Ask Scary Mommy is Scary Mommy’s new advice column, where our team of “experts” answers all the questions you have about life, love, body image, friends, parenting, and anything else that’s confusing you.
This week… What do you do when your preschooler innocently asks you why parts of your body are “chubby?” How do we teach body acceptance at this very early age without overwhelming them? Have your own questions? Email firstname.lastname@example.org
Dear Scary Mommy,
Recently, I was changing into my pajamas in front of my four-year-old daughter and she looked down at my legs. She sweetly and innocently asked, “Mommy, why are your legs so chubby?” and I, in a brief stupor, hesitated before she added insult to injury by furthering the matter with, “They’re kinda weird and have marks all over them.” Now I’m assuming the “marks” are my cellulite dimples, which are all over my thighs and knees. It’s true my legs aren’t a physical feature I’m confident about, but I know she was just asking out of pure curiosity. I told her “all bodies look different” and that it’s okay, yadda yadda. I was caught off-guard in the moment and did the best I could. So my question is, how do I approach this from now on?
You did a great job even if you felt flustered or caught off-guard. The tough news is that you’re going to have to answer questions like this and have discussions like this many, many more times throughout her life.
She’s four, so this was never going to be the smoothest discussion. I don’t think you need to frame this as a Big Talk kind of thing moving forward unless she brings it up first, similarly to how she did it here. When that happens — and it will — I suggest you reaffirm your thoughts “all bodies look differently” and maybe add a few lines about how awesome our bodies are for being strong and all the wonderful things our bodies do for us.
If she brings up your legs, or your husband’s belly, or her brother’s butt, etc., again, you can say something like, “Yes, Mommy’s legs look different than your legs, but they’re strong and they help me walk/run/dance/swing and I love them for that.” And then she’ll probably want to talk about what her legs do, and then the “talk” will be over.
She’s likely going to always come to you with questions like this. They’ll get more in-depth and difficult as she gets older, but I genuinely believe if you always reiterate your original stance about how awesome it is that all bodies look differently, and focus on how we should appreciate our bodies for the work they do, it could have a hugely positive impact on how she views her own body.
Kids notice things that are different from their own things. It’s what they do; it’s how they learn. Teach her that anyone who’s worth liking in this world won’t have any kind of opinion on how she looks. If they do, they can piss off. (Feel free to edit for a more appropriate four-year-old-friendly phrase, but you get the idea.)
Here’s a solid list of books to help teach young girls about body acceptance and that every body is worth celebrating. You’re doing great. You love yourself and you’re teaching your daughter to love herself far younger than many of our parents ever did.
Good for you, Mama.
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