If "Getting Fat" Is The Worst Thing My Daughter Does, I'm A Pretty Damn Good Parent
I couldn't have been older than 10 years old the first time someone told me they'd rather die than be fat. More specifically, that they'd rather die than look like me. My bully was on our small town's pee-wee cheerleading team. Her name was something like Steel, Coral, or Stone (I can't remember because all of her siblings were named after rocks and alloys). She said it in a tone I'd hear throughout much of my life: A tone of violence, disgust, and, retrospectively, maybe even a hint of fear for her future self. It's the same tone I still come across today, when folks ask whether I'm worried that my daughter will be fat, too. For reference, she turned a year old in December.
These people never ask whether I'm concerned that Luna will grow to become cruel, judgmental, unfeeling, narcissistic, or otherwise not-a-very-nice-person. I'd love to think that this is because they cannot imagine any child of mine turning into a little asshole, but I know such is probably not the case. Fat is, quite simply, considered among the worst things a person can be. Because I myself am fat, many believe I'm condemning my daughter to a similarly bleak fate.
If 'fat' is the worst thing she is someday, I would actually feel pretty damn lucky.
Some may feel this way because they've been taught that fatness is inherently unattractive, and their beauty ideals have developed accordingly. Others mask their prejudices with faux concern. They don't hate fat people. They just worry for their health. After all, we tend to learn from a very early age that being fat is always unhealthy. We then realize that pristine health (translated to a small waistline and a penchant for tagging #fitspiration on Instagram) has sort of become a beauty standard in and of itself (an ableist one at that).
In truth, I'm not especially worried about my kid becoming fat. If fat is the "worst" thing she is someday, I would actually feel pretty damn lucky.
This isn't to say that I necessarily wish fatness upon her. Millennial parents might be the most feminist, body-positive generation to date, but no matter how inclusive and tolerant our households can often be, the rest of the world doesn't typically follow suit.
Luna will still grow up having access to children's films like Scooby-Doo! Frankencreepy, in which the thin and beautiful Daphne is cursed by an evil villain. What was she cursed with, you might ask? Fatness, of course.
Then there are narratives like Red Shoes And The Seven Dwarfs, a spin-off on the classic Snow White. Early marketing for the 2017 production revealed that when the lovely and ethereal protagonist slips out of her red shoes come dusk, her waistline expands as fat rolls appear (much to the dismay of the dwarfs).
If my daughter is fat, I know she'll experience mistreatment. The best thing her father and I can do is try to instill enough knowledge, self-love, self-respect, and awareness of identity politics within her that she's equipped to stand up against it.
Geared at older audiences, the extremely popular Crazy Ex-Girlfriend is yet another example of the infinite depictions of fat shaming in media (yes, even in generally feminist media). Protagonist Rebecca Bunch, said to be a size 6, is endlessly fat shamed by the taller, thinner Valencia Perez. Her body type is referred to as "unconventional" by a love interest in a later season. All this, geared at a character who isn't even fat. All this, in a show that's beloved by many progressively-minded people (who, like myself, aren't exempt from having "problematic faves").
And this BS is everywhere. It's on our TVs, in our classrooms, at the doctor's office, in pop songs, in magazines, in tabloids, in viral short stories for renowned literary publications, and in conversations with relatives, friends, and strangers on the street alike.
If my daughter is fat, I know she'll experience mistreatment. The best thing her father and I can do is try to instill enough knowledge, self-love, self-respect, and awareness of identity politics within her that she's equipped to stand up against it. Even when one is armed with all of this, however, navigating existence as a fat person in a fatphobic culture is often exhausting. It's hard. It can be sad.
Still, I know that fatness is not the worst thing my kid can be. Will I encourage her to be mindful of what she puts into her body? Sure, though I hope to do it without discouraging her from experiencing all foods. Will I encourage her to run outside and see fitness as something that can sometimes do wonders to one's mental health? Yeah, if she's into it.
She might still be fat, though. Bodies are complicated, and their sizes aren't always a reflection of diet and exercise habits. Their sizes aren't always a reflection of their health (both physical and mental) status, either, though I certainly won't teach my kid that she owes her health to anyone.
The thing about occupying more space in the world than is thought 'ideal' is that it's actually not a character flaw. Things I do consider character flaws? Intolerance, prejudice, cruelty.
Any fears I have about the possibility of Luna's fatness aren't rooted in aesthetics, though. They're rooted in fearing how others might treat her. They're rooted in the memories of my own life, and the prejudices I know bodies larger than my own experience daily. I just don't want people to be d*ckheads to my kid. If they are, however, it's no fault of hers for taking up space.
The thing about occupying more space in the world than is thought "ideal" is that it's actually not a character flaw. Things I do consider character flaws? Intolerance, prejudice, cruelty, blind hatred, regressive thinking, pathological lying, arrogance (not to be confused with confidence). I'd be worried if my kid became a raging homophobe. I'd be worried if she showed no desire to understand people's differences. I'd really hate it if she herself ended up being the playground bully: The one tormenting other kids for being too fat, or too lanky, or too ginger, or too four-eyed.
And so, I refuse to teach my daughter that her body is the most important or interesting thing about her. I refuse to teach her that beauty and health are universally-definable. I refuse to teach her that thinness is a sign of success, of superior discipline, or of worth. I refuse to teach her that fatness is an epidemic. I refuse to allow her to believe that, if she is fat, she will be giving up the possibility of a wonderful career, or romance, or intimacy, or fashion, or travel, or joy.
I ultimately just want to raise a child who is kind and empathetic; who stands up for herself without tearing others down; who welcomes diversity; who isn't mean-spirited; who lets herself be happy. In truth, all of these are things one can be at any size.
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