How do you respond when your daughter says, “a boy at school called our teacher fat. I NEVER want to be too fat!”
There are so many problems with that sentence. Of course we don’t know the factual details of what went down- we are only getting a glimpse. But let’s say that’s exactly what happened. 3 reasons that sentence at the dinner table made my skin crawl and my heart ache.
- that a young boy would body shame an adult female teacher
- that the word “fat” is being hurled as an insult at all
- that my chronically underweight first grade daughter is afraid of being “fat” (or more accurately, afraid of being teased by boys for being “fat”)
There is one big reason my daughter’s story made me feel hopeful, though. Empowered even. And that’s that after 8 years of struggling with my own disordered eating, body shame and fat fears, I get to respond from a place of fierce compassion and share what I know to be true.
After so many years of starving, restricting, binging and being at war with food, I really really know that diets don’t work. A dear friend and mentor of mine believes that Dieting is Violent Act. By now, I tend to agree. I could have written 10 children’s books with the same energy I spent counting calories. Instead of focusing my heart and soul on making sure my food was clean, organic, local, Ayurvedic, freshly made and pure- I could have gotten a graduate degree. Or volunteered at an organization I loved. Or travelled. But like many, many, many, many of us, I have been in diet hell. Food prison kept me out of many aspects of my life. Very slowly, with toddler steps, I’m reclaiming my inner knowing about what my body needs. I’m building trust again. I’m becoming a well-fed woman and learning to Feast on my life.
So when my daughter brings up fat phobia at the dinner table, I take a deep breath before speaking. I know that my food issues belong to me. I also know that it’s my responsibility to shape a lifelong dialogue with my little girl about her body. One that will hopefully lead to body acceptance and self love.
“Wow, I’m so glad you are telling me, “ I say. “ I always want to know what words kids are saying on the playground. It sounds like you were worried about getting teased yourself. Is that true? Well, if anyone says mean words to you, they go right in your Kidpower trashcan, right?
I wonder why that boy called your teacher fat. What do you think? I don’t think he did it because he is bad. It’s just that he needs help. Do girls sometimes say mean things, too? Yes. Everyone does. Some boys and girls and grown-ups say mean things about being being fat.
Can I tell you what I believe about bodies? That all bodies are good. That all bodies are able to do great things. That no one deserves to be teased for how their bodies look. Ever. It’s hurtful and it’s not okay.
Do all flowers look the same? How about all animals? Rocks? Bugs? When everyone looks different, the whole world is more beautiful. Fat, curvy, skinny, short, tall and round bodies all deserve to be celebrated. Your body is just right. And YOU are precious, exactly how you are.”
Yes, we’ll have this conversation a million times. Yes, it will start to include more information about nutrition, about Health at Any Size, about our culture of diets that don’t work, about coping with emotions through more than just food, about movement that feels good, about our human right to eat intuitively.
But we got through that first conversation together. Now, back to living my life in a way that truly feeds me…