When Body Snark Starts Young

Pop quiz!  How would you respond to the following situations:

  1. Your twin girls who were born weighing 3 lbs each, have now grown into active 2 year olds.  At the two year visit, the doctor informs you they are now “obese”, but gives you no guidance as to what you’re supposed to do about it.

  2. Your 15 month old son goes in for a check-up, and it comes back that he is in the 1st percentile for height.  The first person you tell this to asks if you’re going to put him on human growth hormone.  So do the next 3.

  3. As soon as your 18 month old got his teeth in, they grew into a fairly pronounced overbite.  Strangers are already making comments about the dental work he’ll need when he gets older.  “Better start saving for braces!”

Now that you’ve taken the time to answer these, I have to confess something: I don’t really know the answers.

It’s never fun to be told there’s something wrong with your child.  However, when you’ve struggled with body image issues yourself, hearing anything about your child’s appearance can throw you into a stage 5 tailspin.  After decades of fixating on our own imperfections, it’s awful to realize that someone’s starting to foist those same lousy expectations on your kid.  It’s stunning to realize how callously people will start to pick on even the smallest members of our society for not conforming perfectly to their standards.

So what’s a parent to do?

Well, like I said, I don’t know.  My son is the short kid up there in question 2.  My office mate has the girls in question 1.  My neighbor has the boy in question 3.  We should be thrilled that our kids are physically and developmentally healthy, and yet we’re being affected by comments on things that seem so petty.  Where is the wonderful inclusive world we’ve been fighting for?  Can it get here before me kid starts being able to comprehend complex sentence structure?

The only thing I’ve been able to comfort myself with is an increased vigilance with my own commentary.  I try to keep my comments about myself and others positive. I try to make sure we’re focusing on health and having fun. I try to praise things he can control (how much he practices walking), and not dwell on things he can’t control (his appearance).  I use his animal books to show him how much fun it is that everyone can look different and still be friends.  I try to remember that he’s not me, and that I shouldn’t project my anxiety on to him.

I don’t always remember.

I’m not perfect.

I don’t know if any of this will work, but I sure hope it does.

I just want to help break the cycle.

Featured image credit: Allie Whiteley


Bethany is a perpetual student who just won't stop taking classes. She's gone from engineering to psych and family systems to applied statistics, and is really fascinated by how people feel about numbers. She blogs about this over at Graph Paper Diaries, and experimenting with contingency tables at Two Ways to Be Wrong.

Related Articles


  1. 15 month olds can be obese? Don’t they need all the energy they can get for growing? There are people who comment on a toddler needing growth hormones? Are they so ignorant that they don’t know that height at 2 has zero to do with adult height, but even if it did, how freaking rude to comment like this. And comments on someones teeth? That is just awful. Do they think kids cannot hear?

    I have not had this experience at all, I guess I am lucky so far. If that was me I would tell them not to say this stuff in front of my kid. Period. I cannot protect them forever, but pre school age, I sure as hell can keep this crap away.

    1. I have to admit I was too stunned to really put thought in to a reaction. I mumbled a “his doctor thinks it’s fine” and then kind of left.

      It makes me so sad because my son thinks his body is so much fun. He’s always banging on his tummy and playing with his feet, etc. I wish we could all be as happy with our selves as toddlers are!

  2. I love this. A friend and her husband are both fairly short, and their son is an early term preemie, so he’s less likely to be tall anyway. EVERYtime they move, the new pediatrician asks them how they feel about growth therapy. It strikes her (and me) as rude and sizeist to tell a short person that their son’s best interest is in being tall, ie: not like them.

    1. Ack! Yes!

      We had to have a geneticist consult at his birth and she looked at us and said “well, short looks like the best he can hope for” in a really weird way. I mean really? We’re both within average ranges, albeit at the low end. Aside from having to use chairs to reach the very top shelves in our kitchen, it really doesn’t come up much.

Leave a Reply