There are some silly little critiques of fat positivity that tend to surface whenever anyone identifies with the movement in a public way. One clap-back goes something like, "Stop trying to get us all to find big people attractive," as if size-related activism were some kind of brain-washing attempt at swapping one contrived beauty ideal for another. Then there's "It's wrong to try to make everyone fat." The latter is certainly a comment I come across whenever I note that I want to raise fat-positive children. How dare I set out to manipulate my kids' bodies? How dare I eschew health and wellness in the lives of these little people? How dare I try to force my own preferences upon them?
Unsurprisingly, misconceptions about raising fat-positive kids are as plentiful as cultural misconceptions about fatness in general. If fatness is a telltale sign of immorality, greed, ugliness, a lack of intelligence, and all other manner of deplorability, then fat positivity must be a celebration of all of those things. Making the active decision to raise children who live by fat-positive ideals must in turn be an imposition of debauchery.
In truth, every single alleged synonym for fatness can, and should, be taken down. Misinformation about health and size, for example, leads to the chronic misdiagnosing of fat patients. It creates fear of seeing doctors for potentially serious conditions. It means that symptoms of disordered eating are actively prescribed in patients of size, where they would be deemed troubling or life-threatening if exhibited by thin patients. In true ableist form, it then suggests that to be worthy of compassion, one must also be healthy (usually, as per a very limited definition of what health is and what it "looks like").
Raising fat-positive kids isn't about actively making them fat. It's about teaching them that this sh*t is toxic and unnecessary.
Then there's all the social, day-to-day stuff. Fat people are criticized and policed at every turn by those who are taught that it's OK to dehumanize them. Just the other day during a beach trip, my partner overheard a father of two young children boast, "That's my appetite gone," while signaling a plus-size woman in a bikini. Within minutes, his kids were playing spot-a-beer-belly and laughing as they did so.
Countless folks of all genders (although women and femmes are arguably the focus of this conditioning) are also taught to sacrifice their time, energy, savings, and mental health in the aid of becoming thin. We self-loathe as if to self-soothe. As if, in hating our bodies, we can will them to become more acceptable, or beautiful, or generally better.
Raising fat-positive kids isn't about actively making them fat. It's about teaching them that this sh*t is toxic and unnecessary. It's about giving them the tools they need to stand against it — and as a result, to treat both their bodies and those around them with empathy, kindness, respect, welcoming, and open-mindedness. Regardless of what those bodies may look like.
I'm currently a couple of weeks away from delivering my second daughter. Although this pregnancy has been different to my first — having a toddler in tow has certainly made it more tiring — there has been a common thread to both. A panic, almost. I am raising girls in a world that will be unkind to them. It is not a question of "if." It is more a question of "when" and "in what ways?"
I have no way of knowing how my children's bodies will grow and change with time, but I know that no matter what those bodies look like, they will be targeted because they are feminine. They will be told they are "too much" or "too little" of something, for someone. If my girls are ever fat, they will always be "too much." They will hear this at school and on children's shows. They will hear it from some people who love them, and from even more who don't.
Fat positivity teaches us that, regardless of our body size, we are entitled to our humanity. It reaffirms that, contrary to popular belief, it is possible to fall in love, build professional accomplishments, have hot sex, experience fulfilling travel, or simply live the life you want to live while also existing in a fat body
I cannot protect them from everything. It is a realization that frequently troubles me, but one I'm trying to get a grip on before they are old enough to sense my anxiety. All that I can do — or, try to do — is protect them within the home. To me, teaching my daughters about fat positivity is one way to do so.
Fat positivity is many things, none of which include an attempt at fattening up passerby. It is, instead, a deconstruction of diet culture. It analyzes the ways that multi-million-dollar industries thrive off getting people to hate themselves by helping construct "flaws" and "problem areas." Fat positivity teaches us that, regardless of our body size, we are entitled to our humanity. It reaffirms that, contrary to popular belief, it is possible to fall in love, build professional accomplishments, have hot sex, experience fulfilling travel, or simply live the life you want to live while also existing in a fat body (no weight loss required). It shows us people who are doing just that. Through social media, in particular, it presents us with imagery of radical, empowering folks that are almost entirely excluded from mainstream media or "inspirational" pamphlets. It educates us on the intersections of weight and class, as well as weight and race, and of the ways these intersections shape our bodies, our access to healthy foods, our ability to exercise, and more.
Fat positivity teaches us to be critical of all varieties of body and fat shaming. It points out that, culturally and globally, some bodies are treated as "good" (and subsequently moral and desirable) while some bodies are treated as "bad" (and subsequently worthy of mistreatment). It asks why it's cool for a thin celebrity to eat a burger in public "like a normal person" while a fat one who does the same thing is harassed for being "a poor role model." Fat positivity explains that even if someone is not "healthy," they should not be ashamed. We would not expect a thin, unhealthy person to feel ashamed. Why do we expect it of fat ones?
Fat positivity creates an alternative narrative. One where 10-year-old children are not more afraid of becoming fat than of getting terminal cancer, or of losing both of their parents. One where girls as young as 5 do not dejectedly stare at their bodies in mirrors, grabbing onto their baby fat, sucking in their bellies, imagining what life might look like if they more closely resembled the latest cover star on their tween magazine. One where we can listen to our bodies' actual needs and wants. Where we can proclaim our love of fat bodies, thin bodies, and all bodies in between and not have to defend our desires. Where, even if we do not specifically desire one body type, or size, or shape, we fundamentally understand that all body types, and sizes, and shapes are worthy, and beautiful to someone, and deserving of peace.
I want that kind of world for my daughters. I want them to abide by the narrative that tells them they are already enough, rather than the one that suggests they are a constant work in progress.
Maybe it's a lot to hope for. It probably is. Sometimes I fear that if I teach them too much fat positivity, too often, they will grow rebellious. They will want to carve their own contrary paths. I worry that no matter what my husband and I say or do, the rampant messaging around them will always win.
But I will do all I can to set a foundation. A big, heavy, fat-positive foundation. A foundation that helps them feel beautiful no matter what, while simultaneously realizing that physical beauty is undefinable and of little importance. A foundation that starts them off OK, which is far more than some of our parents did for us. A foundation that helps them make others feel OK, too. A foundation that ensures they will never be the kind of kids who play spot-a-beer-belly, or who slip pig cartoons into chubby children's cubbies, or who waste their own youths feeling ugly or broken for not being perfect replicas of whatever beauty ideal is being celebrated.
And if you still want to tell me to stop imbuing my 1-year-old with that message, I'd ask you what, exactly, you are scared of.