If, as Peggy O'Mara says, "the way we talk to our children becomes their inner voice," then fat kids are screwed. At the very least, fat kids are going to have to do a lot of arguing with their inner voice if they ever want to usurp it and find their own, kinder, more confident voice. Sadly, there are
things people say to a fat kid that they would never say to a thin kid and, color me totally shocked, they all suck.
Our society is fatphobic, to say the least. From laughably unfunny comedians
ranting against fat people to otherwise reasonable, cool humans misguidedly ranting against fat people, we are caught, it seems, in an echo-chamber constantly resonating with disdain for fatness. If you're a fat person caught in this hellscape, I wish you strength, resilience, and courage because there's no doubt you'll need all three in spades.
fat is not definitively indicative of anything other than the amount of adipose between one's muscle and skin. Yet our culture seems hell-bent on continuing to treat fatness as a moral failing and an impediment to true happiness. There is nothing worse than being fat, we think (society "we," not, like, "you and me," because f*ck that noise). This is a lesson we've been taught our whole lives, and, as we get older, a lesson many of us pass down to our children, repeating the damaging and moronic cycle for the next generation.
"I don't care what they look like," we say, "I just want them to be happy and healthy." And yet despite
study after study showing that being overweight often has nothing to do with one's health, and that it's perfectly possible to be happy, healthy, and fat, we consistently urge fat children to "make healthy choices." Sure, we should be urging them to make healthy choices, just as much as we urge thin children to do the same. Otherwise you can't argue that it's their health you're concerned about: it's obviously their fat. So, having said all that while simultaneously attempting to feel uplifted about our society, there are a lot of things a fat child will hear growing up that their thin friends will not be subjected to. Including but not limited to... "You Don't Want To Get Fat..."
While I'm sure some thin kids have heard this, in my experience it's usually said to kids who are
already fat. The adults speaking somehow think that by vilifying fatness and fat people to a fat child it will motivate the kid to get thin. This establishes two major problems and probably a slew of lesser ones I won't even get into:
1) It's setting up fatness as something shameful and to be avoided.
2) It's creating an "us versus them" mentality between fat people and non-fat people.
The truth of the matter is, deep down, a lot of kids know "you don't want to get fat" is really code for "
I don't want you to get any fatter." So now this child begins to think "fat is bad and I am fat so I am bad." "Let's Start Exercising Together"
People will defend this one by saying "
Exercise is important for everyone!" This is true, and kids should be active. But at best an adult will tell a thin child "Go play, you need to get outside and burn off some energy." Thin children aren't told they have to "exercise." Fat kids are.
While offering to do it together is, I'm sure, well-meaning, it's both condescending and driving home the idea that they find the child's body objectionable to the point that they're personally willing to spend time "getting them into shape."
"Do You Really Want That Ice Cream?"
I'm sorry, but are you kidding me? Show me one child in the history of children who didn't "really want that ice cream" and I will prove to you that that child is actually a villainous adult dressed up as a kid, because
no child has ever not "really wanted that ice cream." Come on. I can't think of too many grown-ass men and women who realize, after taking an ice cream "Actually, no, I don't want this absolutely delicious dessert." Ice cream is fantastic. So are cookies and french fries and pizza and cupcakes and whatever other food people try to shame a fat child out of eating by questioning whether they "really want it."
Yeah. Funny that this question is never asked of a thin child, right? It's almost like people aren't actually
asking so much as passive-aggressively trying to get a fat kid to realize they should try harder not to be fat and forgo the same things people rarely chide thin children for eating. "That Outfit Really Isn't Meant For Kids Like You"
Fat kids have the unfortunate distinction of being informed of bullshit "
dress for your body" rules before their peers, who can usually get to middle school before anyone gives a flying fart about what they're wearing. Not only is this heartbreaking to the little fat girl who wants to wear a two-piece bathing suit or whatever other garment has been deemed "not for her," it's also alienating and sends the message that she is somehow fundamentally different from her thin friends. "You Have Such A Beautiful Face"
Thin kids are just called "beautiful" or "handsome" or "pretty." Who they are is beautiful:
the whole package. Fat kids are picked into parts and told which of those parts are acceptable. Most often: face, hair, eyes and other body parts that can't be fat. Everything else, unremarked upon and in contrast with a "beautiful face," are implied to be less than beautiful. "Look At How Thin And Beautiful That Other Person Is"
This shallow attempt to motivate a fat kid to not be fat by making them feel insecure and competitive with someone else. Great precedent, guy. People don't do this to thin kids. That's not to say people don't compliment other children in front of thin kids, but never in a pointed, obvious way meant to make them feel ugly in comparison.
"You're On A Diet? That's Great!" Diets are bad. Diets are stupid and bad for adults and they're even worse for kids, whose unique nutritional needs are very likely not being met by a program that seriously restricts caloric intake and/or cuts out certain food groups entirely.
Of course healthy eating habits are good, but more often than not diets do not promote long-term, sustainable healthy eating habits at all. Still, when fat kids are praised for dieting, people often extol their "healthy eating habits." If a thin kid said they're on a diet, people will go on and on about how kids don't need to go on diets. Well, which is it?
"I'm Trying To Help You Learn From My Mistakes"
In this transparent attempt to shame a fat kid, an adult (sometimes a fat adult, sometimes an adult who just claims to be fat to attempt to show solidarity) will criticize behavior in a fat child that they would never criticize in a thin one (eating "bad" foods, not being as active as they think they should be), even if both demonstrate the exact same behavior.
Apparently, people who say this are only interested in the fat kids "learning from their mistakes." Thin kids, I guess, will learn later? (Ha! J/k! They're not really interested in teaching these kids anything, because it's not the behavior they want them to steer away from, it's the fat!)
"Imagine How Pretty You'd Be If..."
...you lost weight. Fat kids get to hear
variations of this a lot, unfortunately. Thin kids usually don't hear about ways they could be attractive, though I will admit to sometimes hearing this in regard to how even thin girls dress or wear their hair. Any iteration of this is awful, of course, but I would contend that "if you lost weight" is fundamentally worse than, say, "if you let your hair grown long." Whereas the latter states "you're making the wrong choice" the former implies "your body is wrong." "Big-Boned"
Isn't it funny how only fat kids have big bones? How can you even tell how big someone's bones are? X-ray vision? Can we officially retire this term? We all know what it really means.
"Your [Thinner Sibling] Is Allowed To Eat Those Cookies, But You Need To Be Healthier"
Food restrictions on fat kids are always posited as a parameter established to encourage healthy eating, but you're kind of tipping your hand when you let a thin kid have cookies when a fat kid "can't." It's like, "You know it has the same nutritional value no matter who eats it, right?"
Any Indication That Their Body Is Something They Will One Day Overcome
"Any day now," a well-meaning adult will say to her daughter "You're going shoot up a couple of inches, lose that baby fat, and blossom."
"Don't worry," another will tell his chubby son, "You'll grow into yourself."
We have to stop telling fat kids that their
real bodies are something waiting for them just around the corner in some bright and shining future. Their bodies are with them now. It's the same body they will have their entire lives. Insisting that they distance themselves, mentally, from their bodies as they exist now, does them a disservice, particularly if they remain fat as time goes on. It's extremely unsettling to feel as though your body is something separate from you. This is a feeling thin children are not asked to grapple with.
Instead of convincing a child they're not really fat, don't want to be fat, shouldn't be fat, or won't be fat forever, just start seeing them and talking to them without regard to their fat. How? Just talk to them like you talk to thin kids.