed to kick in to save our young from real threats – presumably back in the day it came in useful when faced with a marauding woolly mammoth – imagine the reaction explaining this to our ancestral mothers now…

‘Right. So let me get this straight. WE gave birth in caves, foraged for food, killed animals with our bare hands, fought off predators, to rear our kids. YOU get to rear yours in a nice warm house, with no man-eating wild animals hanging around, and you don’t even need to catch your own food. WE worried about starvation. YOU are worrying about your daughter worrying about whether she is thin enough. PROGRESS, huh?’

How they would laugh. Because put like that, it sounds laughable. And you know what, it SHOULD be laughable. But the truth is, it’s not. It’s really not funny at all. It’s not funny when a seven year old pokes herself in the tummy because she thinks it is too round.

Not. Funny. At. All.

 

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7 thoughts on “My daughter and her ‘too round’ tummy

  1. What a brilliantly written, honest piece about a subject that i’ve also wrestled with. My daughter is 10 and we encountered this from age 7 too. I’m just the same as you as in not turning down food or going on diets, although I do talk about the health affects of eating certain foods which might have had an impact. That said, she’s unlucky in that most of her classmates are super slim, and she has had what i’d consider a normal pre-pubescent slightly rounder figure. That has got slimmer as she’s got older, but she’s still concerned about what she eats. Its a total pain.

    What i’d suggest is getting a hold of an excellent book by Tanith Carey, called ‘Where’s my Little Girl Gone?’ She covers all these issues. She even talks about the urge to lock her daughter away in her bedroom but knows that won’t work! Her answer? Ensure you build up her self-esteem. That will be the ‘gas mask’ that will filter out the worst of the messages. And ensure her dad is around to build her up as a girl at this critical tween-age years… thanks for this post, Michelle. S
    Siobhan @ Everyone Else is Normal recently posted…‘Well done, Mum!’ An end of Summer Holidays poemMy Profile

    1. Thank you so much Siobhan. It helps to know that others are also wrestling with this, though the more I think about it, the more it seems awful that any wrestling needs to be done at all. That said, hope you and your daughter are navigating it successfully…
      I will download the book tonight, sounds like it is a sensible read and will hopefully give me some good strategies – I love the ‘gas mask’ analogy!
      Thank you again for reading and commenting, it is much appreciated.

  2. It is a very frustrating thing not to be able to protect your children from bad outside influences. There are shops which cater for what the media would refer to as the ‘larger’ (ie over a size 12 -14) woman, but going into one is just as shameful an occurrence as entering a porn shop might be.
    The truth is that after the age of about seven or eight, little girls are no longer little girls, they are instead little women, and subject to all the pressures over body image that grown-up women are subject to.
    I hope that my daughter doesn’t fall into that trap, and that the lines of communication between us remain open, even though she is now 11 and got to the door slamming etc stage of puberty.
    A well written blog Michelle, well done. It made for interesting and thought provoking reading.

    1. Thank you for taking the time to comment Dot – you’re right, adulthood comes far too soon for little girls, making those lines of communication all the more essential. As with all the challenges parenthood I just hope that I can navigate safely through, though perhaps muddling through would be more accurate…
      And may I congratulate you by the way on your daughter getting to the age eleven before entering the door slamming stage, we seem to have reached that one early as well :/
      LearnerMother recently posted…My daughter and her ‘too round’ tummyMy Profile

  3. I’d very much followed the same route as you. We don’t own scales or read celebrity magazines; we generally eat what we want & make sure we get out most days to exercise. However my daughter came home from school several times in year 6 saying she was fat. She’s not at all but she isn’t as super skinny as some of her class mates. I explained about the skinny model culture but said her emphasis should be on being a healthy weight so that her body can do what she wants it to eg swimming, cycling. This seemed to work, but as she’s just started secondary school now we’ll see….
    Christine recently posted…Things to do with the family in September 2014My Profile

  4. What a brilliant post. My daughter is at an age where she is noticing things about her and other peoples bodies and it has come as such a shock. Its funny as I am a size 16, but have a very active job so in some ways I am against the norm of what an female outdoor worker should look like. It has given myself and my daughter the chance to have some open and honest chats about size and how we judge people.
    Its horrible to think that we have to address these issues at such a young age, and I can’t remember being so troubled about weight when I was her age.
    Again I really enjoyed your post and will be sharing it with some friends who daughters are experiencing issues with weight and body’s.
    WildFamilyFun recently posted…My Sunday PhotoMy Profile

  5. Eek! This is scary. But a fantastic post.
    My daughter is 8 and pretty average-sized in all directions. I’m pleased to say we haven’t had these discussions YET, but I’m aware they could happen at any time. We have a pretty healthy lifestyle – the whole family exercises and we eat OK (not brilliantly), so it’s all fine at the moment. But I know these messages are everywhere and likely to influence her at some point.
    Strangely I’ve had two occasions with my 10yo son when he has worried about his weight – age 5 and age 7. He is tall for his age and big built (with not an ounce of fat on him), but he looks bigger and older than his friends and he was obviously conscious of it.
    Sarah MumofThree World recently posted…The new carMy Profile

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