I have a 10 year-old daughter. If you know her or read my blog regularly you will know that she is not a typical tween girl. For example, today she wore a hockey jersey to school. Her wardrobe consists of what is comfortable (sweatpants) and what is sports related.
This is a girl who when asked in art class, “What is your favourite creative thing to do?” she answered, “Sports.” She plays competitive hockey and soccer, loves running 5k races with her dad, plays tennis and golf and skis on snow and on water whenever she can. She is an athlete and what we used to call a “tomboy”, through and through.
Top 20 in the city of Toronto in cross country. She loves to move!
I think because of that I have never, ever heard her say anything about her body related to how it looks. Never. Neither positive nor negative. She just doesn’t think that way. She is not self-conscious and she has a deep understanding, as an athlete does, that her body facilitates her activities. It needs to be fuelled and rested and taken care of. But how it looks has never entered her mind.
Occasionally I will tell her she looks beautiful because a) she does and b) I want her to know, if one day this does matter to her, that she truly IS beautiful. Sometimes she smiles in acknowledgement but usually it goes in one ear and out the other. She just doesn’t seem to care.
Or so I thought.
The other day my son decided that he wanted to weigh himself. In his quest to gain a few pounds on his ever longer, thin frame he felt that he had bulked up a bit since he last stood on the scale. So, he hopped on and was thrilled to be a few pounds up. My daughter, overhearing this, asked if she could weigh herself too. Why not? So, she stood on the scale and stared at the number then looked over at me and said, “I’m fat.” WHAT?? I was totally and completely shocked. I was so taken aback that I was speechless. Luckily her brother stepped in and said, “Don’t be stupid.”
Where had this come from? I had no idea. So I asked. Her answer? “My friend only weighs 50lbs and the other is 65lbs. So I must be fat!” Oh do I remember that feeling. No one ever talked about the fact that being a giant among your peers may give you a few extra pounds. They talked about the number on the scale. Even now when I watch The Biggest Loser on TV I am always trying to guess how tall the contestants are to get a sense of a “normal” weight.
The fact that her friends are about a head shorter than her and that there is not a ripple or roll to be seen on her lean frame meant nothing to her. In her eyes, all that mattered was that she weighed more.
Playing frisbee with her dad at the beach. Any sport’ll do!
We sat down and had a chat. I talked about how everyone is a different shape and size and that you can look at their parents and get a sense of where their height and weight might come from. I talked about how being in a certain weight range should only be a part of having a healthy body. I talked about how this conversation came to pass and why it mattered to her. I even looked up her height weight ratio compared to the average 10 year-old and showed her that she was actually much taller (75%) than the average but was exactly the average weight (50%) of her peer group.
Since that day I have not heard a word about it. She has not commented on her looks or her body at all. She is the same girl she was before the comment with zero time and energy for any of it. BUT, now I know that, even if it is just a teeny tiny piece, she is not, as I naively thought unaware and unaffected.
How do you handle body image with your tween?