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Mommy, Do I Look Fat?

Karyn Langhorne of Washington, DC, was shocked when her athletic 8-year-old daughter, Sierra, asked her if she was getting fat. She was wearing a two-piece bathing suit and had pinched up a little roll of skin on her belly. When I assured her she wasn't, she asked about her thighs and hips!"

While her daughter's concern about her size and weight threw Langhorne for a loop, Sierra's not alone. Body- image issues are common in preteen girls, and boys stress about how they look, too (though more often they're concerned about bulking up rather than slimming down).

Since you can't shield her entirely from the images of too-thin women on TV and elsewhere that often fuel those "Am I fat?" questions, here's what you can do if your child starts to worry about her weight:

[BOLD {Probe a little.}] Sometimes girls say they dislike their bodies when they're actually trying to express anxiety about the changes of puberty. By saying, "What don't you like about it?" or "You do? Why's that?" you can get to the heart of the issue and be better able to help her feel more confident.

[BOLD {Don't wave away her concerns.}] It'll make her feel like you're not listening if you only say, "But you're not fat!" Even if her comments seem unreasonable, let her get them out, and then tell her why you think she's just right as she is.

[BOLD {Stress health, not weight.}] If your daughter isn't satisfied with talking or says she wants to diet, offer to speed-walk or ice-skate with her instead  -- but don't involve a scale in any of it. Tell her it's not because you agree that she needs to be smaller but because it's a good way to take care of her body.

[BOLD {Check your message.}] You may not be telling your child she should lose weight, but does she hear you say you feel fat or wish you wore a smaller size? Remember what a powerful role model you are to her  -- and consider her your best reason not to stress over a few extra pounds.