Are you wondering what you should say to bigger kids? Are you a parent, teacher, doctor, coach, aunt/uncle, grandparent, or other important adult to a child who has a larger body?
Luckily, I have a lot of answers for you! A recent social media post collected hundreds of answers from adults who were self-identified “fat kids” and reported what they wish caring adults had said to them when they were children.
A word about the word “fat”
The term “fat” can be used as a slur or a neutral descriptor. In its neutral form, saying “fat” is the same as saying “tall” or “brown-eyed.” Other words for fat bodies, such as “overweight” and “obese,” are currently considered to be stigmatizing. Many fat justice leaders have reclaimed the word “fat” as the preferred neutral descriptor for their bodies.
However, we should not call someone “fat” unless we 1) are doing so kindly 2) have zero thoughts that they should lose weight; and 3) clearly have their permission to do so. And nobody should ever use “fat” as an insult. It’s always best to let people who live in marginalized bodies to define themselves rather than assuming a label on their behalf. And never tell a person in a larger body that they are “not fat” or should be proud to be fat. It’s their body and their choice to define themselves on their own terms.
What not to say to bigger kids
I’m going to just start with what not to say to bigger kids. The fact is that kids in larger bodies are subject to constant scrutiny and discrimination. This is a sad fact of our culture. A lot of well-meaning adults say things to larger kids that they think will be helpful but are in fact incredibly harmful. Here is a quick guide:
- You’re not fat; you’re beautiful: if a child is fat, they know they’re fat. Don’t deny them the truth of their body. When we jump in with a comment like this, we risk adding shame to the word “fat.”
- You just need to [eat less/move more/eat healthy/]: the implication here is that weight is a choice. Would you tell a child who is short that they just need to stretch their body? No. So don’t tell a child who is larger that they just need to shrink their body.
- You shouldn’t wear that: there are a lot of opinions about what bigger people should and shouldn’t wear. But if you would let a thin child wear something, then restricting a larger child from wearing the same thing is discrimination.
- Don’t eat that: there are a lot of variations and ways that adults try to restrict how much and what larger kids eat. But research shows that bigger kids eat about the same as thin kids. The difference is mostly genetics and environment, not food.
- You’ll grow out of it: this comment can have lifetime effects because many children then begin to worry about how they can make sure they get thinner. They assume that thin is better, and therefore begin the lifelong pain of hating their bodies.
Here’s what we know for sure: when adults tell kids there is a problem with their weight, those children are more likely to grow up to be heavier than kids who were not told their weight was a problem. This research stays steady regardless of genetics and environment. Thus, all those adults who think that kids need to “watch their weight” are in fact setting them up to gain weight.
Why? Most likely because cortisol (stress) is linked to weight. And kids who are raised believing there is a problem with their bodies feel more stress. Also, restriction of any kind leads to compensation. So if you restrict sugar or any food for kids, they are very likely to binge eat those foods when given a chance. This isn’t deviant or “bad,” it’s simple biology.
Here’s a simple guide: if you’re about to say something to a fat kid that you wouldn’t say to a thin kid, don’t do it. And give larger kids extra love and affection to counteract the discrimination they’re facing elsewhere in the world.
The science behind all my statements about weight is available in our Research Library.
What we should say to big kids
Larger kids, like all kids, deserve love, affection, acceptance, and respect. The rules don’t change based on a person’s body size. What we should say to big kids is mostly the same as what we should say to all kids. But parents who have larger kids should probably say these things even more because larger bodies are treated so badly in our culture. You’re going to need to counteract societal messages to keep your kids safe from eating disorders and other serious health concerns caused by weight stigma. The important thing is to honor and respect your child for who they are, regardless of their body size.
Here are the basics:
- You are loved
- I accept you as you are
- You are beautiful
- You are worthy & valuable
- You don’t deserve to be mistreated
- There is nothing wrong with you
If you find it difficult to imagine saying any of these things to a child who is larger, then I want you to think about why. It would be easy to say these things to a smaller child, right? But we should never discriminate against someone for the size of their body. Even though we have been told body weight is within our control, it’s not. So when adults can easily say these things to smaller children but not larger children, stigma and discrimination are at play.
And children in larger bodies need to hear these things even more than children in smaller bodies. This is because our society is cruel to larger people. It’s not right, but it’s true. So your love and acceptance are needed even more in a child who lives in a marginalized body. Remember that the child’s body is not a choice, but it is an integral part of who they are. You should neither ignore their weight nor perceive their weight as a problem.
The answers below were provided in answer to the question “if you were a fat kid, what’s one thing you needed to hear from a trusted and loved adult?” The post was originally created on Instagram by @fatfuturescollective and reposted by @thebodyisnotanapology. I’ve kept the comments anonymous, lightly edited, and categorized them below.
You are loved
This was BY FAR the most common comment. And it’s heartbreaking that so many people felt unloved because of their bodies. How can you make your child feel loved today?
- I love you just as you are.
- I’d have wanted to be told I was loved, I was worthy of love and respect, that I didn’t have to try to make everyone like me.
- You don’t need to shrink yourself to be loved
- You’re actually already just great, so, what feels good and beautiful to YOU? What makes your heart sing? Let’s do more of THAT.
- That I was just fine as I was, lovable and valued at any weight.
- You are so loved!!!
- That I’m perfect and loved just the way I am.
- You’re lovely and loved.
- No one needs to apologize for the space they occupy. We are all worthy, holy, loved beings.
- You are loved, you are good just as you are.
- I love you for who you are.
- You are precious and worthy.
- There is nothing wrong with your shape and size.
- Losing weight could not possibly make me love you more.
- I’m proud of you for who you are.
- You are safe, you are loved, and good enough exactly as you are.
- You are loveable.
I accept you as you are
Accepting a child is so close to loving a child that most people can’t tell the difference. Larger children know they face discrimination in the world. Can you be a person who accepts them exactly as they are?
- Your body belongs here with us and for you, just as it is.
- Your body is amazingly strong and beautiful as it is.
- You are welcome to exist as you are, and you are loved.
- There is nothing wrong with you.
- You don’t need to change and you deserve all the happiness, joy and love you can find in this life.
- You do not need to lose weight to be loved.
- You’re perfect just how you are and you don’t need to change anything about yourself!
- You are not too much and not too little. You are just enough, and worthy of love.
- That I was lovable, beautiful, and acceptable just as I was.
- You are perfect just the way you are! It would have saved me so much turmoil if someone would have just told me that.
- That my weight wasn’t a character flaw, and I wasn’t ‘bad.’
- I wish someone had told me not to be ashamed of myself and to love myself no matter what size I was.
You are beautiful
All children want to feel beautiful in their others’ eyes. And larger children get very little validation that they are beautiful. Examine your own biases and make sure that you’re complimenting bigger kids as often as you are complimenting thinner kids.
- I would have loved to been complimented on my clothes like other girl children.
- I used to really love hearing “your outfit looks great today”. As I got older and gained weight into my teens, I never heard it anymore about anything I did and realized it must be because I was getting fat.
- That I’m beautiful. I wasn’t ever told this. So now I have this weird thing where I know I’m beautiful but am never sure if others see my beauty.
- Your body is perfect just the way it is.
- You are lovely as you are, not “you’d be such much prettier if you lost weight”
- That fat changes nothing. You’re beautiful. You’re cherished.
- You’re beautiful, you have a bright future, you are so talented, you are so loved, etc.
- That outfit looks amazing!
- You don’t need to hide that part of your body.
- You are beautiful and powerful.
- All bodies are beautiful worthy of love and celebration.
- You are beautiful, resilient, empathetic, resourceful, and above all, you are ENOUGH.
- That dress looks beautiful on you.
You are worthy & valuable
Every child deserves to feel worthy and valuable in this world. This is a basic human right. What can you do to make sure the child feels worthy of your affection?
- I would be saving so much money on therapy if they told me my value and worth are not measured by my size!
- Your body is and always will be valid and powerful and uniquely beautifully yours.
- Your value in life isn’t determined by how skinny you are. People obsessing over your body has nothing to do with you and everything to do with them.
- You’re enough as you are. Anybody that doubts that or tells you differently is wrong.
- You are incredible, beautiful, and worthy RIGHT NOW.
- That who I am and what I do in life is not defined by my body.
- You are worthy exactly as you are. Your dreams, hopes, desires, and passions are treasures are what I care about, not what your body looks like.
- We are all worthy of joy and love.
- You are not innately bad or wrong for having the body you have; you are enough; you have value; you are brilliant and strong.
- The shape of your body does not change your absolute worthiness of love and care.
You don’t deserve to be mistreated
Many bigger kids are mistreated both at home and outside in the world. It’s important for adults to stand up for children who are being mistreated. Don’t dismiss fat-shaming and teasing as “normal.” It’s simple discrimination, and if you wouldn’t accept it based on race, ability, or gender, then you should not accept it based on weight.
- You don’t owe anyone thinness or good health or beauty, you have the right to be respected however you show up in the world.
- I needed someone to tell me that it wasn’t my fault that no one wanted to be my friend or that I was being bullied and teased.
- What people say about you is a reflection of themselves.
- I needed to hear adults shut down fatphobic comments and jokes as they happened rather than look embarrassed or laughing nervously at them.
- I wish someone would have explained to me that the problem was not me, but the insecurity of my peers. That their cruelty was a reflection of them, not me.
- I will help make school/gym class/dance class a safe place for you and everyone else.
- You’re more than the names they call you. I love you and will take care of you.
- That being fat is absolutely NOT the worst thing you can be. Being narcissistic, selfish, mean, abusive, making other people feel less worthy for ANY reason are all worse than being fat.
- There is nothing wrong with your size – we are all different & there is beauty in all bodies. When bullies make fun of your size, remember that you are okay, you are loved.
- I wish someone had told me that I didn’t deserve to be mistreated and then done something about it.
- If people treat you badly because of your body, that is a real problem and you deserve support but it is not your fault. You and your body deserve respect and kindness inherently.
- “Who are your bullies?” And “Here’s how I can help.”
- Nobody has the right to humiliate you or make fun of you. This is not ok.
There is nothing wrong with you
So many fat kids are told there is something wrong with them. That they are the cause of their body weight. But we know that weight is mostly genetic and environmental. We have almost no control over our weight. Help your child know that their body is good.
- All bodies are good bodies. You’re not lazy. You deserve to eat.
- There is nothing wrong with you and there is everything wrong with diet culture.
- You don’t need to work so hard to change yourself. Just be.
- Let’s buy you clothes that fit you. Let’s not buy clothes for you to shrink into or clothes that tent and hide your whole body.
- It’s OK that your belly sticks out.
- Your body is strong, beautiful, and worthy of all the love. Honor it and it carries you through your joyful life.
- The body you have right now is the right body.
- That my body was a good body no matter how it looks. It keeps me alive
- You have fat on your body, that’s normal, there’s nothing wrong with it and you don’t need to change.
- Your body is perfect and you don’t need to change it.
You don’t need to change yourself
Bigger kids feel as if they need to change themselves in order to be loved. Make sure you counteract this harmful belief.
- You don’t need to change for anyone. Just be you.
- You don’t need to be thin to be happy and healthy.
- Your body doesn’t need to be fixed- there’s nothing wrong with it
- Losing weight will NOT magically change your life and make everything better.
- Move your body because it feels good and you enjoy it. Don’t worry about numbers or loss. Just enjoy the dance.
- That you can be “overweight” and healthy (weight does not mean health or lack thereof). That all bodies are different and all shapes and sizes are beautiful!
- You don’t have to diet to be a good person. Bodies change and weight does not define your worth. You are enough and you always will be enough.
- You don’t need to diet just because someone else thinks you’re fat or because everyone else is doing it.
- Skinny and strong are two different things, and your size isn’t evidence of health.
- I wish my mom had told me that my body didn’t define what I could and couldn’t do.
- Some people are born into smaller bodies. They most likely didn’t do anything differently from you.
- You are not the problem, it is society’s expectations that are the problem. Your body is valuable and good, every day, at every size.
- People and society will make up stories about you because they can only see one aspect of who you are. Resist the temptation to believe them. The richness of your life and your value don’t lie in these stories. Manifest and cultivate your whole self in context – your inner life as well as your wonderful, able, powerful body.
- You don’t have to lose weight to be worthy, and you don’t have to lose weight for people to love you.
Every person should be encouraged to be their authentic self. This includes dressing the way you want to, doing the activities you enjoy, and living your life regardless of body weight.
- You do not need to be a certain size to do all the things!
- Sure, you can wear the cute leotard to gymnastics class. No need to cover up in baggy shorts and a t-shirt.
- You can let your belly relax.
- Wear what makes YOU feel good!
- Your body doesn’t define you.
- It’s okay to take up space with your body.
- Some people are just made to be bigger, bolder, brighter!
- You don’t have to compensate to fit in.
- Don’t let being fat keep you from trying things. Be physical, be in your body, it’s OK.
- You can take up as much space as you want – your thoughts and your heart are valuable and precious; your body doesn’t invalidate those things.
- Bodies are constantly changing. Trust your body and listen to its needs. Everything else will fall in place as it should.
- You don’t have to sit on the sidelines. Let’s go have some fun!
- I needed to be asked “what do YOU want?” instead of having everyone else tell me what they wanted: how my body should look, how I should eat, how to move, and that I should accept all of it. Knowing that I could have questioned all of the shame heaped on me in my youth openly earlier on would have allowed me to share some of that pain rather than bearing it alone.
Listen to your body
Bodies are wise, and they should be in charge of how we feed them. If a body is hungry, it should be fed. So many larger kids are put on diets, and it’s incredibly harmful. Look carefully for subconscious beliefs about how much you think your child should eat, and remember that food is nourishment. It is essential to life. And we know that the No. 1 outcome of food restriction is weight gain.
- You don’t need to diet!!!!! Your body is perfect the way it is and dieting will harm it more than being fat ever will!
- Have seconds if you’re still hungry.
- Eat. I wish I was told it was okay to eat. Instead of receiving dirty looks as I went for more or had dessert.
- Listen to your body. If you’re hungry, eat.
- Don’t skip meals! If you’re hungry, eat.
- You can have as much as you want.
- Often the reason we overeat is that we under-ate earlier or are being restricted.
- It’s okay to enjoy your food!
- I will never put you on a diet or pressure you about your weight or food choices.
- Restrictive dieting is not a righteous way to treat your body as a temple. Neither is punishing exercise. You don’t have to earn food.
- I’m happy to feed you and glad to see you eat.
Fat is fine
Just because our culture pathologizes fat doesn’t mean that being fat is a problem. A body is never a problem unless other people make it so. Normalize fatness, and seek ways to let your child know that there is nothing wrong with their body.
- Your body is magic. You have no idea yet how much it can do and feel and hold. I’m still learning its depths and wonders and the places it holds pain
- It’s okay to be fat. You never have to “grow out of it.”
- There’s nothing wrong with you.
- You have nothing to fix or change when it comes to your body.
- Your body is a miracle, fearfully and wonderfully made, just as it is right now and always.
- You will be loved and it won’t be despite your weight.
- Fat adults are still loved, healthy and happy people
- People are all born differently, some are thin some are fat some are short some are tall, and being fat is nothing to be ashamed of.
- Thinness does not equal happiness. Learning to love your body will be one of the most freeing experiences you will ever accomplish.
- I wish I’d seen the fat adults in my life loving their bodies and modeling that.
- You can be fat and desired, fat and beautiful, fat and strong, fat and healthy. Food is to nourish and sustain you and it’s delicious. Movement is to be enjoyed.
- It would have really helped me to know that fat people find love and intimacy and aren’t automatically social rejects. I was so ashamed because I thought I couldn’t be attractive and therefore couldn’t be loved.
If you love a larger kid, then please keep this list of what to say nearby. Remember that larger kids are just as worthy of our love and acceptance as thin kids. And they are highly sensitive to weight stigma, which has serious health impacts. A larger child knows when their parents, coaches, teachers, and doctors think they are “too fat.” And it’s devastating. Adults’ perception of fat is far worse for a child than the fat itself. Let’s do better!
Ginny Jones is on a mission to empower parents to raise kids who are free from eating disorders. She’s the founder of More-Love.org and a Parent Coach who helps parents navigate eating disorder recovery.