We all know that kids can be cruel to each other. But before children at my elementary school were bullied for their appearances, they were bullied for their parents. "Suzy's mom is so old," one kid might joke. "Your dad is so short," another might say with malice. I grew up on the Jersey Shore, and my mom, who is from Colombia originally, was darker-skinned than the other parents. She also had an accent. When I was 8 years old, that was enough for me to be bullied.
There's generally no rhyme or reason behind why kids bully others, but that doesn't make bullying hurt any less. One of my biggest fears when I found out I was having a girl was that she would be at risk for heightened mistreatment by virtue of her gender. In a misogynistic world, her gender automatically puts a target on her back. In a fatphobic world, any cellulite or stretch marks or pudge she might develop puts her at risk of being bullied by other kids.
What's more is that my daughter Luna has a fat mom. I can already imagine some kindergarten brat saying, "Luna's mom is so disgusting" as the other kids giggle and jeer. My partner and I are trying to help our daughter grow up to be as inclusively-minded, feminist, and body positive as possible, but we cannot fully prevent any biases she may internalize from other kids or teachers or the media. If she does internalize any semblance of fat shaming, I cannot help but wonder how she will feel about me. Her 55-inch-hipped, double-chinned mama.
I'll preface this by saying that I have no intention of losing weight. I've been there and done that, and I've come out of it realizing that I feel happier, more beautiful, and (dare I say?) healthier in a fat body. These are things I'll tell my daughter about, when she's old enough to understand or care.
Right now, I delight in how comfortable Luna seems when she's nestled against my body. She likes to cuddle my tummy when we're lying down, and she often seems ill-at-ease when trying to wrap herself around her 130-pound dad. I will also hope that my peace with my body will transfer to her as she gets older. I hope she learns that inner peace is possible at any size, or at any shape.
If I have no intention of losing weight, or changing my body, my kid might feel like my body will be a problem in her life, an endless source of ridicule or embarrassment.
That said, I know what it's like to be on the receiving end of bullying at school. When I wasn't being hazed for having an Hispanic mom or a senior-citizen dad, people harped on my introverted nature. Then it was my braces. Then it was my emo style. And through it all, it was my fatness.
I also know how easy it is to blame the thing you're being bullied for as the cause of your troubles. I can still remember thinking, "If I dressed differently, they'd stop being mean." Or, "When I lose the weight, it'll all be OK." I blamed myself instead of blaming anyone else. I blamed my body instead of blaming those who made me feel like my body was a problem in the first place. So if Luna is ever bullied because I'm fat, it doesn't seem all that far-fetched to believe that she'd blame me for it.
I don't even want to imagine the feeling of being hated by my child, yet it seems almost inevitable that — at some point — it'll happen. My once-best-friend used to scream a vicious "I hate you" at her mother whenever she wasn't allowed to go out, or wear a certain outfit to school, or go on a date with some boy. I can definitely remember feeling vitriol towards my mom and step-dad when they'd take away my phone, chastise me for the shortness of my skirt, or make nonchalant comments about my figure.
That's where a lot of my fear comes from, I suppose. If I have no intention of losing weight, or changing my body, my kid might feel like my body will be a problem in her life, an endless source of ridicule or embarrassment.
This is where the importance of deconstructing fat shaming (and other aesthetic-fueled stigmas) from early on comes in. If a kid ever calls me "fat" in front of Luna, in a tone that implies disdain, I would love for her to be retort with a casual, "Yeah, so what?" Or, "Sure, and she loves it." Or, "Duh. There's nothing wrong with being a fat person."
As she gets older, I want her to be able to school her friends that people can be healthy at any size. I want her to know, beyond a doubt, that there is no one physical characteristic in the world that deserves to be assigned morality or judgment. The trouble is that, sometimes, no amount of education can make an insult sting any less, particularly when your core views and beliefs are not yet formed.
Nonetheless, education seems to be the main way I can prevent the kind of rationalizing that might make Luna think, "If my mom wasn't fat, I wouldn't be bullied." Or, perhaps worse, "I wish my mom was thin."
I have to believe that teaching inclusivity and open-mindedness is one of the many ways my generation is raising happier, smarter kids. As the first generation of kids and teens to readily grow up with the internet, Gen-Y has arguably been exposed to more information regarding the importance of bodily autonomy than any generation before us. We've grown up with more awareness of marginalized communities, and we've never had so much progressive work in radical body politics available at our fingertips. We're not perfect, by any means, but we do have these things going for us.
I hope she learns that inner peace is possible at any size, or at any shape.
My partner and I dedicate a huge portion of our lives to championing fat positivity and size acceptance. While I don't believe that sharing these beliefs will necessarily ensure that Luna believes them, I can hope. I can hope that all the paintings decorating our home — those of beautiful fat bodies, and thin bodies, and everything in between — have some kind of positive effect on her. I can hope that, by the time she's in school, teaching kids to blindly hate entire groups of people is less commonplace. I can hope that lovingly referring to myself as "fat" helps her understand that it's not a cursed body type. I can hope that she knows, from day one, that there's no such thing.