My daughter’s little friend excitedly stormed through my front door. She had come over to play with my girl and her new Barbie Dream House. She was practically vibrating as she greeted us. She was happy to be here; we were happy to have her.
The girls camped out on the floor playing Barbie Dream House. They returned to my kitchen an hour later for refreshments. As with any new visitor to my home, I asked her what her favorite snack was and what she was hungry for.
My own child rattled off 33 different items she felt like eating, but not her friend. She was quiet and humble at my mentioning of something to eat. She passed on the typical offering of a cheese stick and a fruit juice box. While my child ransacked the pantry for goodies, she sat there with her head bowed down and her eyes fixated on the granite of my kitchen countertops.
I sensed something was off. Why did the mention of food suddenly turn her quiet—the opposite of the lively girl who’d just beamed with happiness right through my front door?
“Are you feeling OK? Are you just not hungry?” I asked her.
“I’m fine. I need to be careful with what I eat. I’ve gained weight,” she sheepishly responded.
My heart dropped but I didn’t allow my face to react to the shock of her potent words.
I assured her we had healthy snack options and I was willing to make whatever she felt like eating. And then she hit me with it:
“My grandmother called me fat…but she apologized.”
That string of words stung my ears like the sound of a fire truck siren long after it’s passed. My heart sunk and my face became warm. I don’t know what she spoke after that comment fell out of her mouth because all I could hear were those words repeating over and over in my head.
She called me fat. But, she apologized.
An 8-year-old justifying the actions of a grown adult. An 8-year-old rationalizing fat shaming directed at her—words that she played off as being “OK” with. Her 8-year-old justification didn’t slip by me; it was empty, it was hollow, and her face spoke a million painful words. There was no justification for those words; however, I assume it made her feel better to toss that in at the end—“but she apologized.” It didn’t make me feel better. It made me angry, incredibly angry.
Her pain showed. Her discomfort around food, our kitchen even, was alarming. It sent a chill down my spine as I sat and watched my 7-year-old chow down on a bag of cheddar duck crackers and slurp a juice box in one gulp.
I watched her. I didn’t know what to say. I didn’t know how to respond. This isn’t my child. This isn’t my place.
But, then I remembered, I don’t care. I don’t care if the words I direct at someone else’s child come from a place of empathy, a place of love. There are times to back off and mind your damn business, and there are times to step up. In this situation, I chose the latter.
I composed my anger. I composed myself. I pushed down the urge to unleash the overflowing emotion that was trapped in my brain and the feelings my heart was throwing up. I stepped up.
“Look at me. I want to tell you something.”
Her beautiful hazel eyes met mine and I continued:
“I’m not sure why someone would use that word to describe you. I think that word is hurtful and an awfully mean word to use when directed at anyone, particularly you. I hope you know that you are beautiful, that you are perfect the way God made you. You are wonderful, full of life, and I think you are marvelous. I admire your choice to eat healthy snacks, but don’t you dare allow the thoughts of one person shape who or what you think you are. There are no negative words to describe someone as special as you, only positive. What she said to you wasn’t nice, and I am sure she is sorry, but you, you are fantastic.”
It didn’t feel like my words were enough, because they weren’t. She went on her way and headed home shortly after. I ran errands that evening, but her voice, that string of words, played over and over again in my head.
She called me fat…but she apologized.
We make a lot of mistakes as parents. We yell when our small ones don’t listen or follow direction. We drop swear words that their young ears absorb. We are walking mistakes and constant works in progress. I have yet to meet the perfect parent; however, fat shaming an 8-year-old is nothing short of abhorrent.
I’d rather my young daughter drop the F-bomb in my presence long before hearing her refer to herself as “fat.” We have enough negative influences bouncing through our daily lives in the real world. We don’t need our children hearing from the people—the ones they trust and love most—that they, too, agree with what society tells them at all too early of an age.
Mothering young girls is tough. They are incredibly perceptive. They hear and see the messages our fucked-up universe sends out every day. They don’t need that crap directed at them while they’re painting their personal canvas as to who and what they feel they are and are not.
I am not the best mother, but I can tell you the last words you’ll ever hear from my mouth are in reference to my child’s weight, shape or frame. I certainly don’t have it all figured out. However, when my girl asks me: “How do I look, Momma?” My answer is and will always be: “Perfect, inside and out, upside down, top to bottom, you are perfect.”