Because her mom thinks she’s fat.

by Janelle Hanchett

The other day, while enjoying a cookie, Ava says “Mama, wanna hear something sad?”

And I’m always up for a little sadness, so of course I respond “Yes.”

And she says (and names have been changed to protect the innocent) “Jessica doesn’t eat sweets. She isn’t allowed to because her mom thinks she’s fat. Today at school she wouldn’t have a cookie and when I asked her why, she told me that.”

Oh boy.

A “fat” nine-year-old girl.

And one of those women.

I want to cry a little, rage a little, break a couple faces.

Because first of all, I know this girl, and she isn’t fat. She’s isn’t a rail, she’s not one of those super scrawny kids, and perhaps she’s holding on to a bit of that baby chub, but SHE IS IN NO WAY SHAPE OR FORM FAT. I’ve seen obese kids. She ain’t one of them. She’s healthy, normal. The non-rail shape of her body is clearly, um, just that, the shape of her body.

In a word, she’s adorable. She’s lovely. And perfect – as most kids are, when fed decent food and allowed exercise and access to the outside.

And I’ve seen her mother. Her mother is a rail. Her mother wears tight jeans, small tops and heels pretty much always. Her mother is gorgeous; she turns heads. Very sexy. Very into her appearance. Lots of make-up, always put together – the type of mom I look at and compare myself to, thinking “Damn. I remember 10 years ago when I was hot like that. Wish I still was.”  And I feel not quite good enough, which of course is my own issue and another blog post.

And obviously, her daughter just isn’t quite good enough.

She isn’t the vision her mother expected. She isn’t the dashing beauty her mother had hoped for. She isn’t the stunner her mother is. And she’s disappointed.

So she begins her attempt to mold. To create. To construct. To form her into…what…what was it? Oh right…her idea of beautiful. Of sexy. Of hot.

Forget the child’s soul. Forget her spirit. Forget her value as something other than a body, a dude magnet, a little hottie.

Forget all that. Teach her that what matters is her appearance. Her sexual prowess – her outsides –the way the world views her attractiveness, rates her, judges her.

Teach her to rely on her sexiness and good looks, teach her to define herself completely through something that will ultimately abandon her, fade, whither, leaving her wondering “wait. I’m not the hot girl anymore. I’m a mother with a bit of a pooch…I’m an older woman with saggy boobs…WHO AM I NOW? WHAT AM I GOOD FOR NOW?”

Now don’t misunderstand me. Avoiding a lot of fat and sugar and junk food is (obviously) an excellent and critical habit to teach a child  – but because it’s HEALTHY. Because it’s good to have an active, thriving body, energy and stamina, and a clear, alert mind.  Clearly our bodies should be nourished and treated well and respected. But telling your young daughter that she can’t eat a particular something because she’s FAT will never end in good.

The take away for the child is singular: my mom thinks I’m ugly. Not good enough. Defective.

I’m pretty sure that the mother’s emphasis on her daughter’s weight will result in the exact outcome she’s trying to avoid: emotional eating, dependence on food for something other than nourishment…and obesity. Or anorexia. Or bulimia.

It will result in self-hatred.

Because right now that little girl is still trying to please her mother. When all the other kids are eating a cookie in celebration of a birthday, Jessica denies herself, because her mom thinks she’s fat. But one day in the not too distant future, Jessica’s going to take a look at her mother and say to herself “Who the fuck are YOU to tell me I’m fat? Who the hell are YOU to judge me?” AND SHE’LL EAT EVERY DAMN COOKIE IN A 5 MILE RADIUS, just to prove a point.

But that message will remain, deep, deep inside: I’m ugly. Not good enough. Defective.

Might as well just keep on eating. Or starving. Or binging.

Because I wasn’t good enough for the ONE PERSON WHO MATTERED MOST.

How could I ever be good enough for me?


….Oh, man, let me tread lightly with my little girls – help them see the light burning within them. Untouched, undiminished, unchanged by the passing of time, by the sagging of boobs, by the stretch marks, by the belly that pooches a little…falls over our jeans in all its unsexiness, though it falls in the shape of a cradle, of the womb that once held her in sweet whole embrace. my own chubby, perfect daughter.

  • Erin

    Holy Lord your writing never ceases to amaze me. Well done.

    All I can say is: you are absolutely right. Anything beyond that is a whole blog post.

    Your daughters are beautiful and their light is shining, mama.

  • Shan

    I do see it. In them and you.

  • Shelley

    speechless, just tears…

  • Mandy Wright

    Amazing. You never cease to amaze me with your words. Your children (and of course husband!) are so lucky that they have you.

  • Tracy

    Wow. At first when I was reading this I got mad…but the more I read its really sad for this child. I could never intentionally say something like that to my children. Poor little girl.

  • Sara

    I love how your daughter already understands that it’s sad her friend is being denied based on someone else’s value structure. My oldest brother had an eating disorder and I think that may have unnerved my mother more than she would like to admit because she was always hovering over us, critiquing our food choices, asking about our weight and now she does the same with her grandchildren (much to my sisters-in-law’s distress). Drives my husband nuts, but I learned a long time ago to smile and nod and eat the keebler elf cookie. Dipped in frosting. Chocolate fudge frosting. And offer her one too.

  • Dorothy @ Adventures of an Only Child Mom

    So well put. My heart breaks for that child. Because life is hard enough with other people judging you, making you feel bad about how you look, without your mom doing the same. So, so sad.

  • Kristi

    I think it would be incredibly difficult to not say something to that bitch mother. Do you have her phone number?

  • The Sweetest

    Ava needs to invite that little girl over for a sleepover and give her some cookies! If only we as parents could see the repercussions of our actions and of what we say to our children. Sigh. I hope that little girl doesn’t end up in therapy over this.

  • your biggest fan

    Hearing things like this makes me feel like I haven’t completely screwed up as a mother.

    I make a thousand mistakes everyday, but I will NEVER make my girls feel like they’re fat.


  • Amanda M.

    That is very well said! It’s amazing how much parents put on their children without ever realizing the damage it may cause. This is just one example of how kids try so hard to live up to their parent’s skewed expectations. All I want is to lift my kids up and allow them to see the goodness inside themselves and inside others. That is all I can hope for as a parent, to teach them to love. You have beautiful children! They are full of light, life and love! You are a wonderful Mommy!

  • Melissa Hicks

    It’s funny, but at 31 I still can’t wear a pair of shorts in the summer without forcing myself. My mother didn’t make me feel bad, as much as degrade herself. Now I see myself with my mom’s thighs. She wouldn’t show them, and I can’t. By the time July hits, I want to rip of my pants anyway, but it’s even worse because pasty is on top of the chunky. I’m doing my best to reverse this. I don’t think my boy will follow the pattern, but at the very least I don’t want my comments about my own poor self-image to affect him.

  • Brandon

    I’m sure I’m just echoing most of the sentiments that have already been expressed, but this made me alternately mad and sad. Mad that a mother would willingly do this to her child. Sad that this perfectly innocent girl is being broken by the person that should protect her and keep her in one piece.

    And we wonder why women are still treated so poorly and are still considered by many as no more than objects. I hope to god that I never screw up my girls like that. I hope that they will always know they are more than their looks and shouldn’t measure themselves by how many boys think they are attractive. That they should be nuanced, multitalented and complicated to figure out at a glance because that is what it means to be a woman (or any person really).

  • Janice

    Great post. I can’t believe that little girl said that. I feel so sad for her and can only imagine how she’ll grow up with a mom like that. I hope someone gives her mom a good talking to!

    And now you’re making me think about the examples I’m setting for my daughters…….

  • Kir

    Wow, I can’t remember how I found you but this piece is so amazing, I’m going to tweet and facebook it if that is ok.
    I used to work on a college campus and I can tell you that I saw the repercussions of mothersk like this on their daughters in the self esteem issues freshman girls came to me with. As women we carry so much guilt and shame about how we look already that we don’t need our moms (our protectors) to reinforce it.

    This was beautiful and brilliant , thank u for writing it!

  • Minka

    I am with you ONE HUNDRED FUCKING PERCENT. Stupid bitch. That is equally as bad as feeding your kids tons of fast food and shitty junk because you yourself have an overeating/obesity problem and are dragging your kid down with you. Sorry to be all pissed off — but it’s a form of child abuse. And not just mental and emotional, but also physical. These women set their kids up for a lifetime of misery and therapy and potentially illness. It sucks.
    Why is it so fucking hard for people to understand the concept of moderation when it comes to food? Why does weight always seems to be related to vanity, rather than health?

    Such a drag. I am a thin, athletic person. And moms who are usually not very thin or athletic always say shit like “I bet you never eat junk” or they sort of mock me with their assumptions about how I must watch everything I eat or not let my kids have ice cream and cookies… I think it’s their way of feeling better about themselves — that I must live like a rigid ascetic and deprive myself. Well, people — I fucking don’t.

    My pantry is stocked with goodies — which are known as “treats.” Not fucking meals. Not a substitute for REAL FUCKING FOOD. My kids see my exercise. They’ve seen me workout for as long as they’ve been alive. They know I was an athlete as a child and have continued to be one. I extol the virtues of playing sports just for the fun of it — not to win or lose. But to move your body and be healthy. And I make my kids eat fruits and veggies — even if they don’t love them. Because as I sometimes tell them — You think I love broccoli? Not so much. But I eat it because it’s amazingly good for you. And it helps balance out the stuff we eat that might not be so good for us.

    I tell them that it’s not important to be skinny. It’s important to be healthy, to be “normal,” ie in the middle. Not super skinny and not overweight. That being overweight is hard on your body. But that everyone’s “normal” looks a little different.

    Why is this so hard? It’s not rocket science? Why must people view their kids as some fucked up reflection of themselves? One would hope that before giving birth, people would work out their shit so they don’t pass it on. Or at least work hard to become aware enough of their own shit that they don’t put that crap on their kids. Sigh.

    Sorry for going off. This is just a hot-button issue for me. As someone who worked in a gym to pay for grad school, I have strong feelings about the distorted ways in which we, as a culture in this country, treat the ideas of exercise and health. There is so much emphasis on the superficial that it’s created a real mentality of “if I can’t be super-model thin, or buff like (fill in the blank with whatever celebrity you want), then why bother?” We are such country of extremes. Ridiculous and infuriating.

    Great post, great topic. That skinny bitch should have some twinkies crammed down her throat or shoved up her ass. She’d be the better for it.

  • dani

    I have had food and eating issues since I was 12 years old.

    I’ve been so careful to promote a healthy body image and to leave the word “fat” out of my vocabulary, at least where people are concerned.

    I can’t believe a mother would plant those seeds. Does she not see the train wreck ahead of her? My mom didn’t even have to plant anything…there’s enough shit out there to worm its way into a young girl’s mind. It got pretty bad for me. It’s hard for me to picture how bad it would have been if my mom, the one who is supposed to love me no matter what and provide safe and comforting words, had been the cause of my downward spiral.

    I gave a talk about this sort of thing in college for a public speaking course. I don’t think people realize how a simple saying can stay with someone forever.

  • Anne

    Sara, I think I love you. Can you pass me a fudge frosting dipped cookie, too, please?

  • Another Suburban Mom

    And the sad thing is, that if the girl was rail thin and stunning, her mother would soon be hateful because he daughter would start getting the lions share of the attention.

  • Jordan

    HOLY SHIT, woman… you just described my lifetime of eating issues. ok, maybe not “just” as this was posted quite a while ago, but I just recently found your blog and am reading through it and.. oh my freaking god.

    “But one day in the not too distant future, Jessica’s going to take a look at her mother and say to herself “Who the fuck are YOU to tell me I’m fat? Who the hell are YOU to judge me?” AND SHE’LL EAT EVERY DAMN COOKIE IN A 5 MILE RADIUS, just to prove a point.”

    yeah, that’s me. I can distinctly remember my mother imploring me to “suck in your gut” when I was 8.

    Working on those issues through therapy, but seriously… would be nice to feel like I’m good enough.

    not that my life story is very important or relevant, i just… as I read this post my jaw hit the frigging floor as this lightbulb clicked on and i went “YEAH!”

    so, thank you, I guess? thank you for loving your kids even when they drive you nuts, and thank you for sharing your story with us. because, lady, you’re awesome 😀

    • Jen

      Same. And I actually was a rail when I was little. I had a little kid’s buddha belly like all little kids do, but I was in no way fat. My mom would give me crap all the time, and alternatively, her female friends would give me crap for being too skinny. By the time I was a teenager, I’d alternate between binge eating and starving myself for weeks due to the shame spiral the binge eating would create. For the record, my mom was basically always naturally waify thin until she hit about 40 or so despite her fairly awful diet and inconsistent exercise.
      I was in my mid 20s before I learned even remotely what a healthy diet even looked like, and I was damn near 30 before I followed a healthy diet regularly. It’s my mission in life to not imprint these same stupid food issues on any kids I ever know or have.

  • theflamingo

    This happened to me. My mom was fat and so everyone in my family made a huge deal out of it when I was young. I was a bit chubby but I probably would have outgrown it if people didn’t make me feel so lousy about myself. It has taken years to accept myself, and I’m now at a weight that I know for a fact some of you commenters would think is grossly unhealthy, and that I just eat a ton of junk food, and that’s how I got “morbidly obese.”

    This attitude needs to stop too. So there is a thin woman telling her daughter to diet and she’s normal. So is it ok if she is “obese”? And how exactly is having an obese child similar to child abuse? As someone who knows a little something about child abuse (my father did it) I really resent you saying that my being fat is the same as being beat and through emotional hell.

    I also resent that fat is equal to being unhealthy, because it’s not. Sure, I’m carrying more pounds than I’d like but I am healthy – perfect blood pressure, blood sugar, everything. I rarely eat junk food, maybe as much as any other normal person does, I eat plenty of veggies and fruit, drink nothing but water and sometimes unsweetened tea…rarely drink soda or sugary drinks. I exercise several times a week.

    Think twice before you judge someone. As long as being fat is the worst thing in the world and “akin to child abuse” stuff like this will keep happening.

    Yes, this is a hot button for me. I am tired of the fat hate and stereotypes.

  • Kimberly

    My mother is 5’10” and was slender when she was younger. I ended up being shaped like my father’s sisters. 5’4″ and thick. I played soccer and exercised often as a child, but I had no control of what was placed on my dinner plate. I also was told to ‘suck in my belly’ starting around 8 and at a point when I was 16 she poked my belly and made some rude comment. I looked her dead in the face and reminded her that while I may be wearing a size 9 she was in a 20. She stopped then. At 16 she was in a 5. I wasn’t gifted with her size in her youth and it took some time in my adult life to accept and love my body for what it is. I will never be a model but I have many other talents I am proud of. I eat right and exercise and that’s what is important. To the other commentator about wanting to wear shorts- I don’t wear shorts because of modesty and my inner thighs are fat. I stick to skirts. They look better than shorts and are much more comfortable! Even though my husband LOVES the way I look in shorts. He’s so good at making me feel sexy.

  • Cat

    i had this awful, awful girl in my class every year through elementary school. she was meaner than piss. rotten. but she was the leader of the mean girl troupe, so everyone followed along. i was most often their target, because i had glasses and was a total bookworm. (when they weren’t picking me, they were picking on Jenny, who lived in object poverty and couldn’t properly or regularly wash her clothes..) i would lay on the couch wailing after a bad day at school- “mama, why is she so mean?! why does she hate me?! because i read?! *sniffle*”.

    well. one day she invited me home with her after school. i couldn’t believe my luck. i actually pinched myself, just to be sure. we walked through the door, and her mom sat us down with cookies and milk. she asked for seconds, and her mom gave her one extra cookie and gave me three. she explained “you’re fat, so you get one cookie. she isn’t, so she gets three.”, and proceeded to sit her skinny bitch ass on a stool, talking on the phone to her friend about some incorrigible slut that doesn’t wear enough makeup.

    oh, that’s why your daughter has me puking every morning before school. because she’s just passing along what she gets. i never forgave her, but at least i understood why she was so incredibly cruel.

  • Dawn

    Wow, this made me want to find that “mother”, rip the high heel off her no doubt perfectly manicured foot and beat her over the head with it.
    My heart breaks for this amazing little girl whose soul is being irreparably damaged by someone who views children in the same way as those teacup dogs, as an accessory. Kudos to you for guarding the light, not extinguishing it! I pray I can do the same.

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