Monday, 13 January 2014

Starting young - how our children learn that fat is bad

This isn't an easy post to write really. It’s inspired in part by Naomi’s very open, honest and heart breaking account of the bullying she has suffered over the years. The sad reality is, I’m seeing this pattern develop with my own child – but not in the way I had thought.

While I have been fat, or at least larger than average, the majority of my life I have not suffered bullying by people outside my family to anywhere near the extent that Naomi described. I did grow up however with a parent who thought it was her job to police my eating, my size and my attitude to fat through what could be described as ‘negative talk’.  It could also be called emotional and verbal abuse, but let’s not get hung up on terminology.

We (my mother and I – who was a bit overweight and despised herself for it) used to play a game called ‘I’m not as big as her am I?’ where we would judge and critique anyone overweight we saw around us. I’d get told that I smelt, I would never find anyone to love me and I would never been accepted if I was fat. I was told my friends secretly despised me for being fat. Everything I ate was judged, everything I wore. Diets were common and full-on: I did a 5 day walking trek on 600 calories a day.

This isn’t about me though, but what I wanted to give you is a flavour of what my background was so that I can explain why I am trying to bring my daughter up the way I am.

I have a lovely, adorable, cheeky, smart almost 5 year old girl. She is kind and considerate. She also happens to be slim and delicate in stature – taking after her father’s side of the family more than my tall and strapping heritage. She eats a wide range of food and we don’t police her eating or the amounts she eats. We try to have healthy snacks but she can also have ‘sometimes’ foods as well.

Because of the way I was brought up I don’t use negative self-talk. Ever. I don’t refer to myself negatively about my weight or other people. I don’t comment on other people’s looks to her, unless it is brought up by her and then it is in reference to everyone being different (isn’t difference wonderful?). I’m strict on this and my husband (being a man and from a normal family) doesn’t do that sort of thing anyway.

I refer to myself as fat, not in a derogatory way but in a descriptive way. I’m fat, some people are short, some people are black, some people have freckles and some have only got half of an arm like one of the CBeebies presenter. We are all different.

I thought I was doing well. I thought I am bringing up a child who won’t have the same negative, body focused, self-image that I did who won’t judge others by their looks.

Then she started school. There is a girl in her class that is overweight and tall. Looks older than her years frankly, but also has excess weight.

Within a few weeks my daughter started saying that this girl was fat, but not in a descriptive sense but in the sense of it being a BAD thing. She has a fat tummy apparently. I do too I replied, but she told me off for saying it and apparently it’s because there is a baby in there (wishful thinking there). I said I’m fat too – “oh no Mummy don’t say that, you aren't fat you just have a big bottom”. Because somehow in the course of a few weeks, a month or two, being fat is now a bad thing to her.

The thing that made me really think about this was when she was walking up the stairs in front of me and I couldn't stop myself from pinching her lovely bottom and telling her she had a lovely chubby bum. “Oh Mummy don’t say that! X (girl from school) has a chubby bottom, I DON’T. I have a little bottom!”

And my heart broke a little, because she’s  4. 4. It shouldn't matter what size her bottom is and the size of your bottom shouldn't determine whether she is good or bad. But it seems to already.

Her teacher has told them all that it isn't nice or kind to use words like fat or chubby, or smelly or stupid about people because it hurts their feelings. But how do you stop the all persuasive culture where fat is already seen as a bad thing?


I’m still trying. I’m still saying the same things and trying to think of new ways of saying that being fat is ok, whatever you look like is ok. But I’m feeling like Canute trying to stop the waves rolling in and it’s scary. 

4 comments:

  1. It's tough because up until now your child has only had influences in your control. Now she's at school she'll be influenced by others. Coming from a home life where I too was criticised for my mother's insecurities, all I can say is keep laying that positive foundation. My mum's criticisms only became about my size when I got fat as a teenager before that it was my short legs, podgy nose, pinhead. People *are* different shapes, colours, sizes. Think of all the negative foundations we've spent our adult lives shaking off and put in place positive ones. For the next 10years at least your influence still has the biggest impact on forming her life. I remember being about 8 when I realise my mum was fat and being really sad that she wanted to diet because she wouldn't be mummy anymore if she was skinny. This I belive is due to my dad showing affection towards my mum, how could it be a bad thing when someone loved you? The positive image I have of my dad saying 'jen, you don't need to diet you're perfect for me' has a far stronger impact than years of mum telling me I looked like a lesbian in my outfit or thaty haircut made me look like a pinhead. I wonder if there is any link in fact my negative memories come after my dad had died?

    Anyway, in conclusion to my epic ramble, you are doing the right thing. Even though it might not seem like it, your comments now will have a more lasting impact on her so keep it up! ��

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  2. Fat isn't a good thing or a bad thing, it's just a thing, and it's a shame that "any fat" is now "too much fat". You sound like you're setting a good example and stopping your child from repeating the behaviour she gets from her peers and helping her understand it for what it is, is a great thing for you to do. You keep going!

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