Interpersonal Communication ,

When we are caught off guard

We at Upstream have been blogging a lot about body image and fat issues recently. I also ran across this mother’s quite personal tale of how she reacted when she found her seven-year-old daughter naked and staring at herself in the mirror. The daughter then called herself fat. The mother mentions how she had read all the needed parenting books, aced media courses in college and empowered women throughout the world. But she was still rattled at her own, young daughter’s insecurities, and didn’t quite know how to react.

“You are built just perfect–strong and healthy,” the mother tells her daughter. But it doesn’t work to appease her child’s insecurities. After 20 minutes and out of options, the mother decides to try another tactic. The mother herself stands up, strips naked and stares in the mirror too. She sings and is silly and talks about how her daughter and she are both perfect. After a bit, they both get dressed and read a story together, and the daughter makes no more mention of being fat that night.

I find this story so lovely and simple, and a great example of how health communication (and all communication) is not always a campaign, video or planned effort. Sometimes people have problems, needs and questions, and we have to try to answer them on the level that works best for that person. And we may have to keep trying. When the mother realized simply telling her daughter she was not fat but perfect didn’t work, she took a more direct communication approach by copying her daughter’s movements and actions at the moment to get her point across.

What do you think we, as health communicators, can learn from this? How can we adapt our methods or approaches if they aren’t working to make them more relevant to the individuals we’re working with? And how might we adapt these messages “on the fly,” when needed?

Image courtesy David Castillo Dominici at