Evie 2Comment

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I’m a pretty open mom. I have no qualms about discussing all sorts of potentially uncomfortable topics with my young children: death, sexrace

But there are some words—some topics—I’ve been avoiding at almost ridiculous lengths.

One morning last week, my five-year-old looked up from her cereal bowl and asked, “What does ‘fat’ mean?”

It was the second time she’d recently asked me what a completely common word meant.

UGLY and FAT

And, it was the second time I felt this twinge of pride that I’d somehow shielded her from these words for five whole years.

Ugly was easier to define: it’s the opposite of beautiful. But fat? So many layers of complexity there.

“Fat” introduces judgment and self-consciousness. Because of body issues I’ve had myself, I made a decision not to talk about people’s bodies with my children. Sure, physical ability is on the table, but shape and size? Nothing good can come of that.

On rare occasions when one of my kids has remarked on someone’s stature in a totally innocent way, it’s been enough to remind them that “God makes everyone unique.” Yes, I am very tall; some people are very short. Our skin is fair, but skin comes in all shades, no one better than another.

Put on the spot, I tried to explain that fat means something is bigger than normal. It’s a word we usually use to describe someone’s body, and for that reason it’s hurtful. People, especially women, don’t want to be “bigger than normal.”

“Why?” she asked. “Why don’t people want to be bigger than normal?”

There it is. If God has made us all unique, and He has made some of us bigger than others, why should we be ashamed of that? Or, putting religion aside, why is it bad to have a body that doesn’t fit the norm?

Before long, she’ll be skilled at pinpointing “the norm” and analyzing whether she and others fit it. She’ll wonder whether she should take pride in her golden blonde hair or feel ashamed of the three inches she’ll tower over her peers. Life is just so much more complicated when we view ourlselves the way we believe others view us.

This, this is why I haven’t defined Ugly and Fat. Because they’re words I choose not to use. I choose not to comment on physical appearance in front of my kids. That’s also why you won’t hear me tell my girls they’re “cute” or “beautiful,” as so many moms do.

It’s not that I don’t think they are. I just want to give them some (albeit brief) period of time to be completely unconscious of society’s aspirations for them. There are so many years for worrying about the norm and wondering if others think you fit it and learning how to judge others’ physical appearance. I think it’s one of the most difficult things about being a woman.

I’m no fool. I know my girls will hear words like Fat and Ugly—or even be called these hateful words—at school, but they won’t be hearing them from me.

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2 thoughts on “2 Really Common Words I Refused to Teach My Kids

  1. Evie,
    As a registered dietitian I too have had to think very hard about the words I use and how they are taken especially when dealing with children. On the one hand I like the notion of health at every size, but scientifically that’s not entirely true to be healthy at any weight, there is a range. So with children and even my adult patients instead of the word fat I’ve come to say “extra weight,” meaning extra amount of body. I also say that some extra weight is fine, but when you have too much extra weight it makes the heart and organs work too hard and we don’t want that. Fat has such a stigma yes, there are definitely more sensitive ways of describing body weight especially to a child. But as a clinician I also hold the responsibility to help parents understand where the line is between holding extra weight and being unhealthy so as to avoid problems. It’s staggering how many overweight children I’ve treated with diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol who are the same age as your daughter. Yikes. It’s such a sensitive topic so words definitely need to be chosen carefully.

    Regarding the U word, you could try telling your daughter that things can be ugly as in not beautiful but that all people are beautiful. So assign the word to inanimate objects.

    1. I know exactly what you mean about wanting to teach children to be accepting while also acknowledging that “healthy” does put them in a particular weight range. In our house, we spend a lot of time talking about which foods will help us grow big and strong, and which ones just taste good. I grew up in a household where we ate with the understanding that it was best to do everything in moderation, and I try exemplify that with my own kids.

      Sure, I could eat a box of cookies for lunch, I’ve told my 5yo. No one is going to stop me…BUT that wouldn’t be good for my body, and I want to take care of my body so I feel good! With children so young and impressionable and a variety of healthy foods in the house, so far that’s been enough. But healthy eating habits do start young!

      Thanks so much for offering your perspective!!

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