The first time she mentioned it, we were driving home from school. “Zeke (name changed to protect the innocent) said I run slow because I’m fat.” She said it just like that, so matter of fact that if I wasn’t paying attention, I may not have even heard it. She didn’t seem sad, she was just reporting on the day. I tried to remain calm, asked her if it made her upset and her response was, “No, I am pretty slow.” Though I was relieved it didn’t upset her, I did follow up with the other kid’s mom to ensure it never happened again. I thought (hoped) that this would be a one time issue, a blip on the radar, and something to not have to worry about again. I was wrong.
My older daughter is beautiful, outgoing, and funny. She’s the first one to make friends with the new kid in class, and will be the first one to help when someone needs it. She also has been a head taller and broader than her peers for as long as I can remember. Whereas her younger sister has to be coaxed to eat and had to return to the doctor for weight checks periodically.
From my own history with weight issues since I was a kid, I knew eventually a day like that one in the car would probably come for me and my daughter, but I certainly thought I had more time. In my house, I really make an effort to not talk about diets, not use the word fat, and not complain about my body because I wanted to insulate both of my daughters from outside judgement for as long as possible. But unfortunately, my efforts failed, as that conversation in the car was the first of quite a few we’ve had about other children critiquing my daughter’s size, leading to her commenting on her appearance in ways that are completely heartbreaking.
“A girl called me fat today,” “Look mom, my thighs are smaller than before!” “I wish my belly was smaller.” She is six. I know we’re entering a time where body positivity for all shapes and sizes is at an all-time high, and I’m so thankful for that, but at the boots on the ground level, plus-size mannequins and models aren’t helpful.
Another conversation in the car that shook me was when I asked if she was enjoying camp this past summer and she said, “Yes, no one even pays attention to my size here. No one has called me fat even once!” Again, these things come up so matter of fact, I hesitate to even elaborate on them because I don’t want to give the words more weight (no pun intended) than they currently have in her mind.
I know as moms we have no idea what we’re doing most of the time, but this is really uncharted territory for me. Do I acknowledge her size? Do I tell her if she had a little less ice cream and a few more vegetables that sweet, soft belly she’s complaining about will shrink? Do I tell her she’s perfect just as she is, and risk some health issues as she gets older?
I guess my point is, I really can’t believe I didn’t have more time to prepare for this. I really didn’t think that I would have to have body image conversations with my daughter before the second grade. I really didn’t think we were already at the place in life where kids are critiquing how other kids look. I want better for my daughter. I want better for everyone’s daughters.
What I tell my daughter for now is that people come in all shapes and sizes. I tell her that she’s strong, and smart, and caring. I tell her that she should surround herself with the kids who are kind. I don’t know if that’s the right answer forever, but it’s the best I have right now. I just hope, by sharing our story, that other parents will remind their kids to spend a little less time paying attention to the outside of their peers, and more time being a good supportive friend. I don’t think anyone is too young to learn that lesson.