Warning: I am going to use the word “fat” a lot in this post. It is not one of my favorite words in the English language, unless one is referring to a burrito, but unfortunately, it is necessary at this time.
I had been obsessed with my weight for as long as I could remember. And I do mean OBSESSED. I weighed myself pretty much daily. I went through a period where I used diuretics to empty out after eating. During high school, I tried every fad diet (along with my mother – there’s a clue) that there was, the Grapefruit Diet, Slimfast, The Protein Diet, you name it. Craziness! By the way, I wasn’t fat, I just thought I was. I’ve gotten much better over the years (well, somewhat better) but, recently a friend suggested that I get rid of my scale and I thought she’d lost her mind. Even though I don’t weigh myself as much as I used to and I certainly don’t abuse my body with laxatives any longer, that scale is going nowhere. Maybe somehow it’s comforting to have it just sitting there, dusty, on my bathroom floor. Unfortunately, growing up female subjects you to all kinds of negative messages regarding beauty and one of them is that being fat is one of the worst things that you can be. According to society, nothing good can come from being the fat girl because no one wants to be the friend of the fat girl or the boyfriend of the fat girl. Fat girls can’t find cute clothes and they certainly don’t get to hang out at the cool places with all of the beautiful people. And, the fat girl had better be smart because if not, she’s totally screwed. No, being the fat girl is not desirable. Notice, it wasn’t until recently that the focus has shifted to the health issues of being over weight while previously it was all about how unattractive it is to be fat.
I don’t exactly know when or how it happened, but somewhere along the way, I lost all of my obsession about my weight. I think it had to do with life’s ability to bring things clearly into focus and it kind of found its appropriate place on my list of priorities. I haven’t been shy about my desire to get fit but, it’s far less about a number on a scale or the size of my clothes, than it is about being able to keep up with my little ones. But I do have to say that this issue is one of my biggest concerns about raising daughters. There are so many negative messages sent to them regarding body image and it comes from everywhere – their friends, the media and even family members. It’s a constant struggle of mine to make sure that those types of negative messages do not make their way to my girl’s psyche. Or, at the very least that they have enough self – confidence to fight it off. This is going to be hard because they’re only five and six and it has already started.
A couple of weeks ago I went to have lunch with Thing 1 at school. Afterward, her “friend” (actually, I think the more accurate term would be “friendenemy”) asked her if I was her mother and when Thing 1 said “yes”, the girl asked “Why is she so fat?”
“She’s not fat!”
“Then why is your dad so fat?”
That was about the time that I realized that this was really about something else. Big Poppa isn’t anywhere near fat and he was nowhere near the school on that particular day for her to bring him into the conversation. This was passive aggression at it’s best, by a seven-year-old. My darling daughter, bless her heart, had no idea that this girl was being hostile and still considers her a friend even though she was very hurt by her comments. I assured her that not only were my feelings not hurt but, I really could care less what a first grader thinks about my weight. Although, I do have to say that I thought that the use of the word “so” in front of the word “fat” was completely uncalled for. I’ll cop to fat, or plump, or dumpling, but I certainly am not “so” fat. What I found most interesting is that this little girl clearly knew that calling me fat was a way to hurt my daughter. This kind of message can only come from adults even if it’s not her parents. Somewhere out there is an adult source of information whether it be an aunt or uncle, parent of a friend or members of the media that have passed on the message that fat is bad to this child. My question is, are we adults really that shallow and stupid? Yes. Yes we are.
Case in point: Mr. Mike Jeffries, CEO of Abercrombie & Fitch. In explaining why Abercrombie doesn’t carry any size above a women’s size 10 in their jeans (the average woman wears a size 12 to 14) or nothing above a size “large”, Mr. Jeffries stated, “We go after the attractive all-American kid with a great attitude and a lot of friends,” he said. “A lot of people don’t belong [in our clothes], and they can’t belong. Are we exclusionary? Absolutely.” Nice. Keep in mind that this is the same company that marketed push-up swim tops to girls as young as 7-years-old. They have a record of being completely ridiculous. By the way, what exactly were they pushing up? Do you see how their marketing and his statement equate being thin with being an “attractive all-American kid with a great attitude and a lot of friends” ? There it is, the message that being a fat girl is undesirable. Aside from the fact that Mr. Jeffries marketing plan is just plain vile, any CEO of a clothing company geared toward tweens to young adults that doesn’t understand that the person who controls the family check book (let me spell it out for you Mr. Jeffries: M.O.M) is usually a size 10 or larger and tends to have a social conscience, is just too stupid to deserve our financial support. Not to mention that these are mean, negative and hurtful messages that we shouldn’t want directed at our daughters (or sons, for that matter).
Fat is subjective. What’s fat to some is not fat to all. But, it is universally derogatory. Calling someone fat can never be considered to be a compliment. And because of this, it is the one area that you can always knock your target off-balance. Think about it, if someone is intelligent, they know what they know and you can’t take it away from them. Or, if they are a gifted musician, their gift is universally recognizable. But, beauty is always subject to the person who’s doing the viewing and what’s considered fat changes from culture to culture. Unfortunately, people like Mike Jeffries exist and they are a lot more prevalent than you think. They live next door to you, they’re co workers or soccer coaches or even mothers and they spew this kind of negative garbage at our children. While I stress to my girls the importance of exercise and eating well, I also can not stress enough that they are perfectly made and absolutely gorgeous just the way they are. And I say this to them over and over and over and over and over again because I need them to truly believe it. I wish it could be just about how kind they are, or how smart they are, or how hard-working they are or how loving they are however, they’re girls, let’s keep it real. That’s not the society that we live in so, we have to arm them with enough confidence to transcend the numbers on the scale or the size on the tag. We have to give them the confidence to trump “fat”.