Self Esteem

Q: “How Do I Respond When My Child Says: ‘I Feel Fat?’”

“Your goal is to shift your child’s mindset – and perhaps even your own – around size and body image. Despite cultural pressures to conform to unrealistic body ideals, it is possible. It’s also necessary to protect our kids’ mental health.”

Mother supports her sad daughter. Depressed girl talks with her parent. School child shares her mental problems with her mom. Mental health and psychological help concept. Vector illustration
Mother supports her sad daughter. Depressed girl talks with her parent. School child shares her mental problems with her mom. Mental health and psychological help concept. Vector illustration

Q: “My teen daughter recently told me that she ‘feels fat’ and is unhappy with her body. How do I respond in a way that won’t make her even more body conscious?”


Your child feels negatively about her body for the same reason so many teens do: She has no doubt picked up on the fact that our culture sadly values smaller and thinner bodies, and she is comparing herself to others. Perhaps someone made a comment — not necessarily directly at her — that impacted her body image. Or she might have seen something on social media that did not make her feel good.

Your goal is to shift your child’s mindset — and perhaps even your own — around size and body image. Despite cultural pressures to conform to unrealistic body ideals, it is possible. It’s also necessary. After all, we’re in a serious situation with our kids’ mental health, and we must do something different to protect our children.

[Could Your Child Be Showing Signs of an Eating Disorder? Take This Symptoms Test]

Healthy bodies come in all shapes and sizes. In response to your child, you want to emphasize this and not reinforce the thin ideal that may make her think that she has to look a certain way to be valued. You can say to her, “Let’s not focus on weight, numbers, or body shape.”

So what should you and your daughter focus on instead? Balance, moderation, structure, and fostering a healthy relationship with food and body. Is she eating nutritious meals and listening to hunger and fullness cues? Or is she engaging in disordered eating behaviors? Is she moving her body for the fun and joy of it – or because she feels obligated to? Is she getting enough sleep? How is she doing in school? How are her relationships with her friends? If balance is all there, then let her weight fall wherever it is. If it’s not there, think of how you can help provide your daughter with the structure she needs to be healthy and happy.

You want your daughter to be accepting of all bodies, and to see her own body as an instrument, not an ornament. (Though, this is not to say that it’s wrong to enjoy “dressing up.” Again, balance is key.) Building your child’s self-esteem will also make it possible for her to find inherent value and worth in who she is, not in what she looks like. Pick up Real Kids Come In All Sizes (#CommissionsEarned) by Katy Kater – a great guide to help your child foster self-acceptance.

If you or a loved one are coping with an eating disorder, contact the National Eating Disorder Association (NEDA) for support, resources, and treatment options. Call or text NEDA at 800-931-2237 or visit www.nationaleatingdisorders.org to reach a NEDA volunteer.

Body Image Issues in Teens: Next Steps

The content for this article was derived, in part, from the ADDitude Mental Health Out Loud episode titled, “Eating Disorders and Body Image Among Teens” [Video Replay and Podcast #428] with Dena Cabrera, Psy.D., CEDS, which was broadcast live on October 27, 2022.


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