A few weeks ago I went to pick up my girls at a sleepover birthday party. All seven of the 6- and 7-year-olds (I know, brave parents) had massive sugar hangovers, exacerbated by having stayed up ’til midnightÂ watching Mamma Mia!, apparently several times. They looked like haggard little zombie princesses with dark chocolate croissants under their eyes screaming the lyrics to Dancing Queen.
As I was collecting my daughters’ stuff, I noticed one of the girls, T., a genius kid who was reading literally when she was two, sitting in the corner looking grim. I asked what was wrong, and she said, “We were measuring our waists and they all said I was the fattest one.”
Now, Sasha and Vivian are doing a unit on measuring in their classes, so my first thought was that maybe–just maybe–it was a simple, neutral experiment in counting and comparison, like how many push-ups can daddy do before falling face-down in a panting heap, or how many pairs of shoes does mommy have as opposed to daddy (we’re at a 10:1 ratio, if you must know.) What’s more, girls at that age are really into categorizing and quantifying. You hear things like, “You’re a better teeth-loser but I’m a faster hair-grower,” all the time in my house. (You also hear, “Honey, I need more closet space for all my shoes.” And, “No.”)
And that’s kinda sorta what it was. There was no teasing about T. being the “fattest” (her weight is perfectly healthy; the other girls, also perfectly healthy, happen to be relatively narrower.) After the girls established the order according to waist measurement, they moved on to other Abba-related activities. All but T. She looked like she had been told that her parents didn’t love her anymore. It was heartbreaking, and sent me into a mini panic. Many moms, particularly Formerly Eating Disordered ones like me, would do most anything to spare our girls that gnawing grief.
I was reminded that the word “fat,” a simple visual descriptor like brown or triangular, had become so laden that it connoted the worst possible designation, even to a 7-year-old. The adjective, which by all rights should be neutral, is an unmitigated negative, at least when used in the context of a body. A fat wallet, no one minds.
Horrified, I started blathering about how she has a beautiful body and that I’m sure they didn’t mean anything mean by it (Sasha confirmed that there was no overt meanness, and said, “I’m second fattest and I don’t mind one bit!” which made me proud) and that when I was a kid I had gigantic feet relative to my friends and it turned out that when we got to be grownups, I was the tallest one. (And the girl who used to razz me about it never made it past 5 feet–all that negativity must have stunted her growth. Or maybe it was the smoking and drinking. Or genetics.)
Long story short,Â T.’s parents and I were SO not ready to deal with fat talk in our first graders. The truly crappy part was, as I scrambled to reassure T. that she was not fat, I realized in doing so I was only reinforcing the idea that fat was something you desperately don’t want to be. Which you don’t, for many reasons, not least of which it’s widely agreed upon to be bad for your health. But some people are, even if T. isn’t. And they shouldn’t have to feel like dog do about it, especially at age 7!! How do you explain all that to a seven-year-old? I wish there were a blog like Shapely Prose for the playground set. UGH.
One thing I will say about having girls is that it’s done wonders for my own body image. I’m forced to walk the “I’m completely comfortable in my body” walk, and talk the “I think my perfectly normal postpartum somewhat droopy mom body is beautiful” talk, and I am telling you, it TOTALLY helps. I feel pretty darn at peace with what’s below my neck, much more so than when I was “objectively” hot and angsting about five extra pounds.
Some of that comes with age and having, oh, 6,000 more important things to think about every hour than how many calories there are in a Twizzlers. But I’m such a fan of faking it ’til you make it with your kids.
So here’s what I want to know: What are the ways that work for YOU to feel better about your body? And what do you do to keep your kids sane about the whole thing, if you have kids?