My Skinny Love

By Beck

Two of my three kids are underweight, the Girl most noticeably so. She’s still so light that I can carry her around effortlessly, although I don’t because she’s going to be 11 soon. But I could. And it’s funny how much of my feelings about myself are tied into my children’s weight – two of my kids are underweight? BAD MOM BAD MOM. And one of my children is NOT underweight, but tends more in the other direction. BAD MOM.

When I was a younger mother – both in that I had my kids in my mid-20s and also in that my kids were little and seemingly more pliable – I used to make myself feel better by vastly over-estimating the amount of control I would have over them, when it turned out that secretly all that time, they were REAL PEOPLE. And maybe you have one of those super-persuasive personalities, but I don’t think the rest of us end up having as much say as we thought we would.

This is a good thing, though. It turns out that not only do I not want to be responsible for every nuance in another person, it’s also more interesting to live in a vibrant household of individuals who have their own tastes and their own opinions. So for the most part, my children’s differences make me happy. But throw weight in, and suddenly everything makes me tense.

I know, intellectually, that my kids have a varied, healthy diet, and that whether they’re skinny or a bit chunky has more to do with their individual builds than anything else. But having a child with a build that differs rather dramtically from our societal norm opens both of us up to a whole world of stupid comments:

“Wow, do you feed that kid?” No. Am I supposed to do that now? Sheesh.

“Let’s hope she stays that skinny when she’s an adult, eh?” Oh, nice. Let’s get it into her head right now that her most important feminine goal is to remain underweight.

and so on. Skinniness, though, is seen as a positive thing in our society and most of the comments she gets revolve around how pretty and tiny she is, comments that seem superficially good.

Now imagine what my other child – the one who is suddenly a little bit chunky – hears, and how much that hurts my sweet, sensitive child, who has only committed the “crime” of gaining a few pounds. Imagine how tense my loving, gentle child feels before family gatherings, where weight is apparently an acceptable thing to bring up. Imagine how guilty I feel, how terrible I feel, for my sweet, my sensitive, my loving and my gentle child, this child who anyone would be proud of.

22 Responses to My Skinny Love
  1. Stephanie
    March 25, 2010 | 10:33 am

    People can be so dumb, seriously. Gray is glaringly tiny. And Ivy (3 years younger) catching up to him fast isn’t helping. He does eat. He has many food allergies. This is how he is. And it’s not like I’m not insecure enough about it. Funny that it’s a bit different by gender- a tiny girl is cute. A tiny boy is WRONG.


    Your title is also one of my fave Bon Iver songs.


  2. Lisa
    March 25, 2010 | 10:43 am

    Right now, my skinny & underweight kindergartner is upstairs for the 4th day in a row, home from school, with a bucket, because even the doctors say “this will pass” from a stomach bug he can’t seem to shake. The skinny kid.. with a stomach bug. As if he needed more help to look emaciated.

    I fight this “bad mom syndrome” daily, looking back on pictures of him healthy, and now he’s not. Testing him up the wazoo, 5 tubes of blood and a hand scan later, and they say “normal”. He’s growing height wise, thankfully, but he’s just not eating enough and now, he’s sick to boot.

    Bleh. I can’t win. (And boy, do I ever feel your pain)

  3. Denise Nielsen
    March 25, 2010 | 10:52 am

    I have 3 kids. My two younger ones are sisters 8 and nearly 7. They look alike except for their builds. 8yo is slim and petite; 7yo is slim but stocky and muscular, like her brother. Both (imo) gorgeous, both very different, and both becoming aware of those differences.

    I downplay it all and point out that healthy is the only important thing and that it comes in all shapes and sizes. But society definitely seems to favour skinny, and do I have to tell you that I’m not looking forward to the body-conscious teen years?

  4. LoriD
    March 25, 2010 | 11:31 am

    “Imagine how tense my loving, gentle child feels before family gatherings, where weight is apparently an acceptable thing to bring up.” – this was the case in my family when I was growing up and body image issues run rampant in my clan. My sister, SIL and I have all agreed that we will not entertain any body size comments or discussions with respect to our kids. We all have healthy-weight kids, but my brother’s kids are shorter than average and those “tiny” comments are just as insulting to them as a weight comment would be.

  5. Jenifer
    March 25, 2010 | 11:38 am

    I just wrote a lovely comment that was eaten up somehow. I will just say, that kids come in all shapes and sizes and reminding them of that is a good thing. Eating healthy and being active should the focus – not their size.

    I have three girls and am acutely aware of how these “innocent” comments are internalized. I have a 9 year old who is 83 pound and wears a size 12 pants…she doesn’t look obviously heavy, but still there are comments.

  6. Sue
    March 25, 2010 | 11:41 am

    Ok, Beck, I’m old now so I can tell you two things:
    1) In the 1950s many many kids were skinny. It was the norm then. Norms change.
    2.) My chunky toddler grandson (whom I got to mother for a whole year, it was wonderful) gets that exact same question/comment “wow, do you feed that kid?” or variations of that. But … the commentators are actually being NICE. People want a lighthearted comment to make to others. Children’s weight seems cute and safe and convenient to comment upon. Really. They are not meaning anything bad by it.

  7. Kit
    March 25, 2010 | 12:14 pm

    I have two skinny kids, like their Dad was as a child, and one chunkier kid , like I was. SHe is also sweet and sensitive and heavier than her older brother and nearly as tall. I had to point out to htem all that it is just build which will even out as they grow and no big deal. After all I’m smaller than Dad now. I hope it has worked but am anxious about those teen years. I remember lots of comments about puppy fat when I was that age and becoming very body conscious adn hiding away, eventhough I wasn’t at all overweight, just not skinny.

  8. Nicole
    March 25, 2010 | 12:40 pm

    I have two very skinny boys. They are the kind of skinny that gets cold in public swimming pools. They are way above average height and below average weight. My doctor always says, no problem, they’re tall and thin, they are healthy, they eat a variety of foods.

    BUT other people like to comment. Like maybe I don’t feed them? Or maybe, because I’m vegetarian I feed them weird things that keep them skinny? (I don’t. I make them lots of meat related meals because they like meat. I feed them ice cream and whole milk and pork chops and also lots of veggies and fruit. They are just skinny).

    I think people perceive skinniness to be more appropriate in girls than boys. I think people should keep their ignorant opinions regarding body weight – especially CHILDREN’s body weight – to themselves.

  9. Chantal
    March 25, 2010 | 1:07 pm

    I worry a lot about my oldest who carries a few extra pounds. My hubby reminds me that the boy is mostly muscle, eats well and is active. A few pounds around his waist won’t kill him. But I still stress about it.

  10. carrien (she laughs at the days)
    March 25, 2010 | 1:11 pm

    Strange, isn’t it, how extended family feels free to comment freely on a person’s weight and appearance?

    I wonder if it isn’t because we really are strangers to them, so they have nothing but the immediate physical reality they see to talk about with us. They don’t know us/our children as individuals.

  11. Hannah
    March 25, 2010 | 2:33 pm

    Heh. Guess what? I’m really skinny and always have been, and here’s what I’ve noticed: People feel like they can totally help themselves to commenting on your body if you’re underweight. Maybe in their minds it’s a compliment to say, “you’re so skinny!” but in my mind, it’s disrespectful nonetheless, and it only invites self-consciousness and, because of the society we live it, a sense of apologeticness. (New word.) How about if everyone just keeps their weight issues to themselves and doesn’t evaluate other people’s shapes for them?

  12. janet
    March 25, 2010 | 2:42 pm

    My kids are all different sizes. I don’t find that anyone comments on their weight, but they seem to like to comment on how short my son is. Hey! He may joke about it but I can tell it bothers him. So shut up a little bit.

    I was an extremely skinny kid, all the way through to my 20s. I still remember a woman I babysat for looking at me with what seemed like disgust and asking me if I was anorexic. That really hurt my feelings. If you don’t have anything nice to say…yeah.

  13. Rosie
    March 25, 2010 | 4:42 pm

    I was a skinny kid. As I got into junior high and high school, I often heard, “I hate you. You’re so skinny.” It was meant as a compliment, but it was a backhanded one. Today it would probably be phrased as, “Eat a cheeseburger, will you?” I had a horrible self-image as a result. Even though I probably had a figure that was admired at the time, I saw myself as skeletal and unattractive. People should think twice about making comments about anyone’s weight or appearance, no matter what direction you may skew.

  14. christine
    March 25, 2010 | 6:21 pm

    people treat my girl the same way. she is MORE than a “cute” little waif. she has brains, too, people. and wit. and charm. and talent. and i HATE when they say they hope she stays skinny. obviously i don’t want her to be overweight, but i also don’t want skinniness to be some sort of weird goal in her life either.

    the funny part? she was almost 10 freakin’ pounds at birth. at that point all the questions and comments were about how HUGE she was and embarrassing questions about my pregnancy weight as if her birth weight was all my doing somehow. then, quickly, she fell off the charts the other way and the doctors were CONSTANTLY monitoring her and making me feed her more food. i had never been so stressed in my life.

    but a wise doctor once told me and i try to remember: there are 2 things we as parents think we control but never truly do: eating and pooping! sounds silly, but it is so true. i can only try to feed them good food but i never ever can really control how much of it enters their little mouths.

  15. Painted Maypole
    March 25, 2010 | 11:47 pm

    oh. i try so hard to not make weight an issue for my daughter by not commenting on hers (she’s thin, just like both her parents were at her age) or mine. Even when i was working on losing weight myself I never made a fuss about it… because I don’t want her to even think about worrying about. I try to never disparage my body around her, and certainly never hers. We haven’t had too many negative outside influences yet, but I know they’re coming.

  16. Anitra
    March 26, 2010 | 10:59 am

    Thank you for this reminder. My daughter and I are on the other end of the spectrum (even my mother was), and I forget how hurtful it was to hear innocent-meaning comments about “how big you are!” when I was a kid (bigger than most kids a year older than me until puberty). It took me until my early 20s to stop thinking of myself as unnaturally “big” and be more concerned with my health than with height & weight.

    I vow to stop making ANY comments about the size of children, whether they’re big or small. It’s just not helpful.

  17. erin
    March 26, 2010 | 2:17 pm

    My girls are both skinny now, but I worry I’m going to give them my own body-issues and stuff. I try not to, but I know some of it will happen even though I’m making a concerted effort NOT TO.

    I need to focus on the example I’m setting. When I talk about my “diet” food, my protein shakes for breakfast, etc…when I don’t sit down to eat with them all the time (we do all eat dinner as a family every night, though)…I’m sure they notice more than I give them credit for.

    being a mom is hard work.

  18. Kat
    March 26, 2010 | 3:02 pm

    Ugh, I KNOW!!! People can just be so dumb. Seriously. Think about what you say before you SAY it doopies.

    Being a parent is just so hard. There are SO MANY things to worry about. So many things that can hurt your child. Their little souls. It really can be painful to be a parent. The world tries to beat people down and watching that with your child is the worst. But I think that no matter what, if they know that mom and dad think they are amazing, wonderful, beautiful, smart, funny, kind, loving people they will think that about themselves. We have to teach them to have self esteem before they even know what it is. And somehow, we have to teach them to ignore people who have zero common sense, or even worse, are hurtful.

    It is a rough job.

  19. Carrie
    March 26, 2010 | 9:27 pm

    I think you’re so right – kids’ shapes & sizes are not an appropriate topic of conversation! My 3-month-old daughter is rather chunky & healthy, right on track really, but EVERYone comments on it! And the other day, my 2-year-old, whose digestive specialist is telling me to put butter in his mac & cheese to help him gain weight, is in the store with me, and someone asks me, “Isn’t he big for two?” So sometimes people’s perceptions can be off, too.

  20. Heather
    March 27, 2010 | 1:16 am

    And we wonder why so many kids are having issues with self-esteem and eating disorders at young ages now. For a very long time, my daughter was very thin, but she ate like crazy. I got comments all of the time. She’s still thin, but not as skinny, so the comments don’t come as often.

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    April 14, 2012 | 9:42 am

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