I feel guilty every time I drink milk. Milk, for me, is attached to one of my first memories of being body shamed. When I was in kindergarten, I asked a trusted adult for a glass of milk. She responded, “Milk has one purpose: To make little cows big, fast. You’re big enough. You don’t need milk,” and handed me a can of Diet Coke instead.
That day, an adult who was supposed to love me allowed me to miss out on calcium, vitamin D, protein, fat, potassium, B-12 and zinc because the can of carbonated water flavored with aspartame and not much else wouldn’t make me any chubbier.
Thirty years later, and every time I start to drink the milk in the bottom of my cereal bowl, I have a moment where I waffle, wondering if I am doing the right thing. I can still hear her voice in my mind.
“Milk has one purpose.”
I grew up hearing, “Milk: It Does A Body Good,” over and over in ad campaigns. That single encounter when I was five made me acutely aware that my body was not the body they were talking about. If milk would make me bigger, it would not do my body any good.
For me, milk is always served with a side of body shame. And that fucking sucks.
I’m a mom now. I have two sons and a daughter, and it kills me that I can’t totally protect them from body shame. In our house, every body is good, but the minute we get outside out four walls, I can’t shelter them anymore. They are going to grow up in the culture that broke my little fat girl heart. They’re going to hear the messages I always heard about bodies like mine.
It’s already begun.
This morning, my eight-year-old noticed that his substitute teacher is fat. He said, “Mom, you gotta come see my teacher! She’s beautiful! She looks just like you! She has your same hair, and she does her makeup like yours. She’s even fat like you!”
At first, I was really relieved that he sees fat as a neutral descriptor, but then I noticed his face. As soon as he said it, he looked up at me with wide eyes, and started walking it back. “Is that okay to say? I know some people say fat in a mean way, but I just mean it in the usual way, not the mean way. Fat isn’t a bad word, right?”
I answered how I always do. “Fat is only a bad word if you think fat is a bad thing to be. Some people think being fat is bad, so they would call it a bad word. I think being fat is neutral, neither good nor bad. For me, fat is not a good or bad word. It’s just one more word, like tall or blonde, that we can use when we are talking about bodies.”
How did diet culture poison my kid so early? He didn’t even get to finish second grade before he realized that people think his fat mom is less than she would be if she was thin. Diet culture is a nightmare.
I hope that living in my house with so many inclusive, kind, positive messages about every kind of body will spare my kids some of the lifelong struggles I face from my own childhood. But the world hasn’t changed much. If any of my children ends up even a little bit chubby, they will have to find a way to love their body despite living in a culture where thinness is valued, and fatness is pathologized and hated.
They’re going to take it in. I know someday my kids will stand in front of a full-length mirror and take stock of their bodies. They will find flaws where all I see is perfection.
This insecurity has the potential to attack my boys and my daughter in equal measure, but my daughter will suffer more if her body doesn’t fit into society’s ideal. My sons will rarely be treated like decorations. They’ll be able to find validation in their intelligence, their abilities and their masculinity.
My daughter will have to know how to put her foot down and refuse to let anyone see her as ornamental. I hope I can make sure she knows that her value exists independently of her body, whether her body fits our society’s beauty standards or not.
No matter how good of a job I do, I can’t keep diet culture away from my kids, and I hate it.
God, I fucking hate it.
What I can do is make sure they see me fight it like hell.
I can try to make sure they don’t grow up afraid to drink their fucking cereal milk because someone fed them some body-shaming bullshit in their formative years.
I swear to God if one person ever says a negative word to any of my children about their body size in my presence, the ferocity with which I defend them will burn that shit out of my child’s memory forever.
They might not actually forget the comment, but they will remember their mother rushing to their defense openly and without hesitation. I can’t protect my kids from hearing body shaming bullshit but I can sure as hell make sure they know that people who spew it are ignorant, incorrect and despicable. The lesson they learn won’t be about the value their own body, but about the people who think it’s okay to judge a person based on the space they take up instead of the person they choose to be.
I am not afraid to offend any adult alive if they come for my babies’ self-image. Do I love conflict? No. But I will run into the battle for my children’s self-esteem every damn time.
I don’t care who you are or what title you hold. If you say one single word that would plant a seed of body-related insecurity in my children, I will shut that shit down on the spot.
If I find out about it later, I will come for you like Liam Neeson in Taken. Life in a fat body has given me a very particular set of diet-culture takedown skills. You’re a fool if you don’t think I will use every single weapon in my anti-body-shame arsenal to knock your fatphobic ass the fuck down about a million pegs.
My children will always hear me defend their right to exist freely in the body that they have. Every single time. They will hear me say beautiful positive things about the vessel that houses every bit of who they are.
If you are a decent human being, they will also hear you apologize, because you’re supposed to be the grownup here. It takes a lot of audacity to body shame a child. Who would tell a growing child that their body is anything but good? Better yet, you could try not commenting on children’s bodies at all. Most of the time, it’s fucking creepy.
I am not having my kids grow up bogged down by body shame without putting up one hell of a fight.
Kids’ bodies are good bodies. How dare we think we are allowed to tell them anything else.
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