Sunday, August 14, 2011
Mom, am I fat? Why is it bad to be fat?
beautiful photo by paula moirin
We don't love our bodies.
If you're the mom of a girl, you've absolutely been made aware of the scary statistics that say that something like 80 percent of young girls either believe they are fat, or worry about getting fat.
It's unheard of that our girls wouldn't love themselves. We love them so much. So, how do you deal with the big bad topic of F-A-T?
Recently, a little girl in my life has expressed concern that if she eats too much she'll get fat. (I'm keeping her totally anonymous, because not everybody is comfortable with the struggles of their children being blogged about.) Scouty started asking questions about what it means to be fat, and why it's bad.
The topic of fat is almost like the topic of sex to us. Our first response is to panic and start stammering, "You're not fat, honey! You're perfect!"
It's scary to think about. They're just little tiny girls, and they've already been given the disgusting message that FAT is something to be scared of. That they either need to modify themselves and their behavior based in a fear of being fat, or that if they are fat, it's embarrassing and should be the source of total shame and self-hatred.
I've been doing a lot of thinking about how to approach this topic with my girls, because I sure as fuck don't want to short circuit at the mere mention of the word FAT and start acting all peculiar and intense, so that my daughters understand there's something mysterious and secret about the idea of fat. I don't want them to see that, if they ask me a question about electricity or cars or acorns, or whatever, I'm a totally cool and smart authority... but if they mention FAT, I suddenly start whispering to them in disjointed sentences how they aren't fat, but how they shouldn't ever call anybody else fat because fat is a big, dark secret thing that everybody sees but nobody mentions because what a FUCKING INSULT TO HUMANITY IT IS TO BE A PERSON WHO WALKS AROUND WITH FAT ON THEIR BODIES!
I'm sure I will do enough intriguing and confounding sputtering about, "Do babies get into your belly through your butt?" Because that question has been posed to me, and it wasn't pretty. Nobody's perfect.
When Scouty became intrigued with the topic of fat, I did my best in the moment to say, "Some people are fat and some people are skinny. Some people are pretty and some people are tall. Some people have brown hair and some people have blonde, and everybody is just right, exactly as they are." But that answer was only a filler, because I knew that it couldn't do any harm. It doesn't actually answer her questions, though, about what it means to be fat and why people don't want to be it.
I told her that a lot of people are confused by the things they see and that we don't always do a very good job of being kind to ourselves. She asked why people wanted to be unkind to themselves. I told her that the world is a big place and there are lots of bad people who want us to believe that we're not beautiful and powerful, because then we'll all walk around in the world with our heads down and those bad people will be able to tell us what to do because we'll be so lost and worried.
And that was a striking response, even coming from myself. Lots of times when I'm trying to explain a BIG ADULT TOPIC to my little girl... I don't necessarily tell the truth. I might say something like, "How did you get into my belly? Well, we wanted a really awesome girl, so I just stuffed a bunch of awesome into my belly, and out you came!"
(Would you believe she looked at me dubiously and answered, "Who really stuffed the awesome into you, mom? It was daddy, wasn't it?" Ohhhhhhhhhh. Kay. Cue awkward sputtering.)
Anyway, I thought that maybe this time I was telling the whole truth. I thought about how valuable it is to industry and patriarchy that my girls grow up believing that they are too fat and that they must modify their habits to change themselves, or to avoid becoming someone who might be met with disapproval. They wouldn't want to be non-consumable, would they? They want to be wives someday, don't they?
So, I was standing the shower, doing my best not to feel negatively about the hanging sack of flesh that used to serve as my plump, adorable stomach. I was thinking about how stupid it is that I should feel bad for stretching my stomach skin growing healthy babies. I can't really blame myself, though, because I grew up in the world, you know? I learned that I should just get skinny enough to wear this, or buy diet pills if it won't fit, or go to the gym or purchase a treadmill or eat low carb rice cakes and endeavor to one day be squished down and small enough for a big, capable man to find my smallness sexually desirable and walk right up to me and lift me into the air! And then I'll finally be living!
You know what I've decided to do? I've decided to tell my girls that fat is a stupid thing to be afraid of. That doesn't mean that I'll feed my children corn chips and peanut butter ice cream. That doesn't mean I won't celebrate and model a life full of whole foods and exercise. It just means that I love them and will always love them. It means that they are perfect, and I will do everything I can, with every moment of my life to make sure they know that. Your mommy believes you are the most beautiful and perfect thing she could imagine.
Maybe someday my opinion won't matter as much as the opinion of their classmates and of boys or even of the fucking television, but it will matter. It does matter.
They live in the world. All of our girls do. So, that means it's our job to make sure our children are spending as much time as possible in an environment where everybody is loved. Where fat isn't an issue beyond being one of a long checklist of things we consider when determining health. We won't be any more panicked and stressed about fat than we are about cavities. I'm never scared shitless when my kid asks why we need to drink milk to have healthy bones and teeth. I've decided that I'm not going to be scared when they ask why people don't want to be fat.
I tell Scouty, "Look at Louisey's big fat belly! I love her fat belly so much!"
My message won't ever be, "Shh, you're not fat! Don't say fat!"
If my child asks me, "Why does that lady have such a big butt?"
I'll say, "Do you think she does? It's okay to have thoughts about other people's bodies, but it's really important that we don't tell someone that we have an opinion about their bodies. Every body is different. Some are big and some are small, but the only body that matters to us is our own. It's our job to keep our bodies happy and healthy, and other people get to be in charge of their own bodies. It's not up to us to decide if somebody's butt is too big. If that lady believes her butt is the perfect size, then it is."
And as far as their own bodies go, I will be always be kind, and I'll encourage my girls to be kind to themselves, as well. I'll encourage them to be healthy and I'll provide them with millions of opportunities to make healthy choices... but not because we're afraid of the big F-A-T. Not because we believe people shouldn't be the big F-A-T. Just because we're not interested in walking around in the world with our heads down and full of worry about not being good enough, getting told what to do and what to think and what to believe about ourselves.
As parents, our opinions about bodies, our own, our children's and everybody else's, matter so much more than we could ever imagine they do.