Navigating diet culture and fatphobia is full of land mines especially when our t(w)eens are scrolling on social media over one skinny super model after the next. But what is most challenging is that the real comparison (especially online comparison) is between them and their friends.
In our experience, it is not that they believe they should look like Kendall Jenner (although of course they believe that is ‘the ideal’), it is that the self-loathing comes when they see a bestie wearing the jeans they wish they could wear in just one size smaller than their own. Being able to zoom into the minutiae of each other’s body parts online only exacerbates the anxiety. It gives a voice to the inner critique and the belief that everyone else views them in the same negative light that they hold so firmly on themselves.
By the way, boys are not so different – they compare each other’s muscle tone, muscle size and sheer power with the same veracity that girls admire a size naught for her ‘shape’. And once more, being able to scrutinize the detail by honing into an online image makes the comparison more brutal.
So…What should you NOT SAY?
The rule of thumb in the media has been to try avoid commenting on their body altogether but any mother knows how easily our daughters (and sons) lure us into talking fat, thin and everything in between. So, at KLIKD we thought we would offer some input on how to have the chat if you are going to go there:
- False reassurance is every teen’s nightmare- it entrenches their position and only makes for a power struggle between you and them. For example,
Daughter: “I am so fat”
You: “Nonsense you are so beautiful, your body is gorgeous just the way it is.”
Daughter: “You don’t understand! You just saying that because you are my mother! You will never get it.”
…Pretty soon the fight is with you instead of the feeling!
2. Try not to let negative body talk slip out of you! They are listening to us, our body shaming comments, our quick look at a friend’s enviable bod, our partner’s approval (or lack thereof) of our bodies in a new pair of jeans all show up like floodlights on the battlefield of their own bodies. It takes a lot from the whole system to be intention to be helpful, not harmful. We are not always kind to our own bodies and our t(w)eens hear that too.
What SHOULD you say?
Acknowledge their feelings without perpetuating fatphobic ideas – this is key to avoiding the “Yes I am! No you’re not!” battle
Daughter: “Tammy is so thin, she always looks amazing. It’s so unfair, she eats whatever she wants.”
You: “I get that Tammy’s body look’s perfect to you. It’s a hard feeling to hold”.
(You may want to add that you will support her in eating healthily, but this can only come in a different conversation, when the charge around ‘my body versus her body’ has died down a little).
Daughter: “I was on Instagram and I saw all the pics from Saturday’s party – I feel so fat!”
You: “Sweetheart, fat isn’t a feeling, but tell me what’s going on for you” (just let her vent, no false reassurances).
Son: “I’m so bleak, I ‘ve got dad’s genes, I’m all tall and scrawny. I will never be ripped.”
You: “We all inherit bits from our parents we don’t love, I get that is so frustrating. Can you own that your body is strong and healthy even if for now it isn’t defined in the way you want it to be?”
Daughter: “Josh posted that I look fat. All my friends saw the post. I hate him!
You: Fat is not an insult but I know it can feel like the hugest insult. I’m sorry.”
Son: “Check this reel of Tom in the gym. His arms are sick! I bet he is on steroids. I can never be like that cause you won’t let me take them!”
You: “I get it, it’s so hard when it feels like people cheat their way to looking buff.”
Daughter: “If I was thinner, I bet I would get more likes for funny posts. Only the skinny girls are getting the boys’ likes.”
You: “It’s really hard that our world rewards skinny before funny or smart or artistic. It won’t always be like that. As you get older, the world will see you. Right now it’s not like that I know.”
Three nice things
It’s always fun to challenge your t(w)eens to say three nice things about themselves when the inner critic gets to offload!
Try saying “now say three nice things about yourself, and if you can’t I will”. It brings out a laugh, an eyeroll, it breaks the mood and it helps you stay on the same team.
For a deeper dive…
Our Klikd App has an entire module called “Dare to Compare which gets our t(w)eens to recognize when online comparison makes them feel really bad, and upskills them to know how to mange those moments. https://klikd.co.za/the-app/
Sarah and Pam