My Daughter Asked Me This Question And The World Stopped Spinning

There’s only so much I can do to protect her from this.

Mother embracing daughter dimaberlinphotos | Canva

Recently, one of the things I’ve dreaded most about becoming a parent came true. My 7-year-old daughter came to me, dressed for soccer with pants over her shorts to combat the early morning chill. She asked me, “Does this look funny?” She gestured to the area around her hips.

“Not at all,” I said, casually, continuing to get everything ready to head out the door. In retrospect, I didn’t hear what she was really asking. A few minutes later, after standing in front of the full-length mirror, she approached me again.


“Does this make me look fat?” 

She again motioned toward the top of her pants, where her shorts were underneath, probably a little bunched up.

Instantly, the world stopped spinning. The air was sucked out of the room, and my mind went blank. How is this happening already? I am so beyond careful to not talk badly about my body in front of her.  I’m so conscious of not using the term “fat” as a negative, to not squeeze or pinch or prod my own body in front of the mirror. If I don’t like how I look in something, and she asks me why I’m changing, I say “It’s not comfortable today.”


And yet. Here she is, 7 years old, somehow feeling like she shouldn’t be wearing clothes that make her look any bigger than she is.

mom hugging daughter Selenit / Shutterstock

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It’s out there even when it’s not in here. It’s amazing, really. As women — as moms — we can be as conscientious as possible. We can eliminate body shaming from our vocabulary. 


We can talk about food in a positive light, and model a healthy relationship with exercise and nutrition. And our daughters will still receive the message that they need to look smaller.

Once the oxygen returned to my lungs, I said the best thing I could think of at the moment. I told her that she looks beautiful, no matter if her clothes make her look bigger, smaller, or anywhere in between. I told her she’s a wonderful person. And that’s what matters. But inside I was raging. Boiling, spitting, ready-to-erupt angry that she has already received this messaging somewhere. Everywhere.

Who knows where it came from? It could have been a friend at school, talking about looking fat in their outfit. It could have been from a TV show or movie where a character said the same thing. I don’t know, and I suppose it doesn’t matter. But the fact is that even today, in 2024, despite TikTok telling us that Gen Z is leaving millennial diet culture behind, the messaging is still ingrained in our world. 

And it’s visible even to a seven-year-old.

It’s not only visible, but it’s something on her mind before she leaves the house to play soccer with a bunch of other 7-year-olds. It’s on her mind so much that she has to ask repeatedly, just to be sure. It’s not just on her mind. It’s imprinted in her brain.


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I know that the only thing I can do is continue to model body positivity, to show her a healthy relationship with food and exercise. And up until now, I naively thought that might be enough. But at that moment, I suddenly realized that’s not necessarily the case.

As a small child, most of her world has been revolved around me. But there is a much bigger world out there. And she’s right on the edge of hurtling into it at full force, taking on media messaging, social norms and expectations, peer pressure, and the behemoth of social media. How can I ever hope to make a dent in all of the messages that will be thrown at her constantly for the rest of her life? Be smaller. Smile more. Be more by becoming less. Don’t wrinkle. Please them.


I can’t. As much as I would like to, I can’t keep her in a bubble, playing self-love mantras on an endless loop. Eventually, she’s going to have to take all of this head-on herself. And I’ve realized it’s not my job to shield her from all of it — that’s not practical or realistic. 

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It’s my job to help give her the tools to stand tall, feet wide, hands on her hips, and shake off anyone who tells her she’s not good enough because of some specific part of her body. Help her realize that anyone who says that, who tries to make her feel that way, is a speck of dust in her life. Insignificant. Non-valuable. Disposable. It’s my job to help her realize that the people who matter, and the messages that matter, are the ones that lift her up. The ones that make her see herself clearly, not who she’s supposed to be.


As a woman myself, I realize it’s going to be a lifelong uphill battle. I am hopeful that the tides are changing — that her push might be at a slightly lesser incline than mine was. That she and her peers will be able to embrace all of their bodies, in all of their unique beauty, as they grow and develop. I’m not naïve enough to think it’ll be easy — thin culture is alive and well. But from here on out I have one goal: to help her develop the strength and perseverance to push through the steepest parts of her climb. And to always reach a hand back for those of her friends who may get stuck in the mud along the way.

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Stephanie Rondeau is a freelance writer, editor, and author of children's fiction. She has been featured in Boston Voyager, Self, and in top publications on Medium, among others. Stephanie's work often features feminism, wellness, parenting, and humor.