I'm Fat. My Daughter Is Fat. And We're Pretty Freaking Awesome

by Liz Henry
Originally Published: 
Liz Henry

I’m fat. My daughter is fat. We’re one fat woman and one fat girl, and you know what, we’re pretty freaking awesome.

But it didn’t start out that way. Before my daughter was born, I raised my fist and said, please, whoever is up there, just let me not give birth to myself.

And no one listened.

Because of course.

So this fat woman was saddled with the task of being everything she didn’t have when she was a girl: a mother who didn’t give a shit what her daughter looked liked, how much she weighed, and wasn’t going to shove SlimFast in her face for other people’s feelings. I was going to be the kind of mother who disarms cruelty with an arsenal of weapons.

First, I had to set the example that fat isn’t a four-letter-word — and stick to it. This sounds like a lot of work, but it wasn’t. I basically went about being myself, a regular mom who happens to be fat. I walked around naked, I didn’t talk shit about myself, I didn’t bond with other women over losing weight or loathing any part of my body.

I was like a fat Kardashian about selfies, and when you’re fat, that level of vanity is a radical act. To my daughter, I modeled I was worth something and each step I took was one of confidence rather than timid tip-toeing around my size like I should apologize for taking up space.

I have never been on a diet or talked about dieting with or in front of my daughter during her lifetime. My mother, bless her heart, has been on a diet since I exited the womb. I’ve never seen a gray hair on my mother’s dyed head, a wrinkle on her face, or a diet she didn’t try.

Growing up, my mother was heavily involved in policing Stevie Nicks’ shrinking and expanding body. “Back in the fat farm,” she’d say about Stevie like people say “good morning.” As a girl-child, I wasn’t exactly concerned I’d end up in the fat farm, I just wanted to know what was it like: Did it come with chocolates like a day spa or was it more like an Orwellian dystopia? I gathered it was the latter judging by my mother’s vicious shade only to later conclude it probably was just lipo.

I know the bar was set pretty low, but I managed to avoid discussing fat farms with my daughter. You gotta take the parenting wins where you can find them, however low.

But all of my body positivity came to a head one day after my daughter arrived home from school as a tiny second-grader. It’s one thing to model confidence, teach it, and live within a bubble, but once your big girl goes out into the world, you’re faced with some cold, hard truths: Do you double-down on fatness or do you deny it?

I doubled-down.

“Mom, do I have a pregnant belly? This kid said I have a belly that looks like I’m going to have a baby.”

It felt like an eternity before I said anything, but it came out like, “Yes, yes you do.”

And then I added, “And I do too, and I’m awesome and so are you.”

I hoped that my long history of being a supposed kick-ass woman backed me up — that the body love foundation I had built brick-by-brick meant something. That maybe, after all, my daughter had been listening and watching. The point was for her to asses my “awesomeness,” evaluate it, and judge if I was feeding her a line of bullshit or not.

Denying her large belly made no sense. First, I would have been lying to her and second I would have left her vulnerable and without power. The best way to disarm cruelty is with a “so what!” weapon. But it has to come from a genuine place of believing there’s nothing wrong with you in the first place.

If your large child is going to thrive, you have to start by validating their bodies so they can deflect the kind of taunts based on obviousness that are supposed to wound. And then you let them out into the world to show off their size. Like my girl who beat every kid in arm-wrestling in her class while towering over them in height as well. “Your size is power,” I’d say to her, and I meant every word of it.

But the adults can be a real fuck for all of a nightmare. Especially the school nurses. With all of their “good intentions” and concern trolling. With every start of a new school year, I’d need to suit up my armor and deflect the ridiculousness of weigh-ins, diabetes prevention, and recommendations for “family health fairs.”

It’s obvious that not every school nurse we dealt with was a concern troll, but I spent almost every year during my daughter’s elementary school years essentially throwing my hands up and saying, gimme the school bully because the adults here are out of their goddamn minds.

I made notations on health cards to never, under any circumstances weigh my child — she has a pediatrician to perform that duty. No, we don’t need health fairs to learn how to cook “healthy” dinners thankyouverymuch, and no, she does not have diabetes. And yes, I swear to fuck if you people send me one more “BMI letter of shame” through the mail I will lose my mind.

BMI in our house, it’s worth noting, was labeled correctly as a Bullshit Myth Indicator — there are unhealthy thin bodies and unhealthy large bodies. A pair of eyes does not grant one a medical license nor does reading from a chart of numbers.

All of this sounds like I was a walking nightmare of a pretentious parent, and so what if I was? I spent years filling my kid with the kind of self-confidence the world said she shouldn’t have in the first place, and I wasn’t going to watch it be undone by some glorified clipboards.

Now it’s a waiting game to see if a cycle has broken. I know my partner and I have raised a kind child who feels deeply for others, and doesn’t appear to hate her size. I can’t know what’s in her heart, but I want to believe what she presents is true. If not, I hope she can tell me the truth, and then we can take it from there.

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