I took my niece to Target yesterday to cruise the Liz Lange Maternity section (I'm not pregnant; I just dress like I am!) and purchase some Frank's Red Hot. After emptying half the store into my cart, we headed to the checkout line to wait patiently/witness some very disturbing shit. In front of us was a woman with her two daughters, who appeared to be in the eight-to-ten years old range. As the mom flipped through this week's In Touch, she pointed to a picture of a pregnant Kim Kardashian and said to her daughters, "God, she's SO fat." Since that apparently didn't prove to her daughters exactly how grotesquely fat the pregnant celebrity is, she fingered (sorry) a photo of pregnant Kate Middleton and said, "Look, she's half her size!"
It broke my heart because I could see the girls processing what their mom was saying. They've surely heard this shit at home before, and it's just one more Twinkie piled onto the "fat people are gross" snack tray of delicious intolerance.
What a sad situation. It felt awful to watch an adult woman actively teach her daughters to be shittier people — people who see fat as disgusting and bad, even when it's part of a pregnant body. This woman is obviously not in a healthy place when it comes to her own body, or she wouldn't feel the need to be so cruel to another woman, but that's the sort of shit adults need to STFU about.
When kids are younger — especially before they're consuming tons of media and have friends — they get almost all of their behavioral cues from their parents. If their parents think it's okay to call people names, then they'll think it's okay to call people names. If their mom hates her body, they can learn to hate their bodies, too.
Children live in a hypnotic state. Meaning, they're highly suggestible; especially to their primary caregivers. If a parent tells them that it's okay to think less of people for whatever reason, they'll have no choice but to believe. They can't make up their own minds yet, so you're essentially infecting them with your fucked up issues. We have to be mindful of that.
If you want kids to learn that all people are equal and good, it requires vigilance. You can't change the world around you — and you can't always protect them — but you can explain to them that everyone's equal, and you can say it again and again.
This goes double for disparaging your own body in front of your children. My mom always struggled with what she perceived to be fatness, and therefore was always on a diet. I don't know how many disparaging comments I've heard her say about herself in my life, but if I had a dollar for every one, I could probably pay for my enormous amounts of therapy.
It's hard enough to be a woman in our sexist culture, and the greatest gift we can give our girls is confidence in themselves — and that includes their bodies. As a parent, you're competing with a plethora of outside influences — TV, advertising, friends, bullies, teachers — for your child's attention. Inevitably, we're all fucking up the kids around us — don't worry, we're teaching them good lessons, too! — but this is one thing that's so fucking important. A girl's sense of self is everything.
As a fat kid, I was made very aware that my body was wrong. I got it from all angles, but the adults. The adults were the worst.
I remember one of the first times I knew I was fat, and also knew that being fat was bad. I was five-years-old and going to a classmate's pool party. I remember being dropped off and marching into the pool area, ready to get busy with some fake wave action — I was so excited to be at such a fancy pool. However, as soon as I arrived, one girl — a girl whose name I remember to this day! — told me I should "cover up" because I was "so fat". Worst part, I remember looking to the adults — including her own mother — and thinking that someone would do something, but they all just giggled and half-heartedly told her to knock it off. I wonder where that girl learned it from. (Read: I don't, it was clearly her shitty mom.)
I spent the rest of the party in a bathroom stall, waiting for my mom to pick me up. I was too embarrassed to tell her what happened, for fear she, too, would realize I was fat. I already knew she thought fat was bad because of all the shit she talked about her own body.
Obviously that shit affected me in ways that are still difficult to talk about — and frankly, not all of those ways were bad. I grew tough as nails eventually, and have a well of courage and strength that's pretty fucking deep. I also have a deep empathy for and kinship to people (and animals!) in unfair and difficult situations — and that's served me well in lots of ways. I'm happy with who I am.
But don't think for a second that I wouldn't change everything for a chance to hug five-year-old Laura and tell her those women are bastard people, and that being fat isn't bad, and to give all haters the finger. I wish I could tell her to go tell those adults how much they failed her, and to tell those other girls, "Yeah, I'm fat, who gives a crap? Trust me, people are gonna spend their whole lives trying to keep us in our places, ladies, let's not start this off by fucking with each other. Now: Let's swim, weirdos!"
Image via Shutterstock/aza_za.