My 4 Year-Old Thinks He’s Fat

Aaron Gouveia thought that because he was raising a son, he wouldn’t have to deal with body image issues… Boy, was he wrong.

Originally appeared at DaddyFiles.

I write for a living. All day long I wrestle with words, carefully and meticulously deciphering which ones I want to use to convey the right message to my audience. And then, when my workday is done, I come home and tend to Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and these very blog pages to do more of the same. In short, words are my life.

Which is why I’m having a difficult time figuring out why I have so much trouble refraining from saying stupid and potentially harmful things in front of my son Will.

It’s not like I’m swearing in front of him or verbally abusing him. But at least that would be easy to identify. Nope, what’s been happening lately is much more subtle (and far more frustrating). Unlike the past few years when Will couldn’t comprehend most of the things I’m saying, suddenly he understands EVERYTHING. Even if he doesn’t quite grasp the words I’m using, he somehow gets the concept and gist of what I’m talking about and the meaning behind it. And when I say something—regardless of my intended meaning—he takes it another way.

Case in point:

Me: “OK buddy, I’ve gotta go to the gym for a run.”
Will: “Dada, why do you run?”
Me: “Because I’m too fat. So I run so I can get skinny like you.”

Honestly, I didn’t think anything of it. I was calling myself fat (a fact) and I thought I was setting a positive example by showing him that it’s important to exercise and be fit. Nothing wrong with that right?

Well a few hours later after I got back, Will got really revved up and would not stop running around. It was like someone had mainlined Pixy Stix directly into his bloodstream. When I finally corralled him and asked him what was going on, I was floored by his answer.

“I’m getting fat so I needed to run like you, Dada.”


For some naive reason, I thought because I’m raising a son I would never have to deal with body issues and all that crap. Which is hysterical because I’ve hated the way I look and the fact that I’ve been pudgy since I was a kid. But suddenly I found myself knee deep in it.

I never meant to scare him or make him feel bad about himself, but I also failed to realize that by talking about myself negatively, it affects him too. To the point a 4-year-old had to exercise to avoid feeling fat. All because of an offhand comment I made in my rush to get to the gym. Now he’s intermittently afraid to take his shirt off in front of us because he thinks we’ll call him fat. And he’s obsessed with standing on the scale because he sees me weighing myself all the time.

I just can’t believe what started as me wanting to get healthy, go to the gym and live longer to enjoy life with my son, has turned into me giving aforementioned son unhealthy body issues and an obsession with weight at the tender age of 4.

Parenting ain’t easy.

Photo courtesy of sleepyjeanie

See also Lose Like a Man: Charles Barkley Dons a Dress to Talk Weight Loss

About Aaron Gouveia

Aaron is husband to a woman far too beautiful to have married him, and father of two sons far too perfect to be his. After nearly a decade as a Boston-area journalist, he decided to actually get paid and became a content manager. When he's not griping about his beloved Boston sports teams, he's detailing life as a dad at The Daddy Files. You can follow him on Twitter (@DaddyFiles) and Facebook.


  1. One memory I have that relates to this is when I was about 10.

    I was a pretty carefree child. One day at a family gathering I overheard my mother say to my aunt “Gosh he’s a confident kid, never has his shirt on. It’s great he doesn’t care he has a bit of a tummy”.

    BOOM. Sudden realisation, and about 3 to 4 years of insecurity stemming from that one moment. Thing is, I know what she said was meant to be nice, and don’t blame her at all.

    I’d stop worrying about the small things you say or you’ll go insane. Much simpler and more effective to have an honest discussion with your kid about it as society is probably going to give them those fears anyway.

    PS: Currently 19 and feeling sexy :p

  2. Kirsten (in MT) says:

    I hope you will be gentle with yourself. How “kid logic” works isn’t always easy to anticipate.

  3. “For some naive reason, I thought because I’m raising a son I would never have to deal with body issues and all that crap.”

    Wouldn’t feel too bad about it. It seems our society has a collective blind spot when it comes to how negative messages can hurt boys. It puts all of its focus on stopping boys from hurting others, which is, in and of itself, an incredibly negative message to tell boys.


  1. […] And what happens when it’s your 4-year-old who thinks he’s fat? Aaron Gouveia writes about that here. […]

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