So last night my five-year-old told me I was fat. Well, after the initial shock, I managed to wipe the surprised look off my face and spun this to my, and her, advantage. It was time for a chat!
This was a wakeup call for me. It not only confirmed that I have obviously started back in to healthy living at the right time, but it also highlighted that my little baby girl was now looking and commenting on body image. This scares me more than the birds and the bees talk.
“Mummy, it’s not nice to call somebody fat, is it?” was how the conversation started. “No honey,” I said. “Not really, because sometimes that can hurt people’s feelings,” was my kind reply. However, kids are kids and their innocence is both refreshing and difficult, as her reply was: “But why, mummy, because some people really ARE just fat!”
It was at this point I noticed her eyes drop down to hold a brief stare at my belly. I remained still and calm and just waited to see what would unfold. And then it came. I saw her eyes shift up to look at mine and then back down to my belly again, complete with raised eyebrows. “You’re a little bit fat, mummy, not really, really big and fat. Just a bit fat here,” as she proceeded to grab handfuls of my belly and pull it up and down and round and round to her great delight!
I’m well aware that at this stage it would be expected for any woman to be horrified and very upset with this bashing of her body status by the very person who loves her most, however a child’s innocence should not be harmfully interpreted and, moreover, I felt this was the ideal opportunity to reinforce positive body image messages to a very impressionable five-year-old.
So, I lifted my top and joined her in grabbing handfuls of my belly. We played and poked, drew a funny face around my belly button and had a laugh before I explained all the reasons why we need to have some fat. Of course I highlighted that too much fat can be unhealthy for us, but I also made sure she understood that too little fat can be very harmful as well.
Thankfully my years of attempted role modelling are paying off a little, as she understood by clarifying: “That’s why we need to do lots of exercise and eat enough healthy food to give us energy and grow our muscles.” This was music to my ears as there was no mention of looking good or simply having a flat stomach. Her reasons were health related and practical. And luckily the timing of this chat was perfect as she can relate to it first-hand this week due to my shift in lifestyle once again as I begin to combat the holiday weight gain and adopted laziness!
Of course the inquisitive mind and questions of a five-year-old didn’t stop there and I soon found myself answering queries about if there are small bones in our hair, how do babies get milk out of mummies and how on earth does the milk get in there in the first place, if we can see inside our bodies and why do boys have nipples.
These encounters are priceless. It strengthens the bond between adult and child and presents an extremely valuable opportunity for a child to open up their mind and crave answers and explanations for an array of difficult topics that even adults find hard to grasp.
It is somewhat irrelevant what I think or feel; the point is to portray the ‘right’ messages to my daughter, so she can grow up having the knowledge and confidence to avoid the media pressures and Hollywood body image traps that will inevitably surround her throughout the coming years. I am not happy with my body, of course I’m not – I’m female! Sure, overall I am healthy, but for comfort and aesthetic reasons I would like to build muscle up again, increase my strength, lose body fat and improve my posture. These things are important to me and I have once again been able to make them a priority in my life, however, in my child’s eyes my body fat levels and shape aren’t that important now. In her eyes, I am perfect. I am healthy, I do some exercise, I eat healthy foods and limit junk, I am adventurous, I am confident, I display good self-esteem, I am happy and live life to the full. In my opinion, to live a happy and successful life, these qualities are much more important than worrying over a few extra fat cells, so I hope she embraces this too.
I look forward to our next chat. Who knows what questions will come next from a five-year-old, but I’m waiting and will embrace it. Well, depending on the topic. If it’s about how planes fly or how boats don’t sink then I may just pass her over to her Granda.
Head Chief Nikki xx
(Originally published for UTV 2014)