I am at Starbuck’s and I’m eavesdropping. I hate to admit that I would do such a thing, but I just can’t help it. The teens sitting at the table next to me are talking loud and the conversation has lured me in. “I love your mom,” one of the teenage girls says to the other. “She’s so cool.” Now, instead of taking the compliment, the other girl replies, “Oh yeah, well this morning my mom told me I was fat.”
I listen as she explains further. The girl continues on. “My mom asked me to go to the gym with her in the mornings before school. Can you believe that?” “Really?” asks her friend, sounding horrified. “Yeah, of course I’m not going to go. I don’t have time for that,” she says.
I glance over and from where I was sitting it looks like the young teen girl is average weight. Sure, the Frappuccino she is drinking isn’t doing anything to trim her waistline, but she by no means seemed overweight. As I sat there taking it all in, I realized that what I did not hear in the conversation was any mention that the girl’s mother had actually said her daughter was fat. She merely invited her to go with her to the gym.
As a mother of a teen daughter, I have learned discussing body issues is dangerous. Teen girls are super sensitive about their bodies and bringing up the topic of weight is tricky. This girl apparently read more in her mother’s invitation to join her at the gym — whether or not the mother intended it that way. Unfortunately, I could relate. One day I suggested my daughter eat something other than the cupcake she was about to put in her mouth. My comment sparked tears and she insisted I called her fat. I tried to convince her I was just trying to teach her about making healthier eating choices.
As a society, we’ve gotten a little better about expecting females to be stick thin throughout their lives. But for teen girls, carrying extra weight can be difficult mentally and physically. It’s something many mothers worry about. So how exactly do you as a parent handle it when you see your daughter packing on pounds? Do you say something and risk that she will rebel? Do you couch it in a caring way and avoid the word fat? Do you ignore it completely?
And, what do you do when your daughter says, “I hate my fat thighs?” Is there any right answer?
I have found a well-meaning conversation that’s just about weight or dieting, especially in the heat of the moment, can backfire. Instead, I noticed conversations go more smoothly when you plan out what you’ll say before you say it, so you don’t cause your daughter to get defensive or worse, develop an eating disorder. What has worked for me is to talk with my daughter about healthful eating, and how to balance that with exercise.
Lots of teen girls are just figuring out moderation and what “eating healthy” really means. My friend’s daughter gained a good bit of weight her freshman year of college. My friend was upset and wondered if she should say something. She worried that speaking up would hurt their relationship. But then, on her own, my friend’s daughter realized that eating late at night can make you put on weight and that skipping breakfast made her ravenous at lunchtime. She began eating healthier and lost the weight. My friend felt her daughter needed to figure it out herself and the approach worked. But it doesn’t always play out that way.
As a parent, none of this is easy. I have found it helps, though, when you make your teen daughter well aware of your unconditional love. Have you ever talked to your teen daughter about her weight? Why do you think so many teen girls walk around saying, “My mother thinks I fat?”