Fat Shaming: Let's Talk Body PositivityJan 14, 2022
So they're on the merry-go-round thing. And I see my four and a half year old talking to him. And I don't know what they're saying. Then I hear him, look at her and go, 'What did you say?' And then she says it again, whatever it was, and I had no idea what's going on. And then he gets off the thing. And he says to her, 'Where's your mom?' And she points at me. And then he gets off and he comes over to me and goes, 'Your daughter just told me I'm fat.' I was like, dying on the inside. Mortified, felt horrendous, shame, and also stunned. I was so shocked, because we don't use that word in our house. We never comment on - it's me. Like, hello, we never comment on bodies. This is not a thing in our house. And so I was just like... what is this about? So the reason why I'm sharing this with you is I thought one, it would be helpful for you to know what is ideal to say in those kinds of situations, what's not ideal to say, how to handle it, whatever.
So he said this to me, and I was like, 'Wow, that's really not okay that she said that. I'm so sorry that she said that. I'm just so sorry. I don't know why she said that. And that's not okay that she did. But thank you for letting me know.' And he went back to play. And then it was so interesting, like to just sort of sit back and observe my response. Because what I immediately wanted to do - I didn't do this - but what I watched my brain want to do is rip her off the thing, publicly shame her, and be like, 'Why would you speak about him like that? That's not okay.' I went into this whole fantasy thing in my head.
So I just sat for a minute and just sat back to just, you know, pause and just observe what my brain was thinking and doing and then trying to think of 'where did she learn that? And where did that come from? And did she mean it in that way?' You know, she is three, four and a half. And was it just, to her an observation? Knowing her and knowing her heart, I think it was just meant as an observation. Like, 'You have black hair,' 'You have a mustache.' 'You are fat.' But it's such an ugly term, it's just so hurtful. I waited a minute for her to finish up on the merry-go-round thing. And then I said, 'Bud, can you hear for a second?'
She came over and I sat her on my lap and had my arm around her. So a very connecting kind of posture/pose. And I said to her, 'Hey, that little boy came and spoke to me.' Oh, not so little. He's like, 11, I guess. 'That boy came over and spoke to me. And did you say anything to him?' And she said, 'Yeah, I said he was fat.' And again, just like 'yup' - end, you know? She just had no awareness that there was anything not nice about this. And I said, 'Okay, why did you say that?' And she said, 'He looks different.' And I said, 'Okay.' She says, 'Yeah, he looks different. And he's fat.' And I said, 'Okay.' And then I was really mindful, because I don't want to shame her in this experience. I want to teach her about this, and explain it to her so she learns something from this. So I said, 'You know, we don't really comment on people's bodies.' And then she asked, 'What does comment mean?' I was like, 'Well, say things. We don't really say things about other people's bodies, good or bad. Because our bodies don't really matter. Our bodies are just kind of our shell, our bodies are just kind of the outside. We only talk about people's hearts and inside. And that's what really matters is who we are on the inside and in our mind. And in our heart. What we look like on the outside doesn't really matter. So we don't really say stuff about other people's bodies, because that's not really who they are. And if we ever noticed someone's body is different - like you have freckles, or you have a big nose, or a small nose, or you don't have arms, or you have a hearing aid, or you have something different with your body - I can think it, and you can talk to me about it or you could talk to daddy about it. But you don't want to really say something to the person about it, because it might make them feel a bit sad. And that's what the boy said, is that it hurt his feelings.' And he didn't say that. I added that for emphasis and to try to explain it to her. 'He said it hurt his feelings that you said that. And I wasn't sure if you knew that that's how it could feel for people. Sometimes when you comment on their bodies, it can make them think about it a lot. Like, if I said to you your hair is funny, or your nose is funny. It then makes you think, 'oh, is there something wrong with my nose? Oh, is there something wrong with my hair?' So that's why we just don't really comment on people's bodies.'
She was sort of like, 'whatever.' She didn't look at me like it was sinking in. She was listening, but it was, I don't know, irrelevant. It felt like. Then I said, 'I think I'd like to say sorry to him because it hurt his feelings. I know, you didn't mean to hurt his feelings, but it hurt his feelings. I'd like to say sorry. Do you want to say sorry?' She said no. No surprise. I could tell that she'd gone into a bit of a shame response in the way that she made that face - that like, 'Oh, I did something wrong' face when I was talking to her about it. And I said, 'Do you want me to say sorry to him for you?' And she said yeah. I said, 'Okay, well, maybe when we go home, we could draw him a picture of something to say sorry.' That's usually what I do if we're gonna say sorry, or repair something in a rupture with a friendship or a relationship. If you don't feel comfortable saying something, we can draw or write a card or something like that. She said yes. I said, 'Okay, I'll go and say something to him.'
I didn't drag her with me. Because that would have felt shaming, I didn't want her to feel shame. I wanted her to learn something, rather than feel shame about it. And so I just did it on my own. And I went up to him and said, basically the same thing I said to him the first time he came to me, which was just 'Hey bud, I just wanted to say I'm sorry for what she said. And that wasn't okay. But I really appreciate you telling me because that was the right thing to do. So thanks for letting me know. So I could tell her about that. And that it's not something we say to people, and it's not nice.' And he said, 'Yeah, no problem.' And that was that.
Then I thought about it later. And I thought about it and talked about it actually with a girlfriend of mine, who's also a therapist and specializes in eating disorders and body image stuff. And I asked, 'Did I handle it right? I think I did. But did I miss anything with that?' We sort of netted it out. We said 'Yeah, I don't think there's anything I would have done any different.' And she said, though, 'But it makes me wonder about the whole thing of saying we don't comment on people's bodies. I don't know if that's really - you know, now I'm thinking about it - I don't know if that's really what we want to be teaching our kids. "We don't comment on bodies."' I thought this was really relevant with what's going on in the world right now. 'It's sort of like saying we don't talk about race or we don't talk about skin color, right? Because "I'm colorblind," "I don't see race," "Everyone is equal," and whatever, which is a lovely sentiment. But if you talk to anyone in minority or that is black or Hispanic or any other nationality or ethnicity, sorry, other than white, it is something that you have to talk about. It is relevant, it is important to talk to our kids about it and to not just go "I'm colorblind, and everyone's the same". That doesn't work, you have to educate your kids on race as a thing. And racism is a thing, and it is not okay. And we can't expect things to change if we don't talk to your kids about it.'
That then got me thinking about having another conversation with her, which I will have with her probably tonight or tomorrow, in which we talk about bodies a bit more and explain - I think this is one of those conversations like race, body safety, body image in general that we we talk about all the time. It's a daily, weekly, in everyday conversation kind of thing where I will say to them, "Bodies come out in different shapes and sizes. There's nothing right, there's nothing wrong. We don't comment on other people's bodies. You can think stuff, but you don't ever --." My eldest daughter the other day, she saw a magazine and the girl on it, her eyes were really far apart. She looked at the magazine she said, "I don't like those girls eyes. I don't like how they look." It was different, I guess, because it was a magazine. But that's like the kind of thing that, I think, that's when we want to have those conversations with them about, you know, what do bodies mean to us? Why do we have them? What are they for? How does it feel when someone makes a comment like that? Because I would imagine that if she was in person with that girl on the magazine, I don't think she would have said it. I don't think she would have said to her face. But if another kid had said it, what would we have said if they said that to them? 'How does that feel to you? Someone comments on you, on your body?' I remember being told I had really bony, skinny knees when I was like in, I don't know, seventh grade or sixth grade. And it made me want to wear pants. As any kind of comment does on your body when you're growing up, you don't want to be different, you want to fit in. Even if it's pretty or thin or whatever. It's like don't even do it because ---. Anyway, I'm going all over the place.
I thought it was a good conversation for us to have in the group around this whole thing, especially for girls, boys as well. But I think especially for girls and moms and dads of girls, this will be on your radar a bit of 'How do we have the conversation about body image; about bodies in general?' Am I not supposed to say you look pretty? How do I handle that? So I just wanted to open up the dialogue, I guess, for those of you that maybe have questions about this or your experiences. Because I think it's important for us to all learn and be educated on teaching healthy body image to our kids. As with this little boy at the park yesterday, teaching our kids why we don't comment on other people's bodies, what it feels like when other people comment on your body. It was a really interesting moment for me as well. You know when you have those moments where you're like, 'Oh, wow, we really are different people. You are not an extension of me. You - Wow, you just said something I would never say. And I have to watch. Like, you just said something so mean, (I know, it wasn't mean to her) and just horrifying that I would never ever, ever, ever say, But you just said it. And I'm your mom, and I feel responsible and ashamed. But I know that you're also your own person.' And I know when I've worked with parents who have kids that are in their teens that their kid's the bully. And then when they hear some of the things that their kid is saying it's just horrifying, right? So I just thought it was a good conversation for us to have. And I just wanted to post this to kind of get us dialoguing about it. What are the other questions you have?
And maybe I can we can talk about it in the q&a. Or maybe we could just talk about it in the group. I don't know. But I just thought I learned something yesterday, because I had never thought about it. How I would handle that because it never happened to me. So I just thought I would share my learning how I handled it. I think I handled it well. I guess what I wish I would have done before, is have had a conversation with the girls really blatantly to say, 'This is what we don't do. We don't talk about, we don't comment on other people's bodies.' And why. I wish I had had that more in a regular ongoing conversation with them so that it didn't happen. But I'm glad that it happened in a sense, because now I go, 'Oh, that's some thing I got to chat to them about.' And that's great that it happened under these circumstances, I guess, when she's four and a half rather than 14 or eight or nine and it be a good friend of hers or something.
So I just thought I would share this with you, and I hope it's helpful. And yeah, let's have a conversation about it and figure out what questions you guys might have that I can help answer as we unpack this a bit further. Anyway, hope it was helpful. Bye.
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