My daughter has started to use the F-word; no not fuck, she’s been saying that for years. The f-word I am talking about is FAT. It all started when we introduced her to the movie The Nightmare Before Christmas. There is one scene, where one of the Christmas Town children is running away from one of Santa Jack’s terrifying deliveries. The child is plump, and as a result, he can’t run very fast, so he sort of waddles. Evie pointed to the screen and in a completely observational tone announced, “he’s fat, he can’t run fast.” B and I looked at each other. This was the first time she had identified “fat” and had applied the label.
Initially I was at a loss for words. B waited for me to take the lead. He’s learned to do this now in these sensitive situations. He might have said the “wrong” thing once or twice and caught Hell for it. So I said, “yes, Everly, you’re right. The boy can’t run as fast because he is carrying extra weight on his body.” B looked at me surprised. If I could have looked at myself, I would have looked surprised too. He wasn’t expecting that answer, and honestly, neither was I. I’m certain he expected me to sugar coat and unicorn horn the situation. I decided not to.
Why? Well, I didn’t see the harm in her stating an observation. She was not judging this child on his character. She didn’t say he was ugly, bad, or that there was something wrong with him as a person because he is heavy; she just said he couldn’t run as fast, and she is right. People who are carrying that much extra weight, generally can’t run as fast as someone who is closer to their ideal weight.
In the days and weeks following. Fat popped up again in various situations. The little boy running down the hall was brought up a lot. “Remember mom, when that little boy was fat and he couldn’t run, remember that?” “Yes Everly, I do.” “I’m not going to be fat mom, I want to run fast.” I almost interrupted at that statement. But decided to hang back, because again, she wasn’t saying that she didn’t want to be heavy because it was unattractive or made her less of a person. She just wants to run fast, and she has realized that to do that, you typically need to be a lean, mean, running machine.
And then finally, the day came where we saw a heavily obese person in public, and she pointed. Oh yes, she pointed, and she opened her mouth and spoke. Cringe. Cringe. Cringe. The man in question was wearing a white shirt, a very large white shirt, that hung down to nearly his knees. He was very broad shouldered as well, so the effect was a roundish square of white. She said, “Look mom, that man’s so fat, he’s a marshmallow. Hi marshmallow! Hi marshmallow!” All the while, she had a huge smile on her face, it was kind of like she saw Santa (she really loves marshmallows).
My reaction was delayed, I was focusing so hard on not laughing. I am a terrible person, I know. Terrible, terrible. But the guy really did resemble a marshmallow. Had he been at a comedy show and in the front row, I’m sure the reference would have been made, and then everyone would have laughed. And that would have been okay. Why? Our society is so difficult to understand. It is no wonder that kids struggle with social rules, and don’t understand why they get in trouble for speaking without a filter in some situations, but not others. I can barely keep track myself. Which is why, on occasion, I have really put my foot in my mouth. Oops!
When I found my voice, and feet, I quickly averted our cart from the man’s general direction. I scanned the files in my mom brain, the MAM working double fast. What to say? I started with the standard, “that wasn’t very nice Everly.” To which she replied, “but why mom, he did look like a marshmallow, a big, white, huge marshmallow,” again, the glee on her face plain for all to see. I sincerely do not think she was being mean spirited. I said, “well sometimes we might notice things that hurt other people’s feelings, and just because we notice them, that doesn’t mean that we say it out loud. We don’t want to hurt someone’s feelings do we?”
And, consider her mind blown. She looked so confused. She said, “why would the man have hurt feelings, it’s fun to look like a marshmallow.” Ahhh my sweet, little innocent soul. I hugged her on the spot (at this point we were waiting in the check-out line). I almost said, “I don’t know,” just to keep her innocent that much longer, and to end the conversation that I felt was quickly enter the realm of “stuff I don’t know how to handle yet because she should not be asking me this already should she?” I explained to her that sometimes, people who are carrying extra weight are sensitive about it, and they don’t like people making comments that bring attention to their extra weight; it hurts their feelings. This opened a dialogue that involved her asking me why these people wouldn’t just get rid of the weight then if it makes them sad. And as best as I could, I tried to explain this monumentally huge issue that plagues our society. It was a hard conversation to taylor to the understanding of a three-year-old; however, I feel like she understood at the end of it. There was a lot of quiet reflection, and with Everly, that usually means heavy processing.
This conversation left me dreading that moment, when she asks if she is fat, or says that she is fat. And by that time, she will understand the connotation of using the word in that manner. I NEVER refer to my body in a negative light while in Everly’s presence. I grew up with female role models who were fixated on body image (their own, their friends, celebs, etc…), and how your body affected your worth as a female. It was hostile to say the least. You might think that I would have adopted this way of thinking, and started to hate on my own body, but I didn’t. Maybe it had to do with the fact that I had other things, bigger things, happening in my life all the time. Loosing an eye, makes you realize how inconsequential thick thighs are. It’s been my mission to create a space of body acceptance and love for my daughter, and B is totally on board, which is fantastic.
I’m not going to be able to protect her from the media, or from her peer group. As a result, I feel very strongly that we have to establish an open dialogue about what makes a body beautiful, what gives you worth as a human being, and how the two are very rarely related. My goal is for my daughter to find beauty in wellness. I want her to learn that her body is beautiful in it’s health, and ability to enable her to live her life to the fullest. I want her to respect her body and treat it well. Even now I tell her that we only get one, and we live in it for our whole lives. Obviously at 3 she doesn’t fully grasp that concept, but I am quite confident that it is never too early to teach a child to care for what will be theirs for their entire life time. We tell them to be gentle with their toys, and not throw them in the toilet, so why would be allow that with their bodies. (Side note: I feel that a sedentary lifestyle and heaps of processed food is throwing your body in the toilet).
This goal does not involve the word fat, nor does it involve language around attaining desirable physical attributes. We don’t lecture her about “bad food” or “being lazy.” She eats McDonalds, or watches a movie laying on the couch once and a while, she’s three and not training for the Olympics after all. It’s about balance right, and making sure that the majority of the time you are doing the right thing. We strive towards intelligence, strength of character, and being physical within our world. I tell her that there are certain foods and activities that will help us to achieve this, and we aim to incorporate those into our life, so that they become our lifestyle. Since the summer, Everly has been saying that she wants to be an orthopaedic surgeon when she grows up, or as she calls it “a doctor that cuts bones.” When she argues about eating veggies, or says she wants to play with the ipad instead of going to the park, I remind her that doctors need strong brains, and strong bodies to help their patients.
And yes, we have started saving for post-secondary already, I hear that becoming a bone cutting doctor is not cheap!