I had a pleasant surprise today. A little moment of delight that gave me warm fuzzies, but also has me thinking.
I was sitting in a cafe, having a coffee before I went off to meet a friend for a lunch and movie date (we saw Avatar in 3D, it was AWESOME!) when I noticed this cute little boy of about 3 years old staring at me intently.
Fearing that I was going to have another one of those “Mummy, look at the fat lady!” moments, I mentally braced myself, only for the little monkey to pipe up very loudly:
“Mummy! I LOVE pink hair!!”
Yes, I have hot pink hair at the moment.
It was such a delightful thing for the little guy to say, and he said it with such adoration and feeling, I knew he really did love my pink hair, and that’s all he was noticing about me.
What it got me thinking about, is how much of when children say things that are rude or hurtful, how much of it is nature and how much is nurture – that they have been taught.
I’m sure any and all fatties who are reading this, or friends of fatties, have heard that child’s voice pipe up somewhere really public and embarrassing with “Whoa! Look at that FAT lady over there Mummy!” Or been asked by a child “Why are you so fat?” Then there is my “favourite” – “My Mummy says you need to go on a diet, you’re too fat!”
This little guy today was pretty small, about 3 years old, four at the absolute most. I’d love to think he had awesome parents who were teaching him not to point people out in a negative way that are different, but that I don’t know. Maybe he was just too young to have got those messages from our culture that fat = bad.
Of course, kids don’t just pipe up with these things about fat people. Recently I read a blog where a Mum talked about her young son coming home from school upset because the other kids had commented on his brown skin. I’ve seen kids making fun of people who look different to them in a lot of ways.
But of course, for me, I’ve had the fat comments ever since I was a kid myself. It used to bother me terribly, I would get very upset, but since I found fat acceptance and my self esteem and confidence, it’s a mere sting, rather than a deep seated pain like it used to be, when it happens.
So what do we do about it? We start with our own kids and kids in our lives I guess. Giving them positive body messages and teaching them to think about how others might feel about things they say. Those close to us are the easy ones to work with.
When it does happen, don’t get angry at the child. If they’re a big kid, or a teenager, fair enough. But under 10… they are almost always parroting what they have heard from adults. The little ones usually respond to warmth. When I was working in child care, when kids would make comments about my being fat, I used to simply say “You know, fat gives the best cuddles.” Most of the time that would change their tune.
However, if you can’t respond, and turn the situation, don’t wear it on your soul as pain. I know it hurts – as I said, it still stings for me now. Remember that the child is just parroting what they’ve heard elsewhere. That most times, if the child really got the chance to interact with you, fat becomes invisible to them. They don’t care about body shape until they’ve been bombarded with the body image messages for some time. Usually they just care for approval, attention and love.
If you’ve got kids, especially if you’re not a fatty and you’re reading this, it’s important that you teach them that size is not reflective of who a person is. After all, do you want your child growing up with bad body image? Do you want your child facing hurt and heartbreak over the shape and size of their body?
Or you can do what I do. Dye your hair hot pink. Kids LOVE it!