Imagine my horror when the following words exited my darling 3-year old’s mouth earlier this week.
“Look at my fat tummy!”
Fat. Fat? What the f&c%? I kissed her belly and told her that her belly was not fat, that in fact she was beautiful. I knew for a fact my child has never heard this word from me, as I have made it a point to never refer to my own body as such (despite how I’m feeling about it that day), and was pretty sure she hadn’t heard it from her Dad or my Mom, so I let it go as an anomaly, until yesterday…when her Dad told me that while looking at herself in the mirror and slapping her perfect little pull-up covered butt she said, “Look at my fat tushie!”
As far as I’m concerned, this meant war. I knew raising a girl would be tough in today’s weight-obsessed, sex-crazed, often love-starved society, but I didn’t know the swindling of her self-esteem, the needling of her self-image would start at 3. And it kind of broke my heart.
That being said, I know she doesn’t really know what the word means (as if she did, she wouldn’t be describing herself as such…at least I hope not), but it’s not going to be too long before she does know what it means, how it can be used as a weapon to hurt others, or how it can be incredibly hurtful to hear about herself.
After some discussion amongst ourselves and a talk with her teacher, her Dad and I figured out that the word must have been learned at school from some of the older children on the playground. Her teacher promised to address it in an age-appropriate manner, for which I am grateful.
I have to say this really got me thinking though. I work with teenage girls every day, some who clearly have been wounded by this word, and those wounds manifest themselves through poor self-image, eating disorders, or worse. How is this a word of choice for anyone who is in preschool? What are their parents saying at home or letting them watch on TV to use this word on a regular basis? Shouldn’t we all be helping these little beings of light spread loving-kindness towards themselves and others rather than using words like “fat”, even if it’s in joking manner?
Maybe I’m taking this too personally. But it is personal. It’s personal because this is the flesh of my flesh talking about her body in ways she shouldn’t be. She should think she is cute and adorable and beautiful and strong and capable because that is what we tell her and that is what she is. It’s personal because growing up I always thought of myself as “fat.” I would read those horrible “girls” magazines, and later on “young women” magazines and later on “Cosmopolitan” and “Glamour” and compare myself to the models in them and think, well, yeah I’m definitely never going to look like that…I’m never going to measure up. And when I look back at pictures now to times when I thought I was “fat” – I wasn’t!! I have consciously decided that I will do my best to provide Maya with opportunities so she will never have the desire to compare herself to unrealistic ideals. She will be too busy being her fabulous little self.
I know I won’t be able to protect my little monkey from everything, but I feel it’s part of my job as her Mom to give her the tools to cope with these negative messages so that she grows up to treat herself and others in a loving way.
For those of you who are raising girls (and boys for that matter), what are you doing to keep those negative messages at bay? I’d love to hear.