My question is about how to handle body shaming and body image.
Our eleven-year-old burst into tears last night and told us that boys at school made fun of her by calling her “whale tail.” She’s pleasantly plump, but she has a lovely disposition and is very bright and funny so has lots of girlfriends and a gay guy friend. Her brothers are also chubby, so they don’t tease her. When we asked the boys if their chubbiness has been made fun of at school, they said they hadn’t.
Making a big deal of this will only call attention to the unfortunate name calling, and could lead to making “Whale Tail” a permanent nickname. What do you suggest?
–LL, Salem, MA
Body shaming is not healthy for your daughter’s body image.
First of all, help your daughter to persevere when being bullied. The kids who are bullying her now are the same boys who will be bullying her next year and the year following that. You need to bully-proof your daughter by building up her resilience.
- Make sure nobody in the home is teasing anybody about being overweight, because if a child feels secure at home she will be more resilient to name calling outside the home. When kids consistently accept who they are, they are better equipped to handle the cruel bullying in the schoolyard.
- Encourage your daughter to try different activities to find one or two she can become engrossed in, such as a musical instrument, drawing, painting, singing, cooking, basketball, acting, until she finds her passion.
- Don’t be the makeup mom who overpraises her child for achievement she doesn’t deserve, because she’ll see through you. It backfires.
- The compliment should match the accomplishment.
- When she’s upset, teach her to calm down by being mindful of her reactions to having been teased. Have her draw a cartoon, do a jigsaw puzzle, practice yoga, make a healthy salad for the family, or read a book.
- Suggest that she be brave and talk directly to the person who teases her to tell him that he makes her feel badly when he calls her names, even if she needs an adult to facilitate the conversation.
At the end of the day, you don’t want to support maladaptive thinking, because negative thoughts contribute to a child’s low self-esteem and insecurities. You don’t want her to dwell on the teasing.
As a parent you can’t protect your daughter from being bullied on the school playground. Nevertheless, you can build up her resilience by giving her effective coping tools that will serve her into adulthood.
Being considerate of other people’s feelings is good etiquette.
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Accepting A Compliment