What to Say if Your Teen Says He/She Is Fat

After a holiday full of tempting treats and a new year where everyone seems to be jumping on the weight loss bandwagon, teens can easily fall victim to body image issues. Adolescence is a stage in life where teens begin to care a lot about how others view them, and they may become self-conscious of every blemish or extra pound.

Regardless of whether your teen is underweight or overweight, most parents don’t know what to say when their teen makes negative comments about his or her body, such as “I’m so fat.” Here is a guide for how to respond:

Validate Feelings

It doesn’t help to argue with your teen’s feelings by insisting they aren’t fat or telling them not to say those things. It won’t change your teen’s feelings, but it will make them withdraw from you and feel misunderstood. Instead, show your teen you understand how they feel without agreeing with their opinion. You could say, “It can be difficult to feel good about our bodies sometimes.”

Emphasize Inner Beauty

This is a great moment to share your values with your teen. You can talk about how appearance doesn’t matter as much as being a kind and caring person. Discuss the qualities that you think make someone attractive, such as kindness, generosity, honesty, compassion, or a great sense of humor. Provide examples of people you think are really beautiful simply for the way they act. You might point out some traits your teen has that makes them beautiful to you.

Silence the Inner Critic

Help your teen realize that just because you think something, doesn’t make it true. If your teen is self-critical, it’s important for them to recognize that their thinking affects both how they feel and behave. For example, a teen who thinks, “no one wants to hang out with me because I’m fat,” is less likely to talk to people. As a result, they might struggle to make friends, which then reinforces their negative thinking.

Teach your teen how to develop healthy self-talk. Have your teen identify strengths and good qualities they have and focus on those things. For example, ask what they DO like about their body and make suggestions for how to accentuate that feature (for example, if your daughter likes her eyes, then get her a makeover lesson in eye makeup). If your teen believes they are smart or kind, then have them focus on those positive traits when they begin to feel down. Remind them that everyone, even someone they consider very attractive, has one or two things they don’t like about themselves. Another way to encourage your teen to talk to themselves in a more positive way is to teach them not to say anything to themselves that they wouldn’t say to a good friend.

Emphasize Physical Health

Maintaining good health is an important aspect of living our best life. Discuss the importance of eating healthy and getting plenty of exercise with your teen. Explain that the way someone looks is not an accurate depiction of their health. You could discuss healthy goals that are not related to appearance, such as improving strength, completing a race, or creating a balanced diet.

Another way to talk about health, instead of appearance, is by explaining body mass index (BMI). There are many BMI websites available that can determine a healthy weight related to your teen’s height. Look at the weight range that is considered healthy, underweight, and overweight and discuss where your teen falls in that range. If your teen is overweight, help them develop a strategy to change it. Make sure you role model healthy habits and warn your teens away from dangerous weight loss techniques, such as fasting, purging, or fad diets. Your support can help your child improve their situation, and then their self-esteem will climb because they were able to successfully become a healthier/better person.

Weigh Outside Influences

Open your teen’s eyes to the outside influences that may be swaying their perception. Discuss how the media uses airbrushed photos and underweight models to create a culture that glamorizes thin over healthy and perfection over happy. Discuss how peers can make rude comments in an effort to put you down, but that doesn’t mean they are accurate statements.

Get Thoughtful

Ask some thought-provoking, open-ended questions. For example, you might ask a teen who thinks they are fat, how their life would be different if they were thin. Many youth unrealistically believe that their appearance is directly linked to happiness, popularity, and success. Point out that not every attractive person lives a happy or successful life. Then identify successful people who do not fit our culture’s ideals for attractiveness.

Final thoughts…

Your teen’s body image is not the shape of their body, but rather, how they VIEW the shape of their body. If you believe your teen’s perception of their body is way off, don’t hesitate to talk to your teen’s doctor or get a recommendation for a mental health professional. You should also seek help if you think your teen is at risk for an eating disorder.

One comment

  • Great advice, not just for teens and on how they perceive themselves physically, but for everyone who has issues on self-image and self-esteem. Especially now that the internet, specifically the social media is brutal about it. As a parent, our greatest responsibility is to provide the role model for our children. We have to walk the talk, or else, we won’t have the credibility and earn the trust of our kids. But I guess one of the greatest gifts of being parents is that it pushes us to aspire to be better versions of ourselves.
    Thanks for pointing out that this is not just an issue about physical health but can also involve the mental and emotional health of our children.

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