Monday, April 19, 2010

Skinny or Fat?

“Mom, am I skinny or fat?” My six-year-old daughter asked just before we stepped out of the car for her first soccer game this weekend.

Yow. Zer!

Six. Years. Old.

“You’re healthy,” I replied, stammering, still in shock from her comment— spoken innocently from my slender, sports-driven child—the child who’d opt for a strawberry over a cookie any day of the week.

Where is a six-year-old being fed these thoughts—in kindergarten? I have a healthy perspective when it comes to food and the body so I doubt she’s heard me complaining or worrying. (Thanks be to God.)

But it hasn’t always been this way and if you’re a woman, I’m guessing you can relate…

I’ve cycled through just about every attitude about my weight and body image.

To rattle off the list for you: I’ve obsessively weighed myself, gorged to feed emotions, I became addicted to running for over a ten year span and have deprived myself of food in order to lose weight. I’ve counted calories and assessed fat grams. I can easily list the top five healthiest foods. I know all about portion control, good fats vs. bad fats…etc.

In other words…I’ve been there and done that when it comes to a warped way—even an obsessive way of viewing my body. It didn’t help in my prepubescent to early teen years I listened to an older sister as she berated me, high on her drug of choice, daily yelling at me how fat I was. It carried more impact when she spit out four letter words with her insults.

Our culture splashes around enough lies about body image without my needing to get more lies crammed into my brain. So many lies out there.

For too long I believed the lies.

But I delight in food now and in exercise. I enjoy both. I don’t deprive and I don’t gorge. I no longer fall into the same traps I did over a dozen years ago. In my late high school/ college years I weighed twenty pounds more than I do now. Those were some of the most confusing years for me when it came to eating and exercise. That time period marked the beginning of my obsession with running, resulting in little body/weight change for years because of an undetected thyroid disease.

I know where the seeds of weak body image got planted in my thoughts. I wish I could identify what sprouted that question in my daughter’s brain. After discussing it with her she explained she doesn’t even know where the question came from.

So many lies and confusing messages out there.

It’s my prayer she’ll learn sooner than I did how to treat her body with respect, how to treat it as the temple it is. And at the same time, I hope that in viewing her body as a temple, she’ll also come to understand as I have, the body is merely a shell, a vessel…Who we are pulses from our Spirit.

Have you ever believed any of the lies out there about body image?

*photos by flickr


  1. Wow, it's a shame our culture is already impacting children's thoughts about this stuff. My friend told me in her preschool, children were actually checking each other's labels inside their dresses for name brands. YIKES!
    But to answer your question, yes, I did believe the lies when I was in high school and even a small amount of time in early college. Today, I'm much more about health.

  2. Yes, I did believe lies, especially in my teen years, when I did the same as you, Wendy--either gorging or starving.

    I try to focus on health nowadays, but am still challenged. I recently gained some pounds, and it's tough not to focus on that.

    Thanks for reminding me of what's important--our heart before God. If I seek Him first, He will give me what I need to stay healthy.

  3. Yes, I have, and still battle some at times. But going with the work in progress thing and always looking ahead:) Good post!

  4. Oh for sure. I definitely struggeld in a very similar way to yours in high school and college. I've started early with my daughters in talking about how to take care of their bodies properly, in teaching them the importance of self-control, and of helping them understand God's perspective on beauty. I'm hoping that this intentionality will spare them some of learning the lessons the hard way.

  5. Oh it's definitely hard now too after having a baby and 3 miscarriages. I've lost the baby weight but the extra 20 lbs from the miscarriages is a killer and I'm bombarded every day by the gotta be slender message. Great post and thanks for teh encouragement today to love the way the Lord made me!!! :)

  6. Definitely. It's an ongoing battle, but the Lord has freed me in many areas. SO thankful!

  7. Yes. It's tough! I volunteer with our 6th grade girls at our church, and body image is such a big thing at that age. I just pray that they'll hear God's truths about who they are in Him.

  8. Man o man what a can of worms this is. and, one I really relate to. I was a size 5 in high school and my brother called me 'fat ends' almost every day. not nice.

    it's a path .. a struggle .. a journey for most women. I hope to make that path easier for my girls by teaching them about this acceptance you do in your post.

  9. What a heartbreaking thing to hear from your six year old! Any age! I struggle with this one, sadly. I want to feel comfortable, but I don't. I eat right, exercise and still need to lose fifty pounds. But you're so right. Our bodies are temples and they house our spirits. That's the most important thing.

  10. I think it's something we can't get around. My 8 y.o daughter asks the same thing. And I've done the same things to my body as you have. The good news is running is good for our bones and maintaing a healthy weight isn't so bad either.

  11. It's so difficult to teach our children the healthy way and not let them get caught up in what society dictates. I can't believe she came home with that questions at 6!

  12. Oh goodeness, Wendy, you just described me. I was rather obsessive with my weight in high school and college. I counted calories. My freshman year of college, I ran an average of 6-8 miles a day. My freshman-junior year in high school, I had a very athletic build and weighed about 15 more lbs than I do now. Then my senior year, I got mono and I lost TONS of weight. Like thirty pounds and I got super, super skinny. The unhealthy part was that everybody told me how good I looked. I tried for two years to maintain this weight and it made me crazy. I weighed myself every morning and would freak out if I gained half a pound.

    Now, by the grace of God, I'm free from that obsession. I think because I don't obsess over food, I'm not obsessed with food. I never weigh myself unless I go to the doctor. I don't even own a scale. That was so liberating. I grew up with a mom (love her to death!) who looked in the mirror every day and called herself fat (a mom who is a size four). I don't want to pass that on to my children.

    I think having Brogan is what really got my head right about eating and health. Carrying a child really changes the focus to healthy eating.

    Wow - this was a loooong comment!

  13. Yes, since I was about ten, that I remember! Not sure I still have a healthy perspective, but my lifestyle has become more healthy and balanced over the years.

  14. This post definitely resonates with me. My daughter asked me the same question last year, I think she was just barely over 7 years old at the time. And it certainly shocked me.

    I've been at points where I was more obsessive over my weight before and it wasn't a happy place to be. I'm working to view my body image better, be healthier and trying to work out that balance of talking to my children about how they treat their bodies.

    I'm going to have to pray about it more for sure because I know my daughter hears these lies in school and kids at her age already talk about weight and how they should look.

  15. It's amazing how inundated we are with images of how a woman is "supposed" to look. Especially when it's impossible to achieve that look without an airbrush and lots of surgery.

    I have family members who struggle with weight. Not so much in terms of pounds, but in terms of perception. Weight is not a bad thing. I think the important thing to focus on is keeping a healthy lifestyle, not just to look good, but to feel good as well.

    Because of my health, I have to be aware of calories--not counting them, but making sure I get enough of them. I have a hard time keeping weight on, and I hate looking like a skeleton. :(

  16. Great post, Wendy! And I have absolutely been sucked in by the 'body image' lies. My degree is in Corporate Wellness and fortunately, my genes have allowed me to stay pretty slim, but as the years go by culture continues to whisper that I'm only as valuable as I look. Yes, I've fallen for the creams and lotions, the vitamins and potions that tout the latest breakthrough in anti-aging benefits.

    You're right though, it's the 'hidden man of the heart' that is precious in God's sight! As the years fly by, I can say a hearty Hallelujah to that!! God bless!

  17. This is an area of struggle for nearly every woman. I think it's because we long for beauty, not just to enjoy it, but to be part of it.

    Good post!

  18. It's so, so tricky, because the lies are presented as fact. Many get caught up in them.

    My 7yo has asked the same thing. She's so self-conscious, already. I pray, too, that I handle it right.

    And Wendy, I'd love to take you up on that offer. Probably sooner rather than later? I'll keep you posted...

  19. Jennifer, I'm big time into health and labels...craziness.

    Jeanette, I just think there's so much out there trying to throw us off from what really matters in this life.

    Karen, I'm mostly certainly a work in progress too. It was weird when we bought a scale so we'd know how much our girls weigh.

    Jody, I so hope that my girls are spared as well. You sound like a great mom and I like reading your comments on FB and Twitter. ;)

    Jaime, I thought of you so much as you revealed certain things through blogging and then to learn you were pregnant and to see the was so cool! Losing baby weight took me about a year each time. I joke with friends that I'm like the Grinch and his heart growing three sizes (except that applies to my butt alone) ;).

    Georgiana, Freed, indeed!!!

    Julie, Too cool you volunteer for girls that age. You should check out the Sage Girls Ministry website. And great news on your blog today!

    Tess, I'm sorry you went through it too. It bites really. I just want to build so much of a healthy image and understanding into my girls now while they are still young.

    Nisa, I don't think there is a woman alive who wouldn't be able to shout out within a nanosecond something they'd like to change about their body. Our culture is body obsessed.

    T.Anne, I'm not kidding...I am crazy for that endorphin high that comes with a run. I'm no longer addicted, I just like it a lot (hear, I've quoted that a lot lately).

    Heather, I almost threw up. Really. I had to remind myself how old she is, asking a question like that!!!

    Katie, I swear it was the Spirit that kept saying...hey, this girl, this Brain Throw Up blog...get to know her and every day I see why! Like kin. The saying I look good thing cracks me up. I want to scream, "I'm a fat girl in a little coat" or however the saying other words I've known what it's like to be fluffy and what it's like to be thin. Cra-zy.

    Gina, It takes discipline and an ear to tune out the world.

    Cindy, I just have to say I love having you back!!! It's scary to me sometimes what goes on in schools. But yes, prayer is our role and educating them and not being afraid...and...and... ;)

    Danyelle, That's more me lately. I feel almost too thin (partly due to grieving and partly b/c last summer I became lactose intolerant...rock on) and it's wild to hear the comments that come from this. I saw my sister briefly recently, the one who used to tear me down and she said I looked great. That weirded me out to no end.

    Maria, I don't ever want to be defined by it. I get a kick out of the movie Shallow Hal b/c it blows the top off some stupid things society perpetuates.

    Cassandra, That is true. We are drawn to beauty and long to be a part of it...great point. It's the definition of beauty that throws me. God's given me eyes to see beauty in people and things I'm sure the average model would scoff at.

    Janna, Fun to be kept posted. I've been paying attention and have enjoyed your blog/writing for some time. It could be fun...iron sharpens iron stuff.

    Wow ladies, this wasn't an easy post to write. It would be much easier to keep these things quiet, but I shared them b/c I know I'm not alone in this. I've come across far too many women who've opened up and shared similar stories.

    I pray we understand the fullness of the beauty that belongs to us being His.

    ~ Wendy

  20. Jennifer...just wanted to clarify. I'm big time into health. Labels--craziness. That's better.

  21. Oh man, this post is so sad for me to read. I'm really glad I have boys because I think if my daughter asked me that I'd want to cry. :-( It's sad, but kindergarten is probably where things like this start. Plus, imagine all the commercials kids see...
    I don't think I've been sucked into the body image craziness, but I have been self-conscious. As a kid and teen I was very thin, but athletic also. Still, thanks to an overbite and being an extremely late bloomer, some kids in eighth grade asked me if I was anorexic and after that I always felt like I should eat when I was around people so they wouldn't think I was that. Actually, when I was pregnant too and had some problems with the baby not growing (my second son) a nurse told me I needed to eat three meals a day. That really upset me...This is a good post Wendy. I think everyone can relate to it, because we all battle with fitting in and how we're perceived.
    Now that I'm an adult I'm happy that I have a fast metabolism, but I sure am not happy with what three babies did to my cup size. Grrrr.

    I agree about our bodies being temples, and yet dust. It's a fine balance, right? :-)

  22. Oddly enough, I have more food issues now that I have lost almost 100 lbs. That was my security blanket... the way I kept everyone away from me after being abused. It was the only way I felt safe. So now that I am in a body I FEEL more comfortable with, I obsess. I weigh myself 5-10x a day. I starve, overeat, purge, and berate myself for how I look. Eating has become the enemy now, when it was the friend before. It is a constant struggle for me.

  23. Wendy:
    When I was growing up, my mother would say things to company about my shape and how my dad's aunts were all women of size. When I was in high school, I had to hear it more and more. But, I was able to loose the excess girth when I was a senior. I kept it off until my son was about 4 1/2. After he was born, I actually weighed less than before I got pregnant. Now, I know I should work at it more but I can't quite get to it. And my family-husband and son- don't help any.
    Keep telling your daughter that she's healthy.

  24. Sad, isn't it?

    I'm the mama of two girls, one of whom is tremendously thin and still asks if she's chubby. I underestimate the impact of our culture on girls. I'm certain of it.

  25. I really enjoyed your post as well as reading the responses to it from your lovely followers.

    We live in such a weird society. On the one hand we are pushed to look like cosmo girls. Then on every corner is a fast food chain outlet, and our society is getting fatter and obesity is now labled a disease.

    My little girl just turned 5, and when i said she cant wear my make up she cried out that she wont look pretty. Oh my word, did I have to address that one. I also now am very careful to say " that is a pretty dress etc" or "that dress looks prety on you", instead of that of " you look pretty in that dress".

  26. Kids pick up our body-image issues SO easily it's scary. I know this is something I need to work on...I don't want to pass on my unhealthy eating/exercise habits to my children nor do I want to pass on a anxiety-fueled desire to look a certain way. I do try to watch how I talk to the girls especially at church...I want to praise them for their godly qualities (where I see them), not their looks.

  27. It's no secret to me where your daughter picked up the fat/thin message--it's everywhere! I can't count how many NutriSystem/Weight Watchers/Alli and non-sensical fitness infomercials are blaring through my television every hour. Our country is obsessed with weight, and our kids are picking up on it.

    I preach moderation. We have soda and cookies, but we also have fruits, fish, and whole grains. We exercise and have fun doing active things. Not perfect, but not neurotic either!

  28. You know, I've heard those same words from both of my kids. I have a six year old daughter and a 10 year old son. It's scary.

  29. Wow! It does start early. And even for boys.
    I now wish I was a fat as I used to think I was!!

  30. This is a very important but sensitive topic, Wendy. Thanks for having the courage to post about it.

    I can't even post some of my thoughts, because the information is not mine to share. I'll just say that though I don't have an eating disorder, I have suffered because of the eating disorders of loved ones.

    The less a young girl thinks about food, the better. My daughter knows that food exists primarily to keep us going and should not be a great love in our lives. (That's the vice they called gluttony in the olden days). I've never made food a power struggle with her, nor have I offered it as emotional comfort. Those tactics are my best chance to raise her with healthy habits.

  31. Oh, there was definitely a time I believed the lies, Wendy. And I thank God that I experienced healing from that. Now, I delight in both food and exercise too... It is such a beautiful, freeing thing to focus on what is important to God, and to learn to love yourself in a healthy way. I pray this for all the young women (and men) in our world today.


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