How to Respond When Your Teen Daughter Calls Herself Fat

Teen girl holding up a dress and looking in the mirror
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Body image issues are rampant among teenagers, especially teenage girls. And most parents have heard their teenage daughter make self-deprecating statements about her body, such as “I’m so fat,” or “Look at how big my thighs are!”

Those sorts of comments leave many parents feeling uncomfortable and uncertain about how to respond. But the way you respond to those sorts of phrases makes a big difference in how your daughter feels about herself.

What to Do If Your Teen Says She's Fat

If your daughter says she’s fat, here are some things you can do.

Validate Her Feelings

Saying things like, “Oh no you’re not,” or “Stop that,” won't change the way your daughter views herself. If she thinks she's overweight, arguing with her feelings could make the situation worse.

Validate her feelings by saying something like, "I know it can be hard to feel good about your body sometimes."

Help Her Evaluate Her Perception

Teenagers aren't very good at determining whether their weight is healthy. Instead, they often base their judgments on how they feel. And their perceptions about size are easily skewed by their friends or the media. Look at what weight ranges are considered healthy, underweight, and overweight and discuss where she falls in that range. 

Talk About Distorted Body Image

If she’s not overweight, talk about how people develop distorted body images. Airbrushed magazine photos, underweight models, and the glamorization of thin ideals can lead many people to confuse thin for healthy.

Unfortunately, social media sometimes fuels the notion that people have to look perfect. Many teens obsess over taking the perfect selfie, and girls talk about the importance of having a “thigh gap.” These are just a few of the ways that many adolescents are developing negative images of their bodies.

It's normal for teenage girls to be narcissistic at times. So she's likely to think everyone's looking at her or to assume that the world revolves around her and her appearance. That perception can distort her body image as well.

Emphasize Health, Not Weight

Talk about the importance of eating healthy and getting plenty of exercise. If your daughter is overweight, discuss strategies she can use to lose weight. Talk to her doctor to gain information about the best ways for teens to get healthier.

Teens are at an especially high-risk of taking dangerous measures to lose weight. Fasting, compulsive exercise, fad diets, or even purging are just a few of the unhealthy ways many of them try to lose weight. It’s important for your teen to be well-educated about the harmful effects these choices can have on her body.

Talk About a Healthy Inner Dialogue

If your teen is critical of herself, it’s important for her to recognize how this can affect how she feels and how she behaves. For example, a teen who thinks, “I’m ugly and no one likes me,” is less likely to talk to people. As a result, she may struggle to make friends. This can reinforce her negative thinking.

Teach her how to develop healthy self-talk. Talk about how she can remind herself of the good qualities she has and teach her not to say anything to herself that she wouldn’t say to a friend.

Ask Questions

Many girls unrealistically believe that their appearance is directly linked to everything from happiness to success. They think if they could be thinner, they’d be popular and they’d never have to worry about things like bullying ever again.

Talk to your teen about how she thinks her weight and appearance influences her. Discuss whether her expectations are realistic. Remind her that not every thin or attractive person lives a happy life. Place an emphasis on inner beauty and discuss how being kind and caring is more important than physical beauty.

When to Seek Professional Help

If your daughter's body image issues are interfering with her life, seek professional help. Talk to her doctor or meet with a mental health professional. She may be experiencing an underlying mental health problem or she may be at risk of an eating disorder. 

By Amy Morin, LCSW
Amy Morin, LCSW, is the Editor-in-Chief of Verywell Mind. She's also a psychotherapist, an international bestselling author of books on mental strength and host of The Verywell Mind Podcast. She delivered one of the most popular TEDx talks of all time.