My 8 Year Old Said Her Thighs are Fat & I’m Freaking Out
My 8 Year Old Just Told Me her Thighs are Fat and I’m Freaking Out
Last night my kids and I had the most pleasant dinner time we’ve had in awhile- until we didn’t. Some unusual things happened: I was energized and unstressed while buzzing around the kitchen, the kids sat down on their stools without an argument, and they only complained twice about my dinner choice, spaghetti and meatballs. But while I was laughing at my three year old’s made up knock-knock jokes, my daughter looked down at her thighs and said, “My thighs are so fat.” “What?” I said,“That’s crazy; they are really not, and what they look like doesn’t matter at all anyway.” I said it with a lilt in my voice, trying to maintain the levity of the night while my insides were bursting a little bit. “Yes they are” she retorted with authority, her eyes boring down into them. “Look they spread out over the stool” she whined. “Honey, everyone’s thighs do that when they sit down- that’s the human body.” I tried to sound as rational as I could with an 8 year old, but what I was really thinking was, how the hell did this happen? When did she start noticing her thighs? So far she had been a little girl who was into brushing and braiding her long, straight climate- proof hair. I never imagined she was thinking about her body.
So my thoughts started to spin on a panicked parental cycle: did I complain about my thighs to her? No. Did I complain about my pants fitting poorly in front of her? No. Have I ever used the word fat around her? No- but her grandparents have. Is she watching shows that talk about bodies? No. All of her Disney shows have been stripped of bad body image messages, haven’t they? Now I have to research her shows.
Her complaint was eerily familiar because my thighs are the body part I’m most insecure about. I didn’t know she’s hung up on the same body part that I’ve disliked since middle school. I see my thighs as too muscular for my short body. They kind of look like watermelons perched on top of dangling calves. This summer, my son has been watching Toy Story movies incessantly, and I can’t help but wonder if Woody’s legs feel uncomfortably stuffed into his tight jeans like mine do. In summer time, my thighs are on my mind a lot, even when I was younger.
I remember a time years ago when my husband Max and I were in the dating stage of our relationship, when appearance seemed super important. We were day drinking on a beautiful summer afternoon, and in the sunlight of the bar’s outdoor patio, I sat on a stool wearing light pink shorts. When I looked down at my thighs, I decided they were tainting this picture-perfect day with a guy I’m trying to impress. So the entire time it took me to drink a 16 ounce beer, I sat with my hands on the side of the stool so I could hoist myself up in between sips. My thighs didn’t spill over as much in this position, and to my pleasant surprise actually looked a little bit leaner. After finishing our beers, Max went to get another round. As he pushed out his stool to get up, he lowered his head toward mine and said,“Crosson, you look like you’re waiting for a roller coaster to take off. Relax.” All that time I thought I was looking thin- thigh sexy. He wasn’t even noticing my thighs, only my sitting position.
This makes me wonder if putting exorbitant value on one’s body image is simply an inherent part of human nature. For any human who’s at an age when they’re aware of different bodies, aren’t they thinking about their own? So maybe I shouldn’t be so surprised by my daughter’s critical comments about her body. Don’t we all do it at some point, or to pose a more sobering question, don’t we all carry negative thoughts about our bodies throughout our lives? I certainly do.
I hadn’t really thought about my double chin since high school, my second most disappointing part of my body. Yet when I was in my late twenties, a huge misunderstanding reminded me of my abhorrence toward it. And it happened at a bar, obviously. While leaning over a long mahogany bar to get the bartender’s attention, I heard a guy next to me say, “That girl’s got a double chin.” In a flash of a second I whisked myself away from him without even taking my purse off the bar. I hid in the bathroom and found myself crying strong, real tears in the corner of a stall. My friend found me a minute later carrying my purse. Looking bewildered, she asked, “What the hell happened?” I told her what I heard the guy say and immediately glided across the crowded, noisy bar to confront the jerk. I followed behind her.
When he heard her out, the guy looked straight at me and said, “You misheard me. I said I wanted to order a double gin.” He turned away. But then a second later, he pivoted his torso toward me as said in all seriousness, “By the way, you don’t have a double chin, but maybe you should get your ears checked.” My friend and I shuffled away from him to giggle out our embarrassment.
So what can I do for my daughter whose thigh disapproval seems to be the genesis of a body image issue? I can say in as many ways possible that body shape isn’t everything, that she’s gorgeous, and we should all focus on people’s personalities, etc.- we all know the talking points. Yet that’s hard for a kid to buy into all that when negative body image can cause real pain and disruption. All I can think of now is thank God for the new attitude about models’ bodies, the sensitive policing of kids’ shows, the media’s propensity to include all shapes and sizes in ads and movies, and the Herculean efforts of some toy companies to be “body inclusive.” Perhaps this will shut down some of the noise in kids’ heads that seem to naturally emerge just from existing among others.
I hope all these cultural phenomena make a difference in kids’ psyches and have lasting positive effects.
After all, kids are up against a lot. YouTube influencers who wax poetic about physical appearance are descending upon our kids like meteor showers. When I walk into my all-girls classroom and look at computer screens, most of them are watching the latest influencer talk about makeup application, clothing styles or hair. Can any of these compelling people please discuss other topics?
They don’t have to be super scholastic or preachy, but maybe explore what a good conversation looks like or what a successful day at school looks like. My plea is that they might think of ways to help kids navigate the world and societies rather than help them highlight hair or cheekbones.
Negative body image is hard to overcome and I’m not sure if we ever will because valuing appearance has been around since the earliest civilizations.
Literature from antiquity shows us how valued the human body was- from Cleopatra to Achilles, ideal bodies and looks greatly mattered; they were even rewarded. It’s complicated isn’t it? After all, people have to live with their f bodies; we can’t drop a disappointing body part like a bad habit.
So after last night what can I do but wish and hope that my daughter doesn’t get too down about her thighs or any other body part as she grows up. I wish and hope that the collective efforts of responsible adults who campaign against the onslaught of over-valuing appearance are successful in reaching her. I wish and hope that she values her appearance in a healthy way, and the messages she ingests are ones that don’t go into her body.