I had a new girl in my group at camp today. She's 5, entering kindergarten in the fall. Pale skin, round cherub cheeks, brown curls framing her face. At snack time, I watched her chew daintily on a peach while chatting with her friends from Pre-K.
She turned to me and said, "When are we going in the pool?"
"I answered that question twice already," I said. "After we eat lunch."
She wrinkled her nose, considering. "But we're eating now."
"I know, but this is a snack. We eat lunch at 12 o'clock."
"I ate at home," she informed me.
"Yes, that was breakfast, and that was hours ago. You'll be hungry again at lunch time."
She shook her head, curls flying. "No, I ate already. My daddy says if I eat any more I'm going to get a big belly, and he doesn't want me to be fat."
What?! "You're not going to get fat just by eating lunch!" I assured her.
She nodded sagely, pushing her stomach out and putting her hands on either side of her little round 5-year old belly. "See? It's already big."
"Well, I think you're lovely just the way you are," I said. I don't think she was convinced.
Two hours later, she refused the sandwich from the boxed lunch, opting instead for half a bag of baby carrot sticks and a carton of milk.
I can't believe that she thinks she's fat. I don't know if her father really told her that, or if she's just repeating something she heard on TV or from her big sister. But it makes me so sad that a 5-year old is already obsessing about her appearance. Who on earth would allow this little girl to believe she's anything but beautiful? Who is letting her think that worrying about her looks is more important than having fun and playing and reading and being a kid?
Parents really burn me up sometimes. I don't think they realize the effect their words and actions have on their children. It's a big part of what makes our job so difficult.