That 3-letter word produces some powerful emotions, and I’ve heard it a lot lately. It can be the biggest insult. One put-down can ruin a child’s fragile self-esteem. But, it’s also just as damaging when a child believes this about themself.
One might expect to hear this from girls since their bodies go through some drastic changes while hitting puberty. But, no. It’s the boys that I have heard this more from this year. To each other or about themselves, it’s really hurtful and hard to undo.
I’m FAT. They said I’m fat. I need to loose weight. I’m going on a diet. I’m ugly.
While we have traditionally thought about girls’ body image and self-esteem due to media pressure and the sexualization of women, we can forget that boys, too, also struggle with body image and confidence in this day and age. Social media has changed things, and made children more self conscientious and aware at too early of an age.
There is pressure to be cool, noticed, and liked. For girls in elementary, I’m noticing more of a trend to be recognized and popular based on who you are friends with. The social circles you hold carries a lot of weight, and not necessarily the clothes, shoes, or way you look.
However, for boys right now, there is a lot of pressure to be athletic, fit, and fast. There has always been some innate pressure to be strongest or fastest. It’s survival of the fittest so that’s not a huge surprise. But, boys are also feeling pressure to look cool. They care about their clothes and shoes, and also their bodies. Boys are sensitive to their height, shoe size, and definitely weigh . What makes it difficult is that these qualities are some that you can’t always control or change. So, many boys are feeling FAT, being called FAT, or calling themselves FAT.
It’s not uncommon for that to be the joke, “YOU’RE FAT”. Friends calling each other fat, and saying it’s just a “joke” is not uncommon. And when there is a boy who’s not thin, or if they are just a little overweight, this hits home and can be very painful. As a counselor, I have listened to more boys cry this year than girls about feeling fat. Body image is a serious thing to changing, growing minds and bodies.
What I’ve learned is that boys are super sensitive. Often times, more so than girls. Fat-jokes aren’t cool, and certainly aren’t funny at all to the recipient. We can no longer assume that this a girl-problem. Poor body image can have a lasting impact on feelings of self-worth for all children.
As parents, we must be conscientious of the comments and words we are using. Just yesterday, I called a mother about a suicide assessment I conducted on her 7 year old son. This is a serious thing to say you’re going to “kill yourself”. She admitted that she uses this statement, “I’m going to kill myself” as a coping mechanism. And now, so does her son. Modeling is so important.
If we use the words “fat” or make comments about people’s weight OR our own weight, kids will pick up on that. Sometimes, it’s what we mumble or what we want to believe the kids aren’t noticing that make the biggest impression, whether it’s about ourselves or others.
We want healthy children. But, if we have unhealthy, sedentary habits, our children may develop lifestyle habits that do lead to obesity. In fact, the boys I can think of that were called “fat” or call themselves “fat” are not necessarily obese but are indeed a little overweight. They don’t want to be , but many are boys who only have the hobby and outlet of gaming outside of school. If we want healthy children, we have to regulate their screen time.
One wish I have is for children to feel good about themselves, and to grow up confident and secure in who they are. Words like “dumb”, “not popular”, “short”, “ugly”, and “FAT” are serious words. It’s a 3-letter that really hurts. And, we don’t want it to be too late.
In a selfie world, the pressure is real. But, adults need to model healthy behavior and habits. And, sometimes we have to direct conversations about what not to say. Recently, I mediated an interaction between 2 friends in which one was calling his friend fat in front of the group of friends. We need to spell it out sometimes. That’s not nice and he doesn’t think it’s funny.
Have these conversations and notice changes in your child’s mood and behavior. It’s easy to assume boys aren’t that sensitive or they can handle it. We can’t do that anymore. It’s not fair. And, we don’t want overlook a child who’s hurting. We want to have healthy children on the inside and out!