Children and Their Sense Of Self Image

Let’s face it. Adults like to comment on the size of kids – how tall or short, how thin or chubby. I am guilty of that at times too. What adults sadly overlook, however, is how the comments impact the kids they are talking about (which, by the way, is an irony, because most adults are sensitive when people comment about their appearance).

From birth, Phoebie, my firstborn, has been on the petite side. She was born small, even though she was born at full term. She eats with a healthy appetite, but she is just petite.

Adults who see her often have a tendency to comment on how small she is. My in-laws, a.k.a. Phoebie’s grandparents, like to say things like, “Phoebie, you didn’t eat is it? Why are you so skinny?”

My mum’s neighbour likes to comment on Phoebie’s size too. Every single time he sees us come over to my mum’s place, he will say, “Wah! How come you didn’t grow? You are still the same size, so small!”

These comments, obviously, are baseless, because as Phoebie’s mum, I know better than anyone else how much she eats. To be fair, she isn’t exactly the biggest eater among kids, but she definitely has a healthy appetite.

And again, as her mum, I most certainly know more than anyone else that Phoebie has certainly grown. Otherwise, why would I need to update her clothes sizes every few months?

While people like my in-laws and my mum’s neighbour don’t give much thought about what they say to Phoebie, it has become obvious to me that it affects how she sees herself. I noticed how she didn’t like seeing my in-laws or my mum’s neighbour and she would make a face or turn away the moment they start commenting about her size.

There was one such day, that I noticed that Phoebie didn’t look too happy after someone commented on her height and size, yet again. I decided to take a different approach.

“Phoebie, don’t worry about what other people say about your size. They may say that you are very small sized for a primary one child, but hey, you know what? Even among adults, there are people who are tall, and there are adults who are shorter. There are adults who are slim, and some are bigger in size, so what more children, right? The important thing is that you eat your meals properly and you are healthy and growing well. So don’t think too much about what other adults say to you, okay,” I told my daughter.

She nodded. I could only pray that she understood what I said.

Over the weekend, we were on the way home from an outing and Phoebie brought the topic up again. Our conversation went like this:

Phoebie – Mama, I think I’m going to be very short when I am an adult.

Me – Why do you say that?

Phoebie – Cos people always tell me that I’m very short for primary one.

Me – Well, you never know what will happen when you reach puberty. You could suddenly grow very tall. But you know what, even if you’re short when you’re an adult, it doesn’t matter. I always tell you, there are adults who are tall , some are short, some are bigger, and some adults are smaller in size. You look at Mama. Mama is not very tall but I still married a tall and handsome man.

HusBenKoh – *nods his head slowly*

Phoebie – OH MY GOD!!!

Me – What?

Phoebie – Why you go and say handsome!!!

Me – But Papa is handsome right?

HusBenKoh – *nods his head slowly*

While we eventually lightened the mood of the conversation, I knew that Phoebie’s sense of self image has been deeply impacted by those who constantly tell her how short or small she is, and it is obvious that she doesn’t feel very positive about herself when it comes to her physical size.

I know I cannot stop people from constantly commenting about my daughter’s size, and I cannot stop my daughter’s feelings about what people say to her. However, what I can do is to continue to remind her that it is okay even if she is short or small in size.

I can continue to reminder her that her physical size is not something that should stop her from achieving big things, or being a big blessing and she can still make a BIG impact, no matter how big or small she is.

My daughter has also reminded that I too, should be mindful of what I say to other children about their physical appearance or size. Who knows how hurt the child might already be feeling?