Something you might not know about me is that I worked in a pretty top-notch school-age daycare for nearly a decade. While I worked in childcare I gained practical insight into explosive diarrhea, beyblades, and how children and self-esteem and confidence can work. I know everyone, ABSOLUTELY EVERYONE, despises unsolicited advice about how to raise their children so I very rarely chime in with any around my friends and neighbours with wee ones unless someone asks me directly (which they usually don’t, because I’m currently nobody’s parental nothing). I really struggle with holding my tongue, however, when it comes to fat kids getting bullied. So tumblr, you get to hear all my feelings on the subject. You’re not thanking me but you’re welcome anyway!
I cannot recall a time where I was not considered fat (perhaps in utero?—my mom’s doctor reportedly fat-shamed my brother and me as newborns, so that’s out). As such, I was predictably and enthusiastically bullied through most of my childhood. Faint impressions remain in the form of tragic diary entries—like the ones I wrote in fourth grade where my going concern from Sept-Jan was how to get really sick or make my family move so I could AVOID the February downhill ski excursion so I would not have to be weighed in public at the equipment fitting—and angry rants when I am drinking and approaching a milestone birthday and feeling particularly À la recherche du temps perdu. And while I don’t regret the obviously incredibly modest and good-looking person I am today, I believe things could have played out a lot differently had people in my life responded to that bullying differently.
As a fat adult who now happily spends most of my down-time marveling at the intellect of my friends and trying to effortlessly incorporate references to super-cool-looking lizards into my writing (one day I will succeed!) I can tell you with some certainty that the gross and shitty attitudes of my peers would not have weighed me down like an eternally hot fresh and steamy dump on my soul if I’d been around parents, friends, and family who regularly challenged the assertions of my classmates that being fat (whether I was or not!) was a sign of moral and physical decrepitude and stanky spiritual rot. (The truth: that I don’t deserve hate and/or derision for my body size wasn’t in my viewfinder until my late teens, and even then it took me until my early 20s to believe it could be real and applicable to my life. Proust understands!). If every time I’d cried about someone calling me “fat” while snotting all over my Lisa Frank sticker book a parent or adult that cared for me had responded with “yes, and also a burgeoning piano player, a Garfield expert, and really quite remarkably adept at drawing very realistic-looking rats in bonnets” the word would have, slowly but surely, become a mere adjective about the way I look. It would have been a fact instead of a shameful curse and pointed assault on my tender child soul and everything I hoped to become (Astronaut! Television pony expert! Natural redhead!). If every time I’d worried out loud about my weight and how it made me unloveable, untalented, and unwanted at a thing a parent, teacher, or adult friend had reminded me that, yep, I was fat, and also loved, and also wearing purple sweatpant overalls, and also demonstrably great at things (see aforementioned rats-in-periodwear drawings) and encouraged me to pursue whatever I was interested in I would not have allowed ignorant peers, gymnastics teachers, and misguided guidance counselors to slam doors (on uneven bars, auditions, and my ultimate career-dream-of-talking-about-my-many-opinions-about-ponies-on-all-the-televisions) in my face.
I mean, ok, I don’t *know* for sure because I haven’t tested it via multiple timelines and a DeLorean, but I have a good idea of how it can work because I’ve seen it play out with actual kids. Kids whose parents and caregivers listen, acknowledge the hurt their kids feel, but doggedly refuse to let them think being called fat is any reason to doubt their current selves or their future potential. I’ve seen happy fat teens and pre-teens living happy functional fat teen lives that are dominated by preparing for speeches on the flora and fauna of ancient Egypt, roller derby tournies, and school musical tryouts instead of figuring out how to subsist solely on rice cakes, and whether or not it’s possible to simultaneously cut oneself while running for five hours an evening at the highest speed and altitude available on the treadmill at their local YMCA. Happy fat teens may be achieved by continuous, positive verbal reinforcement, refusal to participate in diet talk, and being a living example of a non self-hating fat person who possesses the ability to do a really rad raptor walk. (Ask me to demonstrate if we ever meet in person). They are definitely not achieved through shame, body-negative parents, and membership to paid weight-loss franchises.
I know that it is more than a little bit DIFFICULT and more than moderately ENRAGING to learn your child is being picked-on or feeling hurt. But I am urging you that from my experience, and from the fat kids that I’ve worked with, that when you react negatively (even a little bit) to the word fat, a word that WILL BE directed at your kid again and again throughout her life, it is kind of like you’re putting shark teeth in a hamster’s mouth and dumping seed-chum all over your kid’s body. Sure it can hurt if a Normal Toothed Hamster bites. Maybe it even takes a few weeks to heal. But Shark-Tooth Hamster! will tear your face apart and gnaw on you forever because now he shark teeth, a you-created toothhold, and (because of the shark mutation) he will never stop moving!
You hold a powerful amount of sway over your children. (Seriously, I wish I had as much influence on anything in my life right now as you have on you kids when they are young and beginning to form sentience beyond “clean my poop” and “now fill me with more).” You may want to METAPHORICALLY hundred-hand-slap your child’s bully as if you were E. Honda in Street Fighter II . I know you’re disappointed in whoever this piece of human garbage is that is making your child leak from her face. You want to challenge his wrongness about your baby’s “fatness” for all to hear. But what I’m suggesting (yes I know you’re still not asking) is that you is don’t because then in you well-meaning way what you are actually doing is confirming fat is one of the most horrible states imaginable. Pull that rage inward and forge a rage diamond if you must (my partner is going to be so set when rage diamonds from working in PR are finally harvested upon my death) and do the exact opposite. Give your fat kid firm love and decisive encouragement AS THEY ARE (and wherever they are on the size spectrum) and not a shrill “who-is-this-kid’s-mother-and-where-does-that-kid-live-because-I’m-going-to-kill-that-kid-for-what-he-said.” That, parent-or-caregiver-not-asking-for-my-advice is basically like putting that Still-a-normal-toothed-but-potentially-a-shark-toothed little hamster back in its cage and denying it the dental upgrade.
If you, personally, indicate that the word “fat” is to be taken an insult by saying loud swears, breaking down and talking shit about your own body and/or genetics, suggesting you and your child get skinny together!, becoming frothing and deranged about normal kid stuff like eating candy, you are not only adding shark teeth to the hamster but hitting it with some sort of awful embiggenment ray and then unleashing it on your vulnerable offspring. Giant Shark-Toothed Hamster! That You’ve Basically Created! (Or maybe if you want to go with another 80s film, it’s like the insult has the potential to stay a little Mogwai and then with your negative reaction you go and you shine a spotlight on it, hose it down, and take it to the casino buffet after midnight. Now instead of one potential beast you have 600 (and some of them are born knowing how to drive?!)). In either case, the cage is NO LONGER AN OPTION and you know have a much bigger, much more devastating problem on your hands. One that could take a lifetime to resolve. And none of us have that. Not even Proust! (Well at least not until we truly unlock the Hidden Power of Kale).