When Your 5 Year Old Child Says She’s Fat…

When Your 5 Year Old Child Says She’s Fat…

My kids have broken my heart more than once or twice…  But never before have I felt crushed by something one of my kids said about themselves.

It’s taken me awhile to write this post.  It hurts.  It’s messy.  It’s complicated.  And I couldn’t bring myself to hit publish until I had the buffer of a little time.  But here goes:

5yo:  Mom?

Me:  Hmmm?

5yo:  Why am I fat?

*My heart stuttered.*

Me:  You’re not fat, you’re perfect!

5yo:  No, my legs aren’t like the other kids.  My legs are fat.

Me:  Your legs are strong and let you run fast.  They are just right for you.

5yo:  I want legs like the other girls, Mom.  I don’t want fat legs.

*My heart crumbled.*

my child thinks she's fat


That ugly F word.

I’ll take the four lettered F word from her mouth every day of the week and twice on Sunday before I ever want to hear her say the 3 lettered one again.


My sweet, amazing, vivacious, brilliant, creative, sassy, opinionated, confident, stylish, quirky and so stinkin’ cute it hurts little girl thinks she’s fat.

What do I do?

If I say her legs are the same as the other girls, she won’t trust me.  The truth is she’s stockier.

She has solid legs and most of the other girls are of the knobby kneed variety.

She’s right.  Her legs don’t look like the other girls.

And I think that’s great.  Her legs are great!  She’s great!

Just the way she is.

She is NOT fat.  Not even close.  But she’s not the same and that’s what she sees right now.

body image of a 5 year old
Definitely NOT fat.

What Does a Parent Do?

My heart breaks for this precious little girl that is feeling different.  

At the same time I wonder if it’s my fault.

Did I say something about my own desire to lose weight that she internalized?

I’m very aware of the pressure to be “perfect” and have a strong desire for my kids to see themselves as perfect just the way they are rather than compared to some societal norm.  

I’m also very aware that as their Mom I am the most important female role model – including regarding body image – for my daughters.

When my kids tell me I have a big butt, I say “Thank you.”  But does my expression fall just a little bit at this unintentional barb?  Probably.

Action Plan

I’m definitely having a “moment”.  A moment of looking around hoping someone else has the answers and feeling inadequate as a parent.

I’ve thought of a few things to do about this, but I definitely don’t have all the answers and would love your suggestions.  Here’s what I’ve come up with so far…

  • I will circle back and talk about Being Your Own You.
  • I will reinforce Standing Out From The Crowd.
  • I’ll buy some wall hangings with positive messages like Be Extraordinary instead of Ordinary.
  • I will remind her she’s perfect just the ways she is.
  • We may make signs together saying Be{YOU}tiful.  
  • I will try to point out “normal” women I think are beautiful.

But I’m flailing here.  

I want to cry – the deep sobbing kind – until I have nothing left, and then cry some more.  

I want to yell and rant against the culture that made my little girl feel inadequate.  I want to blame the media, find a scapegoat, wail against the priorities of a nameless, faceless “society” so that I’ll feel better there is someone to blame.

At the same time I want it to go away, for those words to never have come out of her mouth.  I want to find a hole and bury my head in the sand pretending it never happened.

I want all of these things, as confused and contradictory as they are to each other, because that’s how it feels, like a tumbled mass of emotions wrestling round and round stirring up dust that chokes my throat and has my eyes tearing up. 

But I can’t wallow in my emotions.  I need to fix this.  I need to fix this NOW.

Not tomorrow when she races headlong into her teen years – god what a mess those are.  Not after this belief is absorbed by her and becomes her “truth” and nothing I do or say will help oust it from her psyche.  NOW.  TODAY.  I need to fix this.

But how?  



8 Responses to When Your 5 Year Old Child Says She’s Fat…

  1. There are so many message about how our bodies look. I wonder what would happen if we start countering those messages with our own about how well our bodies work?

    “Wow. Look at the picture of you jumping into the pool. Look how strong your legs are.”

    “You just ran all the way across the field. Thank your legs for pumping so well.”

    You probably are already doing this, but thanks to your post, I’m going to pay more attention to such messages, too.

    Hugs. You’re a terrific mom :-)

    • Thanks Lori. It’s such a hard topic to discuss and feel like I’m doing a good job – making sure my words and actions match.

      I agree, function, strength, fitness are all much better focus than size. I’m going to try to mirror those messages in the next month and maybe have some dinner conversations about differences and food choices too.

  2. I had a similar conversation with my 6 yr old little girl o. Tge eay to school one morning in the car ehen she told me shes getting fat because her legs jiggle when shes sitting . I was as heart broken and upset as you are. Noe i cant even fathom how a 6 yr old would be would be worried about this . She’s 6. I reminded her as i do on a daily basis that ir doesn’t matter because all that matters is your inner beauty and thats what she should be focusing on being the peeson with the most neautidul heart ans soul not the smallest pants.

    • Thanks for commenting Summer. It’s so hard to see our kids struggle. I hate when they question themselves negatively. HATE it.

      I don’t know if I’ve found an answer that feels “right” yet. I’m still working on it and will let you know though. It’s so tough!

  3. I don’t know that I have any answers. Actually I don’t. Body image and self-confidence is so hard.

    My 12-year-old is telling me she is fat, and she is nowhere near. I wonder too if my weight issues have trickled into her conscious.

    We are focusing on being healthy over worrying about weight. Making healthy choices, exercising and getting enough sleep. That is more important than the scale. But I’m not sure it is all getting through. They do compare themselves to everyone around them.

    • I’ve met your daughter Susan and she is NOT overweight! Not even close. Not a smidge or iota or tiny bit of extra on her.

      I guess I expect that overcritical body image for teens to a certain extent though. In some ways that’s harder than 5 because they aren’t likely to listen to anything you say about it once they are 12 – if she’s like my almost 12 year old anyway.

      Maybe if we have a conversation about identifying our strengths – round robin at the dinner table and each say what “I like x about me” and then say what we like about each other too… hmmm, I need to think more about that.

      Thanks for posting and letting me know it’s not just me!

  4. I commend you for the discussion. This is SUCH a tough issue. My daughter is muscular and athletic. Not an ounce of fat on her – but she’s not itty bitty like some of her friends. We face this a lot and now as a teen we have finally been able to look beyond the number size on pants. But so hard to get to this point. Clothing companies are drunk I swear, She wears a 4 right now in Gap Pants, and 8 in Old Navy (which are supposedly the same company) and a 13 in the Target khaki’s. Just ridiculous to play with a young girl’s tender emotions this way. And never fun when your friends brag they are in 00. :( Just keep the conversation going and help them grow in their confidence and their skin. You are such a good momma!

    • Thank you Laura. It’s such a hard topic no matter what age. But seriously, 4 to 13? WTH? No wonder you can’t pay attention to pant sizes!

      I remember being a teen though and hating moving from 9 to 11 size pants. HATED it. Was sure that meant I was fat. Obviously in retrospect I wasn’t, but those are such self conscious years.

      How do we get them strong enough to be proud of what they are good at and brush off the rest? Because kids will comment, no matter what, but how our kids receive it is what’s important.

      I don’t have any answers…just keep swimming and eventually it works out I hope!

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