I got an interesting text from a former student yesterday, (thanks DN!!) She wrote.
"So I'm at the beach, walking to the water with (her 2 year old) and we pass this family and the mom is taking a picture of her daughter. Probably 9 or 10 years old and the daughter goes, "Mom, you CAN'T post the one where I look fat on Instagram"- I automatically think of you and wonder what your response would be- But then the mom's response is, "the one where you look fat? Oh don't worry I won't!"
And then I wondered what my response would be...to my daughter who happens to be the same age and to the universe as a whole.
To my child- after my initial internal groan and a blink back of the inevitable tear that would arise as I would have a moment of feeling like I failed her -I would ask what she meant. To me fat means many different things to many different people. I am trying to raise children where fat is a descriptor not a loaded word with hidden messaging. I am also aware that they live in a world where diet culture is the norm and the word fat is often used to hurt the person it is hurled at. So I would need to know what she meant. And then we would talk. We would talk about all the amazing things her body did at the beach that day. We would talk about changing bodies. We would talk about the body parts she is critiquing in the photo- and why. We would talk about the joy on her face in the pictures as she plays on the beach. We would talk and we would keep talking for the next 10 years as she navigates a changing body through a culture that idolizes an unbelievably unrealistic view of body. And I would never stop talking. Or listening. I think listening to the answer is most important. What made her say that? What is she afraid of? What has she heard others say about people or photos? I would work very hard to not normalize that comment as I think it has become part of everyday conversation. Think about it. How many times today alone have you heard some variation of "I look fat in this"
But the thought that kept going through my head when I was reading this text was "What would I say to a mom that said that?". For example if that exchange happened in front of me. The answer is nothing. Parenting is hard and as mom's I don't think we need more mommy shaming as there is enough. If it were done by a friend while I was there? I would make comments about how great the picture look because of how happy everyone looks or something. And I would want to talk to friend about her response. I would ask her if she realized that she by saying what she did she pretty much said "yes you are fat and I will make sure that I do not show that to the world because it is a bad thing". And I think there are so many things wrong with that.
First off, you just told her that her appearance is the most important feature of the picture. Not the moment. Secondly you are reinforcing the idea that "fat is bad" and should not be shown to the world. And finally perhaps the most damaging is that you have allowed her to call herself all the things that she (and likely you) associate with a word such as fat. Instead of the memories from the day at the beach being all about sand castles, ice cream and body surfing (ok..totally my ideal beach day!), there will be a memory of being "too fat", and I highly doubt that was on the agenda for the day.
As adults I feel we need to be careful with the language we use around kids, teens and lets be honest other adults as we do not always know what a word means to them.
Take a minute- think about what fat means to you. Think about what it means to you when you say "I feel fat". Think about what it would feel like for a person you love and look up to confirm that feeling in you. Don't give into negative body talk just because it is all around you. Stand up for the beauty in all bodies and have a talk with that little girl about how awesome her body is.
Until next time be Unapologetically you while I be Unapologetically me...maybe at the beach!