Feature Archive

Mommy, Am I Fat?

Your child's self-image.

WebMD Feature

June 12, 2000 -- From the moment a cartoon entitled "Am I Fat?" appeared on a popular web site for adolescent girls, an email frenzy began. The cartoon poked fun at a teenager who worried constantly about her weight and felt guilty about eating a satisfying hamburger. But the email messages -- the largest response to any item ever displayed on Gurl.com -- were calls for help.

"I'd go anorexic if I had the guts," responded one teenage girl. "I am at the end of my pitiful rope," said another. Still others chorused: "I won't wear a bathing suit in public." "Boys only like me for my body." "I am 5 feet 6 inches tall and weigh 135 pounds. Am I fat?"

Eating disorders are the third most common illness among adolescent girls in the United States, according to a 1998 report by the American Medical Association. Even more shocking is a California Department of Health Services (CDHS) study showing that 80% of fourth-grade girls are dieting, statistics that have been echoed in many other places. Instead of reading Catcher in the Rye or playing the trumpet or kicking a soccer ball, girls are counting calories and fretting that their thighs are chubby. Boys have their share of troubles, too. While girls want to become wispy, boys want to become Hulk-like, with muscular shoulders and massive necks.

So what can parents do to give their children a healthy appreciation for the bodies they have?