From Our Readers Dear Mothers, Stop Calling Your Daughters Fat From Our Readers

If you’ve ever been overweight, or even a little pudgy, there is one thing in your life you will never forget — the moment you realized it.

For me, that moment took place in the third grade. It was lunchtime and Dominos pizza was on the menu. I had finished my first slice and went to get another when my teacher stopped me in the middle of the cafeteria and told me I couldn’t have one. Plenty of other kids had gotten seconds and there were about four boxes of pizza left. I tried explaining this to her, but she insisted I couldn’t have another piece.

When my mom picked me up from school that day I immediately started crying and telling her how mean my teacher was. She comforted me, like any mother would. Then a few days later, when my teacher found it too difficult to continue depriving me of food, I found out my mom was the one who told her not to let me eat seconds because I was “too fat”.

I know my mom had good intentions and was only doing what she thought was best for me — she just went about it the wrong way. And continued to do so again and again. Whether it was bribing me with a Poo-Chi (because robot dogs were cool back then) or promising to take me to Limited Too if I lost 5 pounds.

I was aware of the fact that I was bigger than the other kids in my class, but was too young to understand why. And instead of teaching me about nutrition and how the body works, my mom always told me to simply “eat less”. I don’t think she was trying to be malicious, she just didn’t know what else to say. And I can’t really blame her. I mean, every parenting book teaches the basic, “If they get sick, take them to the doctor.” But none of them mention how to handle telling your 8-year-old daughter she should shed a few pounds.

So I ended up learning about weight-loss from watching my older brother, who was a high school wrestler constantly working out and practically starving himself to get into a lower weight class. I started to do the same. Only I didn’t stop once wrestling season was over. My mom didn’t really notice my unhealthy habits. She just assumed I naturally grew out of my baby fat (which a lot of kids do).

By eighth grade I was a size small with a dangerously unhealthy body image. I remember being so afraid of anyone thinking that I was fat, I would wear bathing suits under my clothes to suck in the little body fat I had and then safety pin all my shirts in the back so there wouldn’t be any loose fabric. Of course, my mom didn’t know any of this and probably figured the pinned shirts were some kind of weird fashion statement. Even if she did find my behavior odd, it wasn’t exactly a topic she, or anyone for that matter, wanted to talk about. It was easier to avoid it and hope it was a phase I would eventually grow out of (like the time I wore the same jean mini-skirt everyday for three weeks).

But an eating disorder isn’t like wearing your favorite mini-skirt — you don’t just grow out of it.

So in high school things got even worse. Like every other teenage girl, I wanted to be a model. And because I was 5’10 I thought it was something that could actually happen. The only problem was that I was more of a size six than a two. But I figured that was something I could easily change. I started dieting and exercising more (my mom even got me a personal trainer). When that didn’t work fast enough, I began taking extreme measures. I would starve myself, barf myself, take laxatives — anything I could do to fit into a size two. And when I did, it was one of the happiest times in both my and my mother’s life. She loved to take me shopping and watch me pretend to walk down the catwalk when I came out of the dressing room. I loved it too, especially when other shoppers or employees would tell me how gorgeous I looked.

To be honest, I didn’t need food — I was feeding off of random strangers’ compliments and my mother’s approval. Both of which had more power over me than they ever should have. I truly believed that being thin and attractive was the only way to be happy. And when modeling didn’t pan out because my measurements still weren’t small enough (I was 5’10” with a 32” bust, 26” waist, and 37” hips) my world came crashing down. I kept thinking, “If only I had exercised more or ate less, things would be different.”

But they wouldn’t have been. My skeletal structure wouldn’t allow it. But of course, my 16-year-old self didn’t realize that. And instead of telling me my body was beautiful and that I didn’t need to change anything, my mom took me to get a “detox body wrap” that could supposedly take twelve inches off of your entire body. In all fairness, she probably only did it because I begged her to.

At that point, I was so convinced that perfection not only existed but was attainable, and I was willing to do anything I could to achieve it. I felt like anything less than perfection would mean I was a disappointment. I was so scared of going back to being the chubby third grader my mom was ashamed of that self-destruction seemed like a better option.

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  5. That made me realize how lucky I am. It started when my mom basically ignored my doctor (when I was 3 and my sister 2) when he said we were 2 pounds overweight. I do realize that 2 pounds on a 2 years old kid is a lot, but still. We were 2 and 3!!

    It continued later on, when I shed my baby fat (at 16). She told me after I lost that weight that I was better off without it. But when I was heavier, she never made me think it was something wrong (and I was never overweight).

    When I gained it back, at 19, she didn’t say anything. Just told me I was good without it when I lost it (naturally, through a better diet and a physically active lifestyle while backpacking).

    She tells me everyday she sees me how beautiful she think I am. How perfect she thinks I am. And I love her for that.

    We still clash. Mostly about her saying my sister is a bit large in the hips. That’s her bone structure. And being a size 8 for 5ft9, she’s far from fat (still bigger than my 5ft5 self). But she would never say anything to my sister unless her weight really got in her way.

    And she never really obsessed about her weight. Sure, she wanted to lose those 10 pounds she gained with menopause. Still does. But she never made me think that thin was better. She never wanted to be thin, she just wants to be healthy, have a healthy weight. And she does. And I don’t tell her enough!

    My dad was the only one to say anything. Not about my weight, but about my sweet tooth. And even though I didn’t appreciate it, I still understand why you should tell your teen that that second helping of ice cream will go to their hips. Not the first one. Not the second helping of potatoes. But that humongous second helping of ice cream. And I understand why, when I see some of my friends who didn’t have anybody to tell them otherwise.

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  8. I was with you all the way up to here: “If their weight is a problem, talk to them about it. But in the right way. ” This is terribly problematic, because how do we define “weight as a problem”? How do we define “right way”? Your mother probably thought she was doing both correctly. My mother had professional opinions from dieticians and doctors and books, surely they were right that it was a problem? Surely they knew the right way to handle it? It wasn’t, and they didn’t. That was 35 years ago, and little has changed in how most people think of and try to deal with fat; our scientific understanding is still in its infancy when it comes to why people are fat and what level of fat is healthy.

    But there is a lot more information now for those who are willing to educate themselves, and what it shows is that there are enormous social, environmental, chemical, and genetic players in this game; it is no longer as simple as “fat is bad, and if you are fat it is because you are lazy and a glutton and the thin people all do everything right (that’s why they are thin!,) and dieting is good, and all it takes is a little willpower.” Not. even. close.

    My advice to the parent of a fat child would be: Don’t make an issue of it. EVER. Provide nourishing food for the whole family and do research on food allergies. Not every genetic type does well with the same “healthy” diet.. Go and be active together not for “exercise” but for the fun of it, but for god’s sake don’t require it, and if they want to be physically active find a way to let that happen. Be positive about your body and theirs, and let your child know that s/he’s loved. If you’re having a hard time because your child is not meeting your standards, you need to let it go.. Any trying to change them to make yourself more comfortable or to cater to society’s biases is going to result in harm to them. Being a good parent is getting over your sense of entitlement to that and just loving them.

    It helps, of course, to recognize that being fat isn’t the end of the world. You can be fat and meet the love of you life, have lots of good sex, love your body and all the amazing things it does for you, decorate yourself satisfyingly, go gallivanting around with friends, be smart and do things with those smarts, ride your bike all over town, make cool things, make a difference in the world by what you say and do. I know, because I am that fat person, and I know lots of fat people like that. In fact, they’re all over the internet, go see for yourself. The cultural in general is still fat-phobic, but thankfully we don’t actually have to be everything to everybody in order to be happy.

  9. Thanks so much for talking about this. Unfortunately I also grew up with a really unhealthy view of my body and myself, and struggled with anxiety and eating disorders. All which I picked up from my mum- we are very similar and clashed terribly until recently. All my childhood memories are flooded with images of my mum having melt-downs, calling me all sorts of horrible names, reminding me constantly about my “tummy”, and overwhelming feelings or inadequacy and rejection. Fortunately, somehow we actually enjoy each other presence now! It’s somewhat a miracle. We often cook together and make being healthy mind-body-soul a huge focus. Neither of us panic now if we put on weight, we’ll just change something up or (more commonly) not care much haha. We are both learning every day about how little of the world is under our control, and how to be okay with that. I love my mum heaps, and our journey together really highlights the importance of dealing with your own crap and insecurities before becoming a parent / entering into a serious relationship. Hence why I’m single and don’t have kids haha. I think the turning point was opening up to my parents about abuse that I had experienced with my first boyfriend, and how I felt about myself growing up. They both didn’t really say anything, but my mum threw back a glass of wine and a tear rolled down her cheek so was listening. That’s when I realized they cared, they just sucked at showing it. My weight still fluctuates quite a bit but after 5 years of fighting the self-hatred / perfectionist / negative / anxious thoughts, It’s finally become a heck of a lot easier. Everyone’s journey is different, but IT GETS BETTER :)

  10. Thank you for this post. Sadly, I’m still fat to this day. But when one is working two jobs just to support one’s self, it’s hard to find time to lose weight (or to even care.)

    I grew up with a loving mother. However, due to the stress she received from my dad, she would be harsh about a lot of things. People don’t realize how words can sting you. When I was 8 or 9 years old, my childhood besties teased me to the point that I ran into the house crying my eyes out because I was fat. This is true, I was chubby. I won’t deny it. But my mother was so busy playing her RPG game, and I cried a lot about things like this, that she just ignored me. Imagine, your child sitting on the couch behind you, sobbing her eyes out and you ignore her.

    I know why I was fat. I ate a lot of bread. But the problem is, I couldn’t get the weight off, and I didn’t know how. No one in my family really tried to help, because they kept saying; “it’s okay, you’re young!” and I believed them. But that is a stone cold lie. It’s not okay to eat a lot of crap just because “you’re young”. Everything in moderation. Am I good at moderation? Not in the least. But I’m not going to start hating myself because I eat some pizza or popcorn now and again.

    Yes, being over-weight is bad for you. However, loving yourself needs to come first. If you don’t love yourself, your weight will never matter. Whether you be big or skinny, you will always hate yourself. Until you learn to love yourself.

    That’s what I’ve been learning and I am struggling to keep the weight off. Maybe after my life becomes a bit better, I will be able to actually exercise.

    • It’s taken me 44lbs to learn where happiness comes from. Well, I still don’t know yet, but I’ve certainly learnt about many things from which true happiness cannot come. from Being thin(ner) is one of them. Best of luck XXX

    • Loving and accepting yourself. It has to come first, or nothing else will really be good enough, even if you’re the most successful / pretty/ skinny / popular/ rich girl out there. You hit the nail on the head Jenny. You’re amazing, beautiful and important. x

    • Oh, and my mom? She constantly called me fat and poked at me. I know she didn’t even like to look at me because I was fat. And too this day, she still tries to encourage me to lose weight. But the problem is, she says it like this; “*sigh* I wish you girls would lose some weight”. I’m the youngest of three. My middle sister is a curvy beautiful woman, and she thinks she’s fat. My mom wants us to all look like her. Unfortunately, I’ll never be a pixie, because I’m 5’10″ and I have a huge frame like some kind of amazon woman. So, I’ve accepted, that even if I do lose weight, I’ll never be petite.

  11. Thank you for your story. It’s a powerful one. As a counselor (and fellow female with similar struggles), I see the devastation on client’s faces that these messages bring. I think It’s stories like yours that break the mold and bring the darkness to light. It’s not just the devastation on their faces that impact me, it’s also the face that I’m the first person they’ve spoken the words to. There’s so much shame wrapped around hating your own body. I would love to hear more women come out about their struggle, so we can be in it together.

  12. I do completely agree that we need to be teaching kids the science of nutrition and Heath rather than the difference between “fat and not fat”. The latter has no basis in scientific reasoning. I truly do not understand the reasoning in letting a naturally skinny child ( or adult for that matter) to eat as much unhealthy food as they want, while telling a “chubby” child or adult what they should and should not eat. Unhealthy food is unhealthy for EVERYONE. If a naturally slim child or adult wants to gain weight, there are healthy ways to go about it. Likewise, there are healthy ways to go about losing weight. I feel like we need to teach the actual science behind what we eat (based on age-appropriateness). Such as, if a kid (thin or not) wants a candy bar, then ask them what the nutritional value of that candy bar is, or why could it be considered healthy. And get them to research it. I’m willing to bet that they won’t want to put more effort into researching the candy bar than eating it. And if they do then all the better.

  13. I grew up with an anorexic mother (she ate 1 ham roll per week), and I grew up thinking that if my ribs, arm bones, hip bones, etc were not visible, I was morbidly obese. Because thats what she always said. I still fight with myself constantly about food, I seriously LOVE eating, but I don’t want to have a flabby belly. At least now I have an excuse to eat regularly, 34 weeks pregnant, so my baby needs chocolate, ice cream and noodles ;) My mother did have a way with words though, and made everyone feel guilty for the way they look, eg. the fact I had big boobs, but didn’t have a massive belly (I was still fat though, since my bmi was 23, which she said was borderline between obese and morbidly obese). Because of he constant emotional abuse (not just about this), she will not be allowed in my baby’s life, she isn’t going to be given the opportunity to screw her up the way she did me and my sister.

  14. All I remember my mom doing is dieting and cupboards filled with low cal diet food, then trying clothes on and saying ‘urgh I’m so fat!’

    Not saying this is the sole reason for my weight loss and bad eating habits but I know for a fact when I have kids I will teach them to love what they have and how to be healthy, not just thin. I don’t think she realises the impact her negative body image had on her kids.

  15. Thanks for sharing this article. I believe it helped raising awareness with future moms! I do hope you try to talk with your mom some day, though. I understand that some people just won’t understand no matter what way you approach them, but I know what it is like when you can talk to your mother about these kind of things in a healthy way. My mom and I don’t always agree, and over the years I found a way to be happy with myself. And now my mom understands the influence on my self-esteem she has had and tries to change. She herself has changed, she looks at herself in a different way now. In a way she has learned to be happier when she looks at herself because she is more aware that a size 34 or 36 is not a condition for a person to be happy. I could be an influence on her. I hope you try to talk to your mother because she can learn something from you. She will never be truly happy if she lets things like that stand in her way. And if you cannot talk to your mother about these kind of things they will always stand between you. And believe me, I’ve recently seen what it does to a person when the mother she always blamed and resented for something, suddenly dies of cruel deterioration because of alzheimer. My mother had to be there for hers, take care of her and they have been closer that they have been their whole life. My mom is gratefull for those moments because she found a way to connect and bond with her own mother after all these years. You don’t want to have missed this oportunity… But you are a strong girl, having found a way (yourself!) around your eating disorder. Good luck! x

  16. Thanks for sharing this article. I believe it helped raising awareness with future moms! I do hope you try to talk with your mom some day. I understand that some people just won’t understand no matter how you approach them, but I know what it is like when you can talk to your mother about these kind of things in a healthy way. My mother had a period after her divorce when she gained weight, suddenly she wasn’t as slim (I won’t say skinny, I dislike the negative connotation it brings along, while ‘slim’ is more ‘in proportion’ in my head :P) as she had been before her whole life. Her self-esteem had been pulled down and she became really unhappy about the way she looked. I on the other had had my dads genes and have always had broad shoulders and a heavy bone structure. After some difficulties we now have a gym membership together an go two times a week and eat heatlhy. We both are happy with how we look. We realise we’ll never be “skinny”, but ‘in proportion’. I still have to buy size 40 (I think that’s size 10 in America?) but I don’t dislike how I look. My mom and I don’t obsess anymore about how we look.It is important for us to understand that we have to be happy with how we look and that size 34 or 36 is not a condition for us to be happy. And although my mom and I do not always agree, we would never critisise e

  17. Thank you so much for this. I’m going to show it to my parents and sister in law. They all make comments and take digs at my weight and then laugh it off like it’s no big deal. I’m glad someone has finally written something.

  18. My sister’s nine and my parents do the same thing to her that they did to me regarding my weight. That is to say, nothing good. So I tell her not to listen to them when they tell her not to eat too much lest she get fat (like her sister, the words they dare not say in my presence but hang in the air none the less) and instead have conversations with her about health and how to make sure her body is getting the nutrition it needs. I don’t know how well it’s working, but I think it helps her to know that it isn’t all about how flat her tummy is. I wish I had that when I was growing up. Instead, I used to face my parents disapproval at my weight every day and react in the opposite way you did – I would binge, and feel terrible about myself after. I don’t want my sister to ever go through that.

  19. I don’t care how much I loved my mom if she gave me a $200 check for a personal trainer, that would have been the last straw. I would have talked to my mother perhaps a little angrily, but the right way about just how hurtful those kinds of actions can truly be. I totally understand, i think every girl has been there. However, making excuses for your mother’s behavior is just as bad as her causing total annihilation of your self-esteem.

  20. I completely understand this. In seventh grade, my parents sat me down to explain that if I wasn’t careful, I was going to be called a “big girl”. I don’t think that conversation will ever leave me, and I don’t think they have any idea how much that continues to hurt my body image and self esteem.