That moment when your four year old daughter says something that:
- You are completely unprepared to respond to;
- Packs an emotional punch to your stomach because of years of baggage;
- You want to prepare a carefully crafted response, because you know that what you say matters to her like nothing else.
K: I am not going to wear that coat, because people are going to say I’m FAT.
Me: (Nothing…crickets…staring with tears in my eyes at my beautiful daughter and then shake myself out of a moment of shock. Takes a deep breath) What do you think the word “fat” means?
K: It’s another way to say STUPID.
Me: (breathes sigh of relief) That’s not right. Fat is a word that some people use to tease people who are bigger than them. It also means other things, but we can talk about that later.
K: That’s not nice. It’s not nice to call people names.
Me: No it’s not. Let’s put on your coat and go check out how nice you look in the mirror.
This is not the first time the word “fat” has come up, and in our culture, it certainly won’t be the last. Especially this time of year. While our kids are being bombarded with messages about being “naughty or nice” or all of the toys they “NEED”, adults, particularly women, are being targeted with messages about “will power”, “not indulging”, “beating the holiday bulge”, etc. What we don’t often realize or acknowledge is that our kids are hearing these messages, too.
Fat is definitely a dirty word in our culture. Something to avoid at all costs and something that seems to mean a variety of things – unhealthy, failure, lazy, stupid, ugly, loser, not trying hard enough, not caring, and most of all, large (although the definition of how large varies widely and two people at the same weight and height may not both be considered fat by everyone).
When culture is a powerful force, how do we help our children overcome commonly held beliefs? I don’t want my daughter or son to equate their self-worth with a number on a scale or the size on their pants’ tag. I also don’t want them use this word or others to tease other people. I want them to know that “fat” does not equal bad or unheathy. And not only is “fat” not bad. Fat can be healthy. And beautiful.
How do we overcome this? Talk about it. And try, try oh so very hard, to get beyond my own hang-ups about my pants’ size, food, and the “value” of being thin.
You see, before this conversation, I thought I was careful about the way I talk about my weight, fitness goals and weightloss around my kids. While I certainly know that there are other forces at work (preschool, media messages, other people), I realize now that I need to adjust my attitude and the things I say. I can honestly say that I am really into fitness – I work out every day and just finished my first half marathon. I am badass and I know it, but I would also very much like to lose my last 15 lbs of baby weight.
A few weeks ago, I was trying on a dress in a dressing room with my daughter. I asked, “what do you think?” She said, “Mommy, you look very skinny.” At first I was pleased (I am ashamed to admit) and then thought – wait a minute, where did she learn that “skinny” was a compliment? So I asked her. She said, “I told Daddy he was skinny yesterday and it made him happy.” Wow. Kids really are sponges. (well, duh)
It’s clear that I need to get a handle on my own beliefs and values and make sure I am not setting up my kids for any more issues (growing up is hard enough). I still remember my own mom’s constant fad dieting in the 80’s. It was fact to me from an early age that being fat was the worst possible thing imaginable.
So…we are doing a “fat” makeover in our house. In how we talk about ourselves and the world. Here’s our start:
- Fat is not a dirty word. It is not an insult and it certainly doesn’t mean stupid. It also means different things to different people. Fat doesn’t equal unhealthy or ugly.
- Also, skinny is not a complement, it is an adjective and completely subjective. Being thin doesn’t make you healthy or beautiful.
- We workout and eat a balanced diet to be healthy and strong. There are no good or bad foods.
- We work towards fitness goals because it makes us feel good to conquer new challenges, not because we hope to achieve a lower number on the scale.
- And for goodness sake, losing baby weight and regaining my pre-baby bod shouldn’t be higher on my list of priorities than spending time with my kids, and they should never feel that way.
It’s not going to be easy, but we need to start. The most important thing is to keep talking and answering questions and to be sure to practice what we preach – because kids observe and pick up on so much. I will get started. As soon as I am done with my workout.
Beautiful kid credit: Steph, all rights reserved