As A Fat Mom, Volunteering At My Kids' School Made Me Nervous
As a fat mom, diet culture had me convinced that I would be an embarrassment to my children. While we work hard to promote a size-neutral environment in our home, not every child is growing up in a place where no bodies are openly judged, mocked or ridiculed. Fat jokes are everywhere—and I know I can’t protect my kids from hearing them at school.
Which is one of the reasons I used to be self-conscious about volunteering at their school. I always imagined I’d be one of those moms who helped out during parties, delivered gifts to the Christmas toy drive, and brought in little presents for the front office staff. I have always wanted to be a really involved mom, and so far, I’ve been able to live that dream.
But not without some level of anxiety.
If you’ve lived in a fat body like I have, you might understand where I’m coming from. Being fat comes with a lot of complicated emotions, and even the most confident, body-secure fat person can occasionally face a situation that makes them a little uneasy. For me, that was volunteering at my kids’ school.
It’s not that I actually let my body stop me from volunteering at my kids’ school, but every time I darkened the door, I felt a little insecure.
I was nervous that instead of delighting in my presence in their classroom, they’d be uncomfortable to be seen with me. Even worse, after I left, would they have to sit by while other kids laughed or made comments about their fat mom?
My boys are still little, but so far, that insecurity has proven to be a non-issue. I’m still a place of comfort and happiness to them, not a source of embarrassment. My babies want to see my smiling face in their classroom and introduce me to their friends. I’m the only mom they’ve got—and they are proud of me.
My insecurity might not have panned out yet, but my worries about kids pointing out my size aren’t completely unfounded.
Over the course of my life, several children have innocently mentioned my size without intending to insult me at all. Most of the time, it’s just the honesty of early childhood that leads a little one to point out the ways we look different from one another.
I’m not really thrown by this. Before I was a mom, I was a nanny for 10 years. One of my nanny kids asked me why I was a circle once, and I still smile every time I remember her sweet, chubby little face innocently posing that hilariously-worded question.
A school is an entire building full of children—and that means hundreds and hundreds of little mouths that might say heaven knows what at any given moment. It’s not totally bonkers to wonder what “darndest thing” a kid might say to me (or to my kids about me) when I’m there.
When a kid points out your size, it doesn’t have to be a big deal. There are a few things you should remember:
First of all, your reaction is going to shape the way they feel about themselves and about fat people after the encounter. Unless this is your child or a child in your care, it’s not your responsibility (or even your place) to impart any kind of lesson about whether the child should make comments about your body. Try not to let the conversation leave them feeling ashamed—that will only reinforce the idea that being fat is somehow bad. Leave the life lessons to someone the child loves and trusts.
Another important thing to consider is that although you’ve had decades to develop your opinions on bodies and how they should look, kids don’t have the benefit of that life experience. They don’t fully understand the nuances of the things they say to you. Try your best not to think of the kid as rude.
A long time ago, I learned that if I have a mental script that I can use every time body size comes up with a child, it always makes the moment smooth as silk.
Here’s what I always say when a kid comments on my body:
“I know! I am (fat/big/a circle/have a round belly/ whatever the child said to me.) Isn’t it amazing that we are all the same species—humans—but we come in so many sizes? Just like you have (trait that is different from mine) and I have (my trait), but we are still having so much fun together today (doing activity.) Life is so much more interesting because we aren’t all the same!”
That’s usually all it takes!
Sometimes they’ll have more questions, usually about why I am fat, and I am careful to just loop back around to the idea that people come in lots of shapes and sizes. “That’s how my body grew!” usually does the trick.
I never say I’m not fat because duh. Yes, I am, and kids are smart.
I never tell them not to comment on people’s bodies because, like I said, that’s not my place during a short interaction.
All I do is plant that seed of size positivity by being a fat grownup in their life who let them make remarks and didn’t panic or see their judgement-neutral observations through an adult lens.
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