Stop Telling My Daughter To Gain Weight

Teenage Girl

“When is she going to put a little meat on her bones?”

“She’s so cute and petite.”

Those have been common, and mostly harmless, statements directed towards my daughter for the better part of her thirteen years. They never bothered me because I’d been guilty of saying them myself. We laughed off the letters we received from the school each year essentially saying that my daughter should be checked for malnutrition and my son might need to lay off the snacks. Obviously, we had two kids from the same family with very different body styles. Both kids are healthy – they eat well, are active in sports, and rarely get sick even with the simplest of colds. As our pediatrician says, my daughter is built for speed and my son is built for the mountains. They just happen to have two opposite lines on the growth chart that they each follow like clockwork rarely ever deviating.

It’s when those comments took on a slightly different tone that I began worrying about the damage they could do to my daughter’s body image and self esteem at a time in her life when the last thing a young teenager needs is one more thing entering their head causing them to question if they are “normal.”

“Have you considered trying to help her gain weight?”

“Maybe she can put on some muscles for soccer.”

“She must not eat very much. Is she healthy?”

These comments make the hairs stand up on the back of my neck because my daughter is basically getting judged by her size. This would never be acceptable if people were asking me if I intended to help her lose some weight or if someone suggested that she obviously eats too much. Why, then, is it okay for people to make statements about her weight because she happens to be petite?

At this stage in her life, she brushes them off. She’s not worried about the girl twice her size she’s defending on the soccer field because she sees it as a challenge. Her weight, or lack there of, isn’t an issue in her mind. For now. But what if a day comes when she lets those words sink in and begins questioning whether or not she looks right or if she should try to change her body? What if the day comes when those words spoken by well-meaning individuals cause her to wonder if she should actually care about her size?

As her mother, it’s my job to protect her from allowing such thoughts to overpower the confident ones but that is easier said than done. I can tell her she’s perfect just the way she is and can continue to not allow words like “skinny” and “fat” in my household, but I also think it’s important for people to understand that petite does not equate to a zero percent chance of body image issues. To suggest that my daughter needs to put on weight is suggesting that she is not perfect the way she is. It is suggesting that something is wrong with her natural body type, and I’m done brushing that off like it’s no big deal. Yes, she eats. Yes, she is healthy. And no, I’m not going to send her into the weight room unless that is something she decides she wants to do.

So, going forward, can we all just agree that any comments, regardless of intent, that suggests there might be something wrong with the way a teenage girl, or anyone for that matter, looks is off limits? Instead, let’s celebrate our differences and remember that “normal” can come in a variety of shapes and sizes.

Christie Pettus is a full time working wife and mother living her suburban cul de sac dream in Orange Park, Fl. She is Mom to two awesome teenagers, McKenzie and Ethan, who have come to accept that certain parts of their lives will be blogged about, so they should act accordingly. As graduates of the University of Florida, she and her husband Ryan can be found rooting on their alma mater every chance they get including the more obscure sports. LaCrosse anyone? When she’s not judging her kids' questionable teenage choices, she can be found hiding in a room buried in a good book or writing, editing, and dreaming about being a full-time author.

5 COMMENTS

  1. I wholeheartedly agree. I’m a petite adult and get similar questions which I find off putting. I’m surprised people will make negative remarks about being too thin directly to a thin person, yet would likely not comment about someone being too heavy to their face. There is a similar message, ‘your body doesn’t look like I think it should,’ yet for some reason it’s deemed socially acceptable to say to folks on the thin side.

    Wonderfully written post.

    • Thank you so much for sharing! It always surprises me as well when people make those comments, but I honestly think they don’t believe it’s an issue.

  2. When I was in middle school, I forgot my lunch one day. A male teacher stopped me in the hall (I had gone back to my locker to see if I had a snack in there) and started lecturing me about eating disorders. I didn’t have one, and kept trying to explain and he got more and more aggressive about it. He told me I clearly was not healthy and didn’t eat. I happened to be very skinny but with a huge appetite. I just stood there, dumbfounded. He told me he would keep an eye on me in the lunch room and if he didn’t see me eating he would call my parents. I was so scared of this guy that I would start eating every time he walked by, even if I wasn’t hungry. I never told anyone, though I should have. That was really the start of my body image issues. I wish adults would be more careful.

    • I am so sorry this happened to you. Yes, people have no idea how words that seem like no big deal to them can have lasting effects.

  3. I’m in my forties, naturally thin, and for as long as I can remember I’ve downplayed it and avoided wearing tighter fitting clothes to avoid the ‘well-meaning’ but judgemental comments. My mom always bought me clothes that were too big to make me look bigger, permed my hair as it needed more body and the other day told me I was looking too thin again.
    When I turned forty something changed and I decided I didn’t care anymore. I started using weights with my hubby in our basement few times per week build strength and was feeling strong and gained a few lbs.
    my 13 year old daughter who is beautiful
    And tall and slim said she wanted to be as thin as me. I was shocked – we’ve never talked weight other than to say strong is healthy. I’ve never commented on her weight as I think it’s harmful. We talk about moderation and diet isn’t a word we use unless it’s to say our diet is healthy choices.
    The worst was my mom jumped in and said oh no, you don’t want to look like your mom, it’s not a good thing. WTF – who says that about their kid.
    I brushed it off and told my daughter she was beautifully made, her frame was hers and not mine and to love every inch of her figure.
    Comments about others bodies aren’t warranted. Ever. Unless it’s encouragement and support.
    As I write this I’m so angry. Sigh. Rant over. Good for you, protect your daughter. She is who she is and should never need to justify herself to others.

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