Living · Spoonie Parenting

‘My Tummy Looks Fat’ – Body Image, my Kids and my Chronic Illness

“Mummy, I don’t like my tummy…it looks fat.”  

Imagine my horror when my 6 – year old daughter (yes, I said 6) said this to me the other day while I was helping her apply her nightly eczema cream.  Apparently, a child in her class had commented that it looked as though she had a “baby in her tummy” whilst they were getting changed for P.E….. and so it starts.

I remember all too well comparing myself to others when I was younger – although, for me, it started at a much later age than 6.  My little girl’s body shape is exactly like mine was at her age – strong and solid with, yes, a little bit of a tummy.  But she is a perfectly healthy weight for her height, she eats healthily most of the time and exercises regularly.

It is no wonder that children (girls and  boys) appear to be becoming more body conscious at an earlier age.  I am a big believer that the media’s constant bombardment of ‘perfect’ bodies isn’t helping.  As a result, Hubs and I monitor and limit what our children watch on T.V. and on their tablets; for example, music videos are not allowed unless we have seen and listened to them first and deemed them suitable.  But it can be a difficult balance at times – I will sometimes sit and watch YouTubers applying make-up, to give myself ideas of what can try even though I never actually give the looks a go myself, simply because it is a mind-numbing and sometimes enjoyable past time for those days that I am exhausted.  In my mind, there is nothing wrong with people taking joy in trying to look their best; but when the unattainable becomes the ultimate aspiration, it is just wrong.

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Little Mix – all the rage with 6 year old girls

So, what did I say to my daughter when she told me how she felt?  I did the first thing that came naturally to me: I told her that she is is lovely, I told her that I was exactly the same at her age, and I told her that bodies come in all shapes and sizes, and that is what makes everyone special; wouldn’t it be boring if everyone looked the same?  I like to think that was the ‘right thing’ for me to say; I know that these formative years are such an important time to build up children’s self-worth.  But after the encounter, it got me thinking: am I doing the right things to try and ensure that my children grow up to feel self-confident and accepting of others?

And other thoughts came to me… like how having Multiple Sclerosis (MS) has made me look at and consider my own body in a whole new light.  I could spend ages writing about how unhappy I was with my body as a teenager, how I was constantly thinking about what I ate and whether it would make me fat.  I was so worried about the way that I looked that it stopped me wearing what I wanted to wear (All-Saints combats and crop tops, anyone?) when there was never anything wrong with the way I looked!  It was only once I reached my mid 20s that I started to feel body confident and stopped comparing myself to others.

My MS has made appreciate the body that I did have, so much.  It was one that worked – it ran, it swam, it danced, it walked.  Such simple, every day tasks that I just didn’t cherish when I had the chance.  I guess it is like the age old saying, ‘you just don’t appreciate what you have until it’s gone’.

So, this is what I would like to impress upon my children:

  • Your bodies are strong and flexible – they let you roller skate, swim, play hide and seek, go to circus skills class, play basketball
  • Your bodies are healthy – fuel them up the right way and they will give you all the energy that you need to keep going with your favourite activities
  • Your bodies are individual – no-one else has the same body and that makes you, and everyone else, special

In regards to food, we talk about ‘everything in moderation’ – we wouldn’t be healthy if we ate only chocolate, but we wouldn’t be healthy if we ate only carrots, either.  The children know that I follow a special ‘eating plan’, but this is because it helps my MS.  I don’t talk about my weight to the children; I tell them my favourite body part is my stretch-marked tummy, because this is where they grew inside me – ok, not anatomically true, but you get the gist.

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I am aware that my kids’ body consciousness will escalate over the coming years and I worry that I can’t be the active role model that I would like to be.  But I can be the Mum who takes them out for a walk, bike ride or roller skating, despite having to be on a scooter herself.  I can be the Mum who tells them how lucky they are to have bodies that work so well and I can be the Mum who cranks up the music, encouraging them to ‘dance like no-ones watching’.

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23 thoughts on “‘My Tummy Looks Fat’ – Body Image, my Kids and my Chronic Illness

  1. great post as always Jen xxx it’s amazing what they come out with isn’t it? Ava is so beautiful and she’e so active and strong. She’ll grow up knowing what’s right! xxx

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  2. Lovely post! I think that’s the perfect thing to say to children or anyone! 🙂 It’s sad how everyone seems to go through feeling self conscious about the way they look but MS was actually the thing that changed my mind set. It really made me appreciate myself. xx

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  3. Teaching self-love and self-esteem to our own children can be so hard! I’ve always struggled with my weight and my body image, and I never really thought of it affecting anyone but me until I had my little girl. Now, one of my missions in life is to teach her to love her body, appreciate, and take care of it. I don’t know if she’ll grow up to be a confident woman, but I’m sure going to try.

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  4. I was so self-conscious about my body as a teenager and even as 20-something. Now I can only dream of having anything close to that body. I think you did a great job with your daughter. As the grandma of 5 girls (and 3 boys) I like to remind them that everyone is built a little differently and, as long as they’re not over-indulging and getting a reasonable amount of exercise they needn’t worry.

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  5. My mother was a narcissist who told me daily how overweight I was, spewed nasty words and made known how disappointed she was with my body image (said I would never get married). I felt crappy and was obese for most of my life, and when I did lose a lot of weight, she still never praised me. Then again, narcissists never show empathy or care anyways. It’s tough going through life being ashamed of yourself, and it took years of therapy to realize that I am worthy and why should other people care what I look like.

    Thanks for this post, it was well-written. 🙂

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    1. Thank you do your comment – I’m so sorry that you had to live with that 😦 I know that seeing my mum constantly on diets didn’t help me with my body image. I am so pleased therapy has helped you. Lots of good wishes to you 🙂

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  6. Great post! Having two daughters I wonder what craziness the media will push as “the perfect body” when they’re older. Them complaining about their body is a scary thought. I know in order for them to love their imagine I must love mine; which is something being a mom taught me.

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  7. I wrote a post earlier today with similar sentiments about managing our children’s relationships with their own bodies-we touched on similar ideas. My daughter is younger than yours, but it is something I thin about a lot, and how to manage it

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  8. You did a wonderful job explaining to your daughter about her body. It is such a terrible thing when we can control what others say. No clue why people feel the need to express their opinion when it’s a negative one. I have a daughter too. Even though I exercise regularly and eat cleanly, it’s not so much for “dieting”, it’s more a lifestyle and to hopefully stave off things from happening because of excess weight, she too has learned to eat good and exercise. With that said, we both have different body types. When she was younger, she didn’t quiet get why I weight less and wore smaller clothing. It was only until she was in her late teens to finally understand that I am a head shorter than her! I would tell her, “You can’t compare our bodies. I am so much shorter than you.” She’s 25 now and get’s it. She is good with her body image and is good with mine. She even loves to buy me clothes! She is a gem and I have learned so much by being her mom. Again, well done Mom!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much for your comment! It helps to hear from someone who has a grown up daughter. I remember my Mum talking all about dieting and I am trying really hard not to do that with my daughter. My ‘diet’ is to try and keep my MS symptoms at bay, not about weight loss so I don’t talk about my weight at all. I really hope that my little girl grows up with good self esteem. Take care 🙂

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      1. I suppose when people hear about how I eat, their first thought is, “Oh it’s a diet”. But in fact it’s not a diet at all…it’s a matter of taking control of your health. I choose good foods and exercise to help me stay healthy. I’ve taught my kids to do the same. Making good food choice and exercise shouldn’t be about diet, it should be about caring for ones health. And then there’s cake! We eat that too, just not all the time. 😉

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