So, your kid is getting a little chubby, and you are getting a little worried about what comes next. What are you supposed to do? What’s the protocol? How do you handle it? Do you address it at all? What if they notice it first and bring it up? What the heck do you say? It can be a lot to think about.
I have been fat since infancy. I never “lost my baby fat,” thinned out, or had periods of thinness. By the time I was six weeks old, my doctor had already told my parents I was gaining weight too quickly. That was it. I have been fat ever since.
As you can imagine, being the fat kid in the eighties and nineties was … well, let’s just say it was tough. We weren’t doing the body positivity thing yet in most circles, and I saw absolutely no positive examples of fatness in the media or in my life. My own beautiful mother was always on a diet, seeking to be thinner no matter how small she got.
My doctor and parents put me on my first diet at age six.
A lot of foods were off-limits to me, and there were constant conversations in my home about my weight and size. Even though I know they tried to be gentle, the message I got was that something was wrong with me, and they were disappointed about it.
I love my parents, and I trust that they did exactly what my doctor and the wisdom of the day instructed them to do. It would be unfair to hold it against them; I know they never did anything intentionally cruel. If they could go back and do it all differently, I think they would. If they knew then that I would remain fat despite all their efforts, I think they would have helped me make peace with my body instead of always fighting against it. They thought they were helping me be healthy. I understand that now.
As a former fat kid who has overcome a wagonload of issues related to body image, I feel like it’s my duty to the chubby children of today to help parents navigate the tricky road of raising them with body confidence. If your kid is starting to get a little chubby and you’re not sure what to do, please let me help you handle it without hurting them. Here are a few pieces of advice.
1. First and most importantly: You’re not a terrible person for noticing and being worried.
As a parent, you should be very aware of your child’s body. They rely on you to notice changes that could signal issues with their health or emotions. It is normal for you to keep an eye on their weight and to recognize when it starts creeping up.
It’s also not your fault that it worries you. We hear A LOT of negative messages about fat bodies in our culture, including a lot of chatter about how unhealthy it allegedly is. We want our children to be as healthy and safe as possible, so it’s natural to worry. Good news! Your child is probably perfectly healthy, but if they’ve gained some weight and you are concerned, you’re not a crappy, fat-shaming parent just for noticing.
They might notice, too. If they do, speak to them kindly and make sure they know their body is growing, changing and perfect as it is. And give yourself some grace. It’s okay that you’re not sure what to do.
2. You do need to bring your child’s weight up to their doctor—but not in front of your kid.
If your child’s weight concerns you, especially if they gain a lot of weight in a short period of time with no simple explanation, you need to speak to their pediatrician. Weight gain and growth spurts are normal, but unexplained weight changes are always a reason to call the doctor.
Here’s the important thing: You need to have a private conversation with the doctor so you can both speak freely. The way you talk about their body in a medical setting will likely be very matter-of-fact, including numbers and percentiles, but the way you discuss it to their face should be more gentle, positive and nuanced. Ask the doctor if you can speak to them before the examination. Explain that you want to discuss the weight gain and get some feedback and guidance without confusing or shaming your child.
3. For the love of all the gods, please do not put your chubby kid on a diet.
No diets during childhood. Not one. Not ever. If your doctor recommends this, find a new doctor. I’m not kidding. Your kid should never spend a minute of their childhood worrying about counting calories, watching their carbs, stressing about the scale or paying close attention to the size of their clothes. Teach your child about the function of their body. Explain how it can carry them through their life, how it can move and dance and grow. Let them enjoy exploring the things their body can do without worrying about how it looks or what it weighs.
4. Don’t connect healthy food choices or exercise to the size of your child’s body.
Choosing not to put your child on a diet doesn’t mean you can’t gently guide their food choices. Regardless of body type, offering your child a wide range of foods that meet their nutritional needs is incredibly important.
Start early disconnecting exercise and movement from weight loss. Let your kid fall in love with using their body instead of seeing movement as a means to change their body to be more acceptable by society’s bullshit standards. Encourage your kid to move in a way that makes them happy every single day.
It’s vital that your chubby kid learns that their body needs a lot of different kinds of nutrients and lots of fun movement to stay healthy. They might not stay chubby forever, but no matter how their body ends up later, every kid needs to understand that they are important and deserving of care. They need to eat well and stay in motion because it’s good for their growing body– not because they need to learn how to get or stay thin.
5. Tell your kids early and often that every single kind of body is special, beautiful and acceptable exactly how they are.
If you want your child to have a peaceful relationship with their body, you need to speak positively about every kind of body. Fat bodies. Thin bodies. Fit bodies. Dad bodies. Cis bodies. Trans bodies. Disabled bodies. Wheelchair-using bodies. All the bodies.
It might feel awkward, but you have to be intentional about imparting this information. That is how they will truly come to accept that they matter. Loving their outer shell is a great first step toward loving themselves enough to stand up for all the things that will matter later. A body confident child can grow into a strong self-advocate because their early habits are self-appreciation and understanding their worth.
6. Watch your mouth.
If you’re constantly talking shit about fat bodies in front of your kid, you’re hurting them.
Pointing out every single one of your own perceived flaws holds a mirror up to your child, too. They will look at their body to see if their “imperfections” match yours. Even if you don’t say it to them or about them, your negativity shapes their self-image. The best policy is to stop verbally ripping people (even yourself!) to shreds, period. But if you can’t do that, at least stop doing it in front of your kids. They shouldn’t carry the burden of your biases.
I know it can be a little nerve-wracking to raise a chubby kid in an anti-fat society. Fat people hear a lot of incredibly rude comments, and nobody wants their child to face the cruelty of a cold, anti-fat, diet-obsessed culture. But please hear a former fat child when I tell you that trying to “head it off at the pass” or “nip it in the bud” or whatever else you might think you’re doing by trying to transform your fat child into a thin one is almost certainly going to be a disaster. Helping them learn to respect their body and everything it is capable of is way more important than helping them be thin.
No matter how they look, our kids need and deserve to feel way down deep in the fabric of their beings that their bodies are good. That starts by letting them live in peace while they’re little without worrying about the size of their body.