Care and Feeding

Staying Positive

How should I discuss weight issues and body positivity with my teenage nieces?

Photo illustration of three fit women.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photos by Getty Images Plus.

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Dear Care and Feeding,

I’m not actually a parent, but I appreciate your time to consider this.

I’ve been fat most of my life, which has been a huge source of conflict between my mother and me. I realize that she was more concerned about my long-term health than with the way I look (my grandmother has Type 2 diabetes and has suffered greatly), but the battles over my weight negatively impacted my body image and self-esteem.

I worked to get over some of that baggage and decided that I was ready to embrace a healthier, more active lifestyle. It’s been about six months, and I’ve lost close to 50 pounds by working out and eating better. My family has been very supportive of my efforts and I’m happy with how they’ve responded—i.e., celebrating with me as I hit certain milestones (meeting exercise goals, lowering my blood pressure), while not focusing on the change in my body.

I’m unsure how to talk about my weight loss in a body-positive way, especially with my 13- and 15-year-old nieces. I’m proud to be stronger, in better shape, and probably healthier than I’ve ever been, but also sensitive to the fact that discussions around “healthy” bodies, especially with teenage girls, are often painfully anti-fat.

—No Fat Shame

Dear NFS,

Congrats on making a commitment to improving your lifestyle and for taking ownership of your body, while also being sensitive to how your choices may impact others! It sounds like you are pretty clear already on what to say: You wanted to be in better health and took steps to make that happen without focusing on a dress size or how you look in a bathing suit. You recognize that not everyone can or wants to make the choice that you did, and that they don’t deserve to be judged negatively for that.

Encourage your nieces to avoid associating negativity with larger weights and to recognize that all bodies are beautiful and all humans are worthy of love, respect, and access to cute clothes in their size.

When you speak to the girls, as well as adults, about your fitness journey, focus on your desire to avoid the health issues your grandmother lives with and let them know if you are made uncomfortable by comments about how you look. “I have worked really hard to make some changes in my lifestyle, but I also don’t want to feel bad about how I looked before. This isn’t about ‘getting snatched’ for me, I just want to be healthier and have more energy.”

Finally, I’m hearing in your letter a slight tinge of guilt about your weight loss. The movement against fat shaming doesn’t require you to be fat to end the stigma against big-bodied people, but rather for you to be vigilant about calling out the bias they endure. You deserve to feel good in your skin. You can continue to work toward that as you see fit and be a voice of love and support for fat folks without apology. Also, shady responses to fat shamers are almost always appropriate. (“I can’t fathom wearing shoes like that and thinking it wise to worry over anyone else’s appearance.”) When they go low, go lower.

—Jamilah