How Do Kids Feel Fat-Shamed?

How do kids feel fat-shamed? Do they have body dysmorphia? Why is this happening to our kids? What has shifted, if anything, since when we were kids? Yesterday, on my show, I had one of my most fabulous friends and mentors, and she’s my business coach, Lisa Liberman-Wang. She wrote a book years ago that was an international bestseller called “Fine to Fab.” We talked about how she had a journey with body dysmorphia and how she would binge and purge. These eating disorders are created because of the way our kids are looking in the mirror or the way we’re looking in the mirror.

It was interesting because I was even talking about how just recently I was in the fridge looking for something to eat. I would just talk, like literally talking to the fridge, and I was like, “Oh gosh, I want to eat that, but that won’t make me fat,” and “Oh, I can’t eat that, that’ll make me fat.” My daughter, who’s 10, said, “Mom, you’re not fat.” “Why are you saying that?” I didn’t even realize she was in the kitchen listening to me, and all of a sudden it dawned on me. What are we saying that our kids are picking up on? Through her filters, she’s not seeing me fat, but she hears me saying this as my language. I am creating her internal language. What dialogue am I saying that’s creating a meaning for what that is? Now, she is going to be concerned because we are their role models. I didn’t even think about that when I was talking to the fridge. It made me open my eyes to what we are saying to our kids, which is creating their perception of their own bodies.

When I was growing up, and even when my friend Lisa was growing up, we didn’t have Instagram, Facebook, or Snapchat. We didn’t have all these different platforms where every day it was at our fingertips to compare what we looked like to who we looked like, and what about all the filters they have now on the phones? So when we’re actually looking at different people, it’s like, “Oh my gosh, they’re so beautiful” and “Look at their bodies like the Kardashians.” To some people, their body looks amazing; to others, it looks very out of the ordinary. What is the norm? What is it that we want to look like?

I work with a lot of kids that are in their young teens, and some are young adults, and they too criticize themselves constantly about the way that they look. I ask them all the time, “Is it the way you look or the way you feel about the way you look?” It’s connecting their inner to their outer, and it’s also finding what their comparison tool is. What are they looking at to compare themselves to when they say, “I’m fat” or “I look hideous or whatever”? I also remember when I was a little girl, and it’s a vivid memory of mine where I was bullied for so long for being so skinny. I was the opposite; I was praying to beat that because it’s like I allowed what other people in society and my peer groups were saying about me to be my internal language. I wanted to fix that because if I fixed it, maybe they would like me and I’d be more attractive.

There are things like my skin color, which I remember trying to erase because I was bullied about it. There are just things that we can’t change. What about those kids who have medical conditions that they can’t change? They’re under medical treatment and trying to change their weight. There are things that are sometimes out of our control, but what is in our control is the language we give our kids. How do we show up for our kids? Like my friend Lisa said, “Is that the apple that doesn’t fall far from the tree?” Are we, as parents, taking ownership of the way that we look, the way that we show up, and the way that we feel about ourselves? What are the eating habits that we have created in ourselves that we’ve passed on to our children? Are we eating fast food five times a day or five times a week—hopefully not five times a day? Do we have a house full of sugar, and we’re wondering why our kids are always eating sugar? Do we have healthy snacks for them?

What is healthy? They say nothing feels better than being healthy. Well, what are we showing our kids as healthy? Is it apples? Is it bananas? Is it vegetables? What choices are we creating in our kids that are going to have lifelong consequences or rewards in the future? What are we saying to our kids if they’re eating so much? I have personally experienced this with some of my kids. It’s like, “Your stomach is this big; how much do you want to put into it?” There are times that we have healthy, really healthy food and they’re like, “Oh, I just want a spoonful of it,” and then all of a sudden we have pizza, and it’s like, “I want 10 pieces of pizza.” What are we teaching them with portions? What are we teaching them is “healthy”? What are we teaching them to stay away from? What we teach them as younger kids will be sustainable as they get older.

My husband and I made a choice when we had twins that we wanted them to be vegetarians because of how much meat is in the meat that we eat today. With all the antibiotics and all the hormones, we made the choice that we didn’t want them to eat that. We didn’t want them to have cow milk that they drank because of all the hormones and antibiotics and all that stuff that’s in pasteurized milk, so they had almond milk. To this day, it’s a preference for them to eat that. Now we let them have venison because our family hunts and we know it’s very organic; my daughter actually likes it and my son doesn’t. They haven’t acquired much taste, and when I say she liked it, she’ll eat a little piece of it; she won’t eat the whole thing. I think it’s more in her mind, like, “Oh, I want to have it because everybody else is having it.”

What are we setting up for our kids’ futures? What type of eating habits are we setting up? How are we complementing them with the way that they look? How are we having that open discussion with them about the way they feel about themselves, what they see on social media, and what is their measurement tool?

Listen to the full episode here:

For more parenting content, visit my YouTube channel: