Nurture or Nature

Published December 27, 2009 by Fat Heffalump

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!

12 comments on “Nurture or Nature

  • I’m a fatty. I’ve got kids. I teach them that “fat” is just a description, like “tall” or “brunette”, and one body shape isn’t better or worse than another, but that people don’t necessarily enjoy having their body shape commented on and might take offense. The thing is, kids are born knowing the first (until taught otherwise), but don’t know the second – if they don’t know fat is supposed to be bad, why would they refrain from mentioning it, if they’re curious? As a parent, I beg you, *please* stop judging the parents by what comes out of a three year old’s mouth, or even taking a preschooler’s “why are you so fat?” as a negative comment in the first place! The fact that you take it that way shows internalized fat-negative attitudes on *your* part, not the child’s. A 3 year old who comments on someone’s pink hair is no better, or better brought up, than one who comments on body size , just probably more used to being around fatties (or less used to pink hair). Kids that age ask about things that are new to them, regardless of how politically correct or incorrect that question may seem, and regardless of parents’ attitudes. The only child you listed whose parent you can judge is the one who said “my mommy thinks you need to go on a diet”.
    Sorry for the lecture, but this touched a nerve. My kids aren’t that age, but in a couple years, my youngest might as you why you’re fat (unlikely, because she will probably ask me why *I* am fat, first!) If that happens, I’ll explain why it’s considered impolite, but please don’t judge me because my child is innocently curious! If “fat” is ever the neutral descriptor we FA activists would like it always to be, it is when said by a three year old.

    • I am going to continue to judge parents of children who have negative attitudes towards fat people. Maybe it doesn’t translate well in the written word, but all of those statements from children I refer to were negative ones. I’m not referring to just simple curiosity. Most fats have been on the receiving end of the horrified little voice “Why are you so fat?” or “WHOA! Look at that fat lady over there!” That isn’t an automatic response. That’s one they’ve learned from someone who has taught them to be horrified at fat people.

      As parents who want to raise open minded, thoughtful, respectful children, it’s your duty to teach them that recoiling in revulsion is not the appropriate response to someone who is different to them in any way.

      And if anyone is internalising negative attitudes, I am pretty sure it’s not me. I’m not the one with the “touched nerve”.

  • I think it is great to see that children are learning the message that size is pretty much immaterial. I remember my brother and I would snuggle up with my grandmother- who was a lady of size- my brother (who must have been 3 or 4 years old then) would cheerfully declare his love of fluffiness. She really did give the best snuggles! 🙂 I haven’t thought about that in years… thanks for bringing up such a warm memory!

    It’s too bad that so many of us grow up hearing nothing but negativity about our bodies. It is something that persists well into adulthood and takes intensive personal work to overcome. I think that children do tend to react to differences in people; but those responses are learned. Different is different. Not good or bad, just different. And that’s ok.

    And I think pink hair is AWESOME! 🙂

    • Exactly Jacqueline. Kids react with curiosity to differences when left alone to their own devices. It’s when they’re taught otherwise that the revulsion and negativity comes into it.

  • i had this exact worry about a kid a few days ago, who ended up talking to her mom about my tattoos!!! i was SO ready for the fattie remark, and felt my jaw literally relax and almost drop open when she started talking about my inks. (i have a chinese character on the inside of each wrist, and an ankh on my right hand, in between my thumb and first finger)

    • I’ve had kids notice my ink too – particularly the one on my left foot – it seems to be right in little people’s field of view!

  • Didn’t Marilyn Wann, in Fat!So? advise fat chicks to dye their hair hot pink (as she did at one time) so that little kids would say, “Look at that lady with the pink hair!” instead of saying, “Mommy, that lady is fat”? (And also because hot pink hair is just awesomeness.)

    • I haven’t read that one yet, but I have been looking for it. It seems to have disappeared from shops and libraries here. I think I need to get a copy from Amazon!

      I must confess, the hot pink hair is a leeeeetle bit of an accident. It was originally a magenta purple, but the purple washed straight out into hot pink, and I really like it!

  • When I was about eighteen, my youngest cousin hugged me. Then she looked up at me and said, “You’re so fat I can’t put my arms around you!” I still remember the sting, and how I fought not to cry. I knew she wouldn’t understand–she was four!

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