On Body Image

We were in Old Navy the other day.  Alicia and Andreya were trying on clothes, looking at dresses, shirts, skirts, pants and more.  It was our normal Old Navy trip.  Take a bunch of clothes.  Pile into the dressing room area.  And then prepare for the girls to come out one by one like they are walking the the world’s top fashion runways.  Each time in the past, time and time again, I could give an ooh or an ahh at the little girl outfits.  Each time in the past, time and time again, I loved seeing the smiles on their faces as they did the twirl in front of the mirror.  Each time in the past, we’d grab the clothes head for the register, and head out the door.  Only this time was different.  And it will never be the same again.

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Alicia is seven years old.  She is bright, tall, strong, and beautiful.  She is also becoming increasingly aware of the world around her no matter how much her mom and I sometimes try to shield her.  On this day, Alicia came out of the dressing room and did the twirl.  But there was no smile.  On this day, there was no ooh and ahh from dad right away.  On this day, Alicia looked in the mirror and said with a pout, “This dress makes me look F-A-T”.  She didn’t say the word, she just quietly spelled it out as she stared in the mirror.  “F-A-T” she said.  It became obvious to me in that moment, that Alicia would never again look in the mirror without weighing her body image staring in the mirror back at her.
On this day, she and I talked about why the dress didn’t fit as nicely as she wanted.  We talked about wearing a belt around her waist, and the Old Navy dressing room clerk who had witnessed this exchange, offered to go get us a couple of belts to try on with the clothes.  Alicia’s mom picked out a few new outfits with her and they tried on several more in the dressing room.  In the end, Alicia found a couple she liked, super-cute dresses like the ones you’d expect an adorable little 7 year old to be wearing.

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But the trip marked so much more than some silly dress at Old Navy.  Seven years of instilling in her that she’s beautiful inside and out, no matter what other folks will ever say or think, may have taken a major hit in one dressing room mirror on one Saturday for one little girl.   With the steady bombardment of TV images, magazines, music videos, unattainable shapes, and at least one parent who has always struggled with his weight, it’s no wonder, and I guess no surprise, that one little girl finally started taking notice of hers.
But it doesn’t make it right.

About the writer

Pete Wilgoren is out-numbered by a wife, two little girls and a dog named Cupcake.  He doesn't stand a chance.  When he's not scraping crayons and crusty food remnants from the seats of the car, he's Managing Editor at KCBS KCAL in Los Angeles.  You can find him on Facebook at Dadmissions The Book.


Cassie 4 years ago

I still remember the first time I took notice of my body and compared it to other girls’. I grew up as a swimmer. Half-naked bodies were normal and nothing to get excited about, until I was ten. It was picture day, and I noticed that some of the other girls looked….well, more grown up. When it was my turn to take the picture. I sat in the pre-arranged pose and sucked my stomach in as far as it would go. I was already a tiny girl, so this move made me look like a skeleton. My mom still has this picture hanging in her den. Every time I see it, I’m reminded of how skewed our perception of ourselves really are.

Pauline 4 years ago

So heart breaking! Seven years old? That’s too young to think that way. How can we fix this problem?

liz 4 years ago

As a mama to 2 girls, this breaks my heart. I, too, worry about this (my oldest is 6.5). This past school year was Kindy, and we immediately saw changes in her perception about pretty much everything (none of which was body related. Yet.).

Like you said, we can only shield them from so much and instill good values so much. But we face a nearly impossible task to countering the rest of the world and it’s impact on our kids.

Amanda 4 years ago

There is little solace in anything we can say, but as a mom of 3 daughters, the oldest of whom is seven, I feel a sliver of relief that you were there to witness it. Somehow it seems like maybe you have a tiny leg up because you know.

I am so sorry and I hope for all of our sake, and theirs, that we find a way to curb the self-loathing over nothing.

Galit Breen 4 years ago

I loved reading this from a dad’s point of view – mostly because it puts us all on the same page, fighting the same fight, to protect our kids from our/society’s war with body image.

This was beautifully written, and equally heart breaking.

Marta 4 years ago

Sigh. Its true. I know it. My daughter isn’t quite two but I know that despite my best attempts she will one day look at a mirror and find something wrong with what’s looking back at her. It doesn’t help that I have bad body image issues that I’m trying to keep quiet from her. Surely that she will get wind of them and will compare herself against her friend just like her mom compares herself against the mother.

There has to be a way that we can keep the innocent twirl in the dressing room for longer.

shanan 4 years ago

My daughter was 6 when a little girl in her class started to pick on her about her weight. When she came to me with a diet plan that included no more candy and lots of exercise , I was heartbroken. I couldn’t believe she was feeling that way at such a young age and what that would mean for her in the future. My husband and I decided to talk to a child psychologist about it. When she told us that at this age our daughter took what we said more to heart than her classmates , I felt like a weight was lifted. I still had my daughters’ trust and when I tell her that she is smart and beautiful ,she still believes me. I can only pray that she never lets someone make her feel this way when she gets older and I am no longer the person she listens to. I’m teaching her to be strong and listen to herself , not others. Let’s hope it is enough.

Karen 4 years ago

One thing that has shocked me as a parent is how early kids take notice of what others think about them and care about how they are perceived. It’s not just weight. It’s not just girls. It can be as simple as another kid calling you stupid, short, or saying you look dumb in glasses. It’s completely crushing. Teaching my kids to love who they are is going to be the longest struggle I face as a parent. I hate that kids go through this.

Great post.

ChristyJ 4 years ago

I have struggeled with my weight and body image all of my life. Just recently I decided I liked myself, I really did, and it did not matter I was overweight. I have changed my eating habbits and stopped eating fatty foods, which is really helping. I feel better and even though I am large, my boys remind me everyday how lovable I am.

Sheba Parveez 4 years ago

It’s absolutely awful that any girl has to ever feel this way. My own daughter is only 2 & a half, tall and strong. She’s faster than the boys, more active than any kid her age, off the charts tall according to the doctor. She IS beautiful and incredibly intelligent and amazes me every day. So why do we already have to hear stick-thin moms and grandmas saying “oh she’s BIG” when they find out how old she actually is? Why do they compare to their own fragile-looking, teeny tiny girls? I smile and say, “yup, she’s my big, strong, tall girl and she’s such a genius that she acts like a 4 year old and seems older than all the others, doesn’t she?” She doesn’t understand all this yet, and I am terrified and heartbroken for that day when she gets why those women say the word big in such a derogatory manner. Such a strong, sad post! Wishing you and your girls all the best and a healthy, happy self image.

Lori Z. 4 years ago

Yep. Crying right now.

MangoChutney 4 years ago

It has gotten really bad , it’s bad when the mom thinks it too! Especially the only images of beautiful women are the ones who look Luke skinny tall boys… And dare I say it… White. I have to raise young black women who love Disney shows and girly fashion, but I worry about their tainted images of beauty. Even I have problems feeling that I’m worthy.

Michele C. 4 years ago

Great post, made me sad. I dread the day my little girl starts to think of herself that way, because it’s been a long road of me dealing with self-image, whether I was tiny or huge.

Megan (Best of Fates) 4 years ago

This is just crushingly sad.

Grownandflown 4 years ago

Pete, trust us on this, it is just beginning for you and your family. Just wait until Alicia comes home for Christmas vacation from college (!!!), what you may have then is what we referred to as “Dressing Room Drama.”

Lynn from For Love or Funny 4 years ago

My heart broke when I read this. As a mom of two teenaged girls, I can relate to your concerns that your sweet daughters have a healthy body image. They are beautiful, inside and out.

Julie 4 years ago

I have an 8 year old and just two days ago she asked me why she didn’t look like all the other girls. I jokingly responded with “good genetics”. She rolled her eyes letting me know that this was no time to joke and then went on to complain that her belly was more rounded then other girls her age. To be clear she is not overweight, however, she is also not completely mistaken, she does have a rounder belly then many of her friends. I responded with a long lecture about how we are all shaped differently and how important it is to accept and love your body the way it is. Then, just in case none of this sunk in, I ended by pointing out that she would probably also grow boobies before many of her friends… Attention successfully diverted away from the stomach. 😉

Absence of alternatives 4 years ago

And I’m sorry that you had to witness the end of an era, so to speak, when she’s still so young.

ugh. Now I’m all stabby…

Absence of alternatives 4 years ago

Oh______. This post makes me sad and mad and feel utterly helpless. I only have boys, and even they complain about being fat. What the?! it’s really an upward, never ending battle, harder for girls and their loved ones. One thing we have to do is to keep on counterbalancing the “evil” force.

Lynn 4 years ago

7 is very young to be thinking this way, poor little thing. I don’t know if kids grow up quicker in different parts of the world. We are lucky to live in a small village in the UK. Whilst the media is still there and the pressures are still there, they seem more distant than they are to friends kids who are in the city. God bless her. I do try to raise my little one strong, she is 11, and give her a sense of ‘self’, we use words like ‘strong’ and ‘muscules’ and ‘fit’ when exercising, never referring to weight but these concepts do leek into their everyday thinking anyway, unaviodable.

Mod Mom Beyond IndieDom 4 years ago

This makes me sad for all the little girls and their parents. I wish the media would just stop already with the unrealistic, idealistic body image expectations. I am so glad I have boys. You sound like a wonderful Dad. All the best.

Jessica 4 years ago

I always worry how I portray body image to my almost 8 year old daughter. During her first 5 years of life I struggled with my weight and finally lost 45lbs. I know I am always talking about points values for foods and how I need to exercise and I am not sure how she processes all this information. This post reminds me I can show my daughter how to respect myself, so she can grow into adulthood loving herself.

The Mommy Psychologist 4 years ago

I really like that you didn’t try to tie this all up at the end in a nice tight Hallmark package. You stuck with the truth on this issue by ending it unresolved because honestly, there really isn’t a solution. And it’s so unfortunate. Our little girls grow up in a society obsessed with body image. Until this goes away, we all will always see ourselves the same way she did in the mirror no matter how beautiful we might be.

Jennifer Wilck 4 years ago

My 10-year-old’s reached that stage too and it breaks my heart. I asked her if she thought I was fat. She looked at me like I was nuts and said, “No!” So I told her that every time I try on clothes in the dressing room, I think I look fat, even though I’m not. I told her (unfortunately) that it’s a normal feeling to have, but that you have to remind yourself that you’re not and that you’re great just the way you are. It seemed to make her feel better.

viridian61 4 years ago

I’m with the other commenters, this breaks my heart too. Alas more is to come. I need to monitor my children’s media diet more carefully myself. Hang in there Dad.

Arnebya 4 years ago

It most certainly does not make it right. I know I have control over what I buy, but I don’t have control over all that my girls (11 and 8) see. For instance, the padded bras for newly developing girls (why do they need MORE?). Skinniest skinny jeans of all skinnidom. Um, can a girl’s nether regions get some air? All I can say is continue what you’ve been doing: keep talking, keep letting her know that she is gorgeous and loved and loveable. The brands and media damn sure don’t care about that.

Christie Tate 4 years ago

This is a heart-breaking post. Actually, I am crying, but that might be the PMS and my failure to keep chocolate in the house. Your daughters are lucky to have you and I am so happy to see this post. I was just asking my blog readers where the good daddy blogs are….I think you should start one up. This is too good.

Monabookgirl 4 years ago

I know from experience how difficult this stage is for girls. But I think the fact that boys go through this as well is overlooked. My son is 12 and last year he had been on some medication that made him gain weight. Some of the kids he knew teased him about being fat, and it took me forever to get him to go outside again. He became preoccupied with his weight, working out, and how much he is eating. I did some research and found out, much tom y surprise, that eating disorders are on the rise for boys as young as 9. They see “perfect” men on tv and other places, and they think everyone has to have a perfect six pack, be tan, and have not one ounce of anything jiggly on them. Thankfully he is no longer on those meds, and is now back to his normally skinny self. But now I worry, and I watch. And I am very aware of what I say to him about body image, mine or others. When I had a boy 12 years ago I remember thinking I would not have to go through the “I’m fat, I’m ugly” phase. How wrong I was.

Victoria KP 4 years ago

This breaks my heart. WHY? WHY should ANY 7 year old even THINK that word. It’s beyond sad.

I thought I’d be immune from exchanges like this because my children are both boys. But I’ve heard my 9-year-old son call his strong, healthy body fat and it makes me want to put my fist through a wall. Sigh.

Scargosun 4 years ago

That was very moving and sad and so many things at once. Thanks for sharing. I am probably not going to have kids so I wonder what times like this are like for people that do have kids. This is one of those tough ones that make you sad.

Joyce 4 years ago

My zumba instructor has mom and me classes, but she also welcomes kids as young as 10 to come to her regular classes. About two weeks ago, an adorable 5th grader came with her mom and wanted to try it out. She is holding a little extra weight, and is probably one to think the F word about herself. Well, she got in there and just did her best! At first her mom was just going to stay and watch because she runs in the mornings, but her heart for her daughter got the best of her, she joined in from that very day. “Janie” (not her real name) can’t get all the steps just right but it really doesn’t matter in zumba. She dances for the whole hour and has a blast. Yesterday our instructor started selling the little skirts with the coins all over them, and she bought a pink one. I danced behind her and she had those coins rocking! Afterwards I told her how good she was doing and that if she keeps it up she’s going to be in better shape than any of her friends… and I told her “girl, that skirt is perfect for you…. I love watching you shake it!” Her mom later told me thanks, that she has taken some teasing and that she doesn’t stick with physical things very long, and she has tried everything to help her stay in shape. She is just cute as a bug and we will encourage her to stay with us! Maybe this will help her. I’m 60 and a retired high school teacher. It’s true that there are a lot more overweight kids now than ever before, but most that I see do not eat or rest right, let alone exercise. Yet I have also never seen so much obsession with looks amongst kids, especially girls. It’s very sad and there are many who are in good shape but always think they are “fat” and do things like skip breakfast and lunch. And you’re right…. the message from magazines, TV, movies… none of it is good. My own ten year old grandson is growing like his daddy did. He is pretty hefty right now but when his dad was that age, he was the same way until he grew 7 inches taller in one year and all that belly fat just spread out all over, and he was lean. He got teased a lot in elementary school and I fear it’s the same for my grandson. He won’t even get in the pool anymore without a shirt on. All we can do is support them the best we can, as you do, and encourage good eating and exercise habits. I just don’t know what we can do to assure them of their beauty from the inside out. Of course the old “pretty is as pretty does,” helps a bit but kids these days have a lot of other influences making it harder and harder to shelter them from some pretty ugly stuff. Good luck and keep up that great daddying that you are doing

Steph @ DairyFreeOmnivore 4 years ago

Such a big issue for parents of girls. I have 3 girls, my oldest is 8. My oldest two are on the smaller side for their age groups, but even still the oldest is already showing some insecurities about her appearance. She told her Nana one day that she didn’t want ice cream because it would make her fat. We quickly jumped on that comment and explained to her that sweets are ok, especially the small amount we eat. We’ve since banned Disney and Nick tv shows because we noticed that those were really impacting her self image and sending the wrong message to girls. All 3 of my girls are beautiful and strong. The oldest is a budding athlete. It’s going to be a struggle though from here on to make sure they all see themselves as we do. And to ban to F word from our house.

Tragic Sandwich 4 years ago

I hope to stave off this moment with Baguette for as long as possible. But I think you handled it well, focusing on how to make the dress fit the way she wants it to.

But I also think that it’s important to point out to her that she saw it in the right way: it was the dress, not her. Not all garments are flattering. Some of them do make us look fat. And if she can look in the mirror and feel that she looks great, but the dress isn’t right, then that’s just fine.

Because we all have moments of insecurity. But we don’t all have to live there.

Kelly 4 years ago

It’s a tragedy. I’ve spent my entire life pinching and twisting and snarling at any excess fat. It’s such a waste of time but yet it develops so much into our sense of being it seems impossible to stop.
My girl is now 12 and she’s started to throw her arms around her belly and hunch over if she thinks anyone around her is paying attention. My heart breaks everytime she does it.

Em Rohrer 4 years ago

Breaks my heart! I remember going through that when I was younger…and I’m about 2 weeks away from having my own little girl appear into this world, trying to shield her from the world’s view on beauty and weight is impossible and something I know we’ll struggle with as she grows up.

Shannon 4 years ago

I have two daughters, ages 7 and 11. The youngest has always been one to walk to the beat of her own drum and when the day comes and she faces these body image issues (and we know the day WILL come), I really hope it doesn’t alter her outlook. Alas, it probably will. {sigh}

Great post.

Stephanie 4 years ago

This kills me. I SO BADLY want to shield my daughter from all of this, but I know I am going to have a very difficult time. Doesn’t help, either, that the first comment made of any little girl is, “She’s so pretty!” I’m lobbying for “You look so smart today!”

    Susan @ Mommy Mind Trip 4 years ago

    Agreed, Stephanie! My 2 year old daughter already announces “I pretty” to unassuming passerby. I use a myriad of descriptors when I talk to her: “smart” “kind” “persistent” “determined”. I hate that people default to “pretty”.

Katy @ Experienced Bad Mom 4 years ago

She’s got you, Dad, and you will always love her and fight for her and remind her that she’s beautiful inside and out. And that will count for so much more in the long run than ads and marketing. If only all little girls could grow up so loved and accepted and encouraged.

Carolyn 4 years ago

What a powerful post. It made the reader feel like they were there with you, watching an adorable 7 year old gaze at herself in the mirror and question how beautiful she is. Although this moment of watching my children question their image is still in my future, this post is a good reminder to me to watch what I say about my body. Thank you.

N Trick Steinbach 4 years ago

Thank you for leaving it unsolved. Real. Best wishes.

Aimee 4 years ago

This brought tears to my eyes. I’m 38 years old and still struggling with insecurities about my body. When will it stop?

Rhana @ Dumb {Squared} 4 years ago


If only we, as parents, could take all their insecurities and pain and flush it down the toilet.

Guerrilla Mom 4 years ago

Oh God. This breaks my heart. I feel like we can do a lot for young women by teaching them early that the images they see on TV and in print- are not real. There are a ton of youtube videos that show the effects of photoshop- you should show her some of those.

Amber 4 years ago

Ugh. I’m dreading this day. No matter how hard you try, society is bound to catch up with them eventually. But as long as you keep telling her she’s beautiful, she’ll be okay.

Denise 4 years ago

So sad. I have boys and my 13 year old still doesn’t give a rats rump what he looks like, so long as I can find pants that aren’t tight and shirts with funny images. He’d wear the same clothes for a week if I didn’t remind him to change.

Betsee 4 years ago

And this is why you find SOMETHING outside for them to be involved in. Whatever it is. Our daughter plays ice hockey on an all girls team. She also did basketball this year. You just have to find one thing she loves to do. I’ve also told my daughter that just as much as she looks in the mirror and sees whatever flaw she sees, that the most popular girl in her class looks in the mirror and sees her own flaws too. I’ve not shielded her particularly; in fact, I’m quite blunt. She’s in 6th grade and I told her last year that middle school was going to be hard. Just keep your head down, do your schoolwork, and play hockey. High school is soooooo much better. You gotta raise ’em up strong so they can kick the world’s a$$!!

Rebecca Schorr 4 years ago

It is amazing how our kids soak up all the messages from media even when we’ve done our best to counteract them with our love, reassurance, and positive talk.

Just keep doing what you’ve been doing…

Ellen 4 years ago

Ugh – this made me so sad. I remember when this happened to me and as I was reading this I was looking at my perfect little girl and I knew that one day she wouldn’t be able to see how perfect she is.

Kathryn 4 years ago

I’m dealing with this with my daughter. It is so hard.

Anne Kimball 4 years ago

Oh, Pete, I loved this. You aptly captured the sadness that can accompany this moment. How very right you are that no matter how much we instill in them that they are beautiful, and how little emphasis we place on society’s view of what is attractive, it finds them.

However, as the Mom to three teen girls, I must advise you: pick yourself up and dust yourself off, and get ready to steel yourself for the next stage, which will be that your dtrs will want to wear things you are not ready for them to wear. Shorts too short, tops too tight, v-necks too plunging. I’ve always dressed them very conservatively, our school has a commendable dress-code, we watch what they are exposed to, media-wise. And yet… that desire to look sexy grabs hold of them too early. Now instead of saying ooh and ahhh in the dressing room, I hear myself saying an awful lot of “No”.


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