About a week ago, before bedtime, my four year old hopped on the scale in my bathroom. “It says I am 50 pounds. Is that too fat? Or is it too skinny?” I was surprised at this reaction from my preschool-aged child. Four years old– and male– and already concerned that he might be too fat or too skinny. “It’s just how much you weigh. That’s the amount that one tall, super-strong, super-fast-running four-and-half-year-old weighs” I responded. “Yeah, I know that, but does it mean I’m fat or skinny?” he asked again. “Neither!” I insisted. “It’s just how much you weigh.”
I have to say, I kind of assumed, as a mother of two boys, that body image hang-ups wouldn’t be something I’d have to worry much about in my job as a parent. Fellow CTWorkingMoms blogger and mom of boys Holly blogged about this back in November, but I hadn’t seen it in my own boys, ages 4 and 2, yet. I wrote about the importance of modeling a positive body image from the standpoint of teaching my sons that girls are proud of who they are (not ashamed), but I hadn’t really considered the idea that they themselves would be the ones worrying. And if they ever did have worries about how they looked, I figured it certainly wouldn’t be until their teen years.
But four years old and asking if he’s too fat or too skinny? That was a surprise.
Several friends recently shared this article entitled “How to talk to your daughter about her body”, and while I really loved it…I couldn’t help think “Why just daughters? Why are we just worried about daughters in this?” Don’t get me wrong– I am not minimizing the difficulties girls and parents of girls face in this struggle, but I do think we should also think about the boys. I decided to discuss it with my husband, after being concerned about my son’s “am I too fat or too skinny” questions to get his take on whether this was a fluke, a random question from a curious kid who asks questions constantly, or if it could be something to watch out for. His take was it could absolutely be a loaded question. The issue with boys and body image, he said, isn’t just about “fat” or “thin”….it’s about being too fat, too thin, too scrawny, too short, too tall…long story short, it’s there. And we shouldn’t minimize it.
When my son was an infant, I worried briefly that he was getting a bit too many rolls. This worry was spurred on by a fleeting comment from a stranger that he “clearly likes to eat.” In hindsight this was a crazy worry to have, as my son was under a year old and primarily just nursing at the time. I asked about it at a check-up, and my (fantastic) pediatrician assured me that if kids are offered healthy food and plenty of opportunities to be active in their childhood, “they will grow to be the size they are supposed to be.” Growth happens in spurts. Sometimes kids put on weight before they gain height. Sometimes they gain height before weight and go through awkward, long lanky phases. As parents, we should focus on offering healthy foods and plenty of chances to be active, and we should model being healthy…and then we should stop obsessing.
So, parents of daughters and sons…check out the “How to talk to your daughter about her body” article linked above, and try following it for all kids…because it really is great advice.