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.