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March 21, 2011

The Fat One

I’m not easily offended.

Make a Southern joke? Step aside while I prove you wrong. (Just be careful not to step on my bare feet, please.)

Make a short joke? You’re just jealous that you can’t pass Capri pants off as full-length.

If I don’t like something I hear or read, I know to consider the source, and/or I recognize I’m free to change the channel or put down the newspaper.

But I’ve found myself being much more “sensitive” since the girls were born…not for me, but for them.

At such a tender age, our girls can’t yet discern for themselves what is right and wrong. They can’t consider the source, or take something with a grain of salt.

One of the things that has been rubbing me the wrong way lately is the use of the word “fat” in several children’s books.

I think instilling confidence in my girls, a big part of that being a positive body image, is a huge responsibility. Likewise is teaching respect for other people, no matter what they look like – “fat” or “skinny”, short or tall, with a Southern drawl or a Yankee accent.

Take, for example, something as benign as Dr. Seuss’s “One fish two fish red fish blue fish”.

“The fat one has a yellow hat.”

Heaven knows my girls say enough things to call attention to themselves in public (like when they used to call out “boobies!!!” when they saw blueberries in the grocery store). I surely don’t need to introduce the phrase “the fat one” to them, as I would be mortified if they used that phrase to refer to a person at the grocery, not just a nice juicy tomato.

Even in “The Very Hungry Caterpillar”:

“He was a big, fat caterpillar.”

…granted, that was after the bloke had eaten chocolate cake, ice cream, pickles, cheese, salami, a lollipop, cherry pie, sausage, a cupcake, and some watermelon…which is not exactly an exemplary diet...but I still don’t like the use of the word.

And don’t even get me started on “The Belly Book”!

“A sumo’s belly is big and fat. A ballerina’s belly is small and flat.”

…among so many other crazy references.

As I write this, I realize my concerns are twofold. One is that I want the girls to be respectful of other people, and not to judge folks by the way the look.

I think the heavier issue in my mind is instilling a positive body image in the girls from the get-go.

I know I can’t protect them from the ills of society forever…that soon enough they’ll hear folks talking about “fat people” and “skinny jeans”…they’ll see a weight loss ad in a magazine or on TV and wonder how it applies to them…that one of their grade school classmates will “go on a diet”…
…but I’m not ready to go there just yet.


Thank you to Julia at Pontifications of a Twin Mom for making me think about the topic of beauty in so many beautiful ways! In particular, this post inspired me to write on this topic. That, coupled with the focus at Multiples & More today, has inspired so many thoughts along these lines.

I’ll be posting on the topic of beauty again soon.


Carrie said...

Wow, I can't believe you wrote about this today because just last night as we were reading "One fish two fish" I was thinking the EXACT same thing. It's bothered me for a while now (since we have been reading that book so much) and I keep wondering why it has to be pointed out that one fish is fat?! I sort of want to skip that page because I too am very nervous about how my girls will develop a positive body image. I get very nervous because one of my girls is 4 lbs heavier than the other and I don't want any one to ever refer to her as "the big" one when there is clearly no need to identify her that way. Having been a teenage girl and having taught high school, teaching my girls a positive body image is one of the biggest things I'm worried about!! Thanks for sharing your thoughts too.

Beth said...

YES!!! I have read some of the books you mentioned and some others and I can not tolerate the use of the word 'fat'. It is simply not a nice word and not one I want to hear my children use about themselves or anyone else.

With my quads, Drew is noticeably bigger than his sisters (about 5 lbs.) I am blown away by what people will say. "Oh, he's the chunky one!" etc. First of all, he is not chunky his weight is just under 50%, he just happens to have thin sisters. Regardless, why do adults think that it is okay to immediately comment on someones weight? So far he doesn't really seem to notice and maybe the boy/girl thing will help, but people need to think about the words they apply to everyone-- little kids included.

Mandy said...

I'm glad I'm not alone! The girls received a set of books from my mother and they are this very issue. The bunny ate too many carrots and was too big for his burrow, the elephant was too big to play with his friends, and on and on. DH thought I was crazy.

I am actually worried about the girls body image and how they'll grow. Coming from two very different parents, both of who are overly concerned with weight and body image, I'm afraid they'll be like us and that would break my heart. It scares me how fast they pick things up and all that their little minds remember. However, I'm still not sure how to raise a child that is comfortable in their own skin. Where are the books that says everyone is perfect as they are??

Kelly Jean said...

Stumbled upon your blog on MaM! and just had to say -- who you callin Yankees?? Hehe. But also wanted to point out your girls are 2 years, 2 months, 2 weeks and 2 days today! How fun! Hope they had a great 2-2-2-2 day!! :D

Barbara Manatee said...

I know what you MIL once called my son 'fat' when he was a baby (he was quite round...but seriously? fat?....she was insinuating that I was over feeding him - which is impossible when you breast feed!) not too long ago, she called my daughter "sexy". huh? how about CUTE! Sweet! pretty? SEXY is NOT a word I want to introduce or explain to my (then) 3 year old!

Andrea said...

This topic is always on my mind! It is very much a fear of mine to have my kids judged or for my kids to judge others. I hope and pray I can show and teach them beauty starts on the inside not the outside. I look forward to reading what else you write on this topic. Take care!

Holly Ann said...

I do agree with you! However, have little fear that you will do a great job helping to instill a positive self-image in each of your girls so long as you are a model of a person with a positive image of yourself (which I'm sure you are). Nothing was even close to as detrimental to my self-image growing up as seeing/hearing my mother always criticizing the way that she saw herself, me, and my sister. I think I'm doing a lot better now with loving myself the way I am, but I'm still working on it.

Helene said...

I know, isn't it amazing that stuff like this is in children's books?? Kind of like movies made for kids where the characters call each other idiots. Seriously?

But you know, stuff like this leaves the door open for us to have dialogue with our kids about body image and how to treat others with respect, etc.

They're going to be exposed to all this negative stuff regardless of how much we shelter them but the GOOD thing is that they'll know what to do about it when it does happen because you have taught them well!

Rebecca @ Unexplained X2 said...

Interesting point, but it IS an adjective. It IS a way to describe something. The word has meaning past just making people feel bad about their bodies. I think we've become a little too sensitive about these things b/c the media makes us total nutjobs.

I'm going to try to focus on health rather than body shape with the Crazies. I'd rather them have a good idea of what a healthy body looks like rather than fat/ least until I let them out of my razor sharp talons and send them off to kindergarten.

Embarrassing...I had to ask for petite capris at ATL the other day b/c of the whole "do these look like capris? Or floodwaters?" issue that we short people have. Ugh!!!

Julia said...

Great, great post, Mandy! I had never heard of the belly book until the other day. I'm just amazed....

While Rebecca is correct, "fat" is an adjective, I can't think of an instance where another word couldn't be used instead. The word DOES have a negative connotation, therefore, I hesitate to let my girls use it. Why not instead say "round, wide, ample, thick or corpulent (ha--just kidding, maybe if they get into an Ivy League school or something:))"? You get the point.

There are lots of other adjectives that I don't want my daughters to ever use, i.e. stupid, dumb, retarded.

Anyway, this topic is rich and full of so many things. There is so much to think about as we navigate raising girls in this world. We want them to be strong, confident and self-assured, yet feminine, compassionate and gentle--such a balance.

MultipleMum said...

It is a tricky issue. On one hand, kids need to know that people come in all shapes and sizes and we can't always choose ours. These books give parents an opportunity to discuss that with their kids.

On the other hand, there is the issue of 'labelling' and 'self-fulfilling prophecy'.

I just wish that 'fat' didn't always have such a negative connotation. We can't all be skinny minis and overweight people are okay too!

reanbean said...

Oooh- I don't know that belly book, but that line about the sumo and the ballerina really didn't sit well with me. I know what you mean about wanting your girls to think positively about their own bodies in addition to being respectful of others regardless of their shapes and sizes. I want the same for my two. But I suspect there will come a time when my kids will wish they were taller or more muscular or thinner (as I did when I was growing up). It makes me sad just thinking about it.