This weekend my daughter carved the word FAT into her upper thigh with the blade of a pencil sharpener. She did this because people told her she is fat, therefore she believes fat is who she is. She did this because kids said to her things like “you’re so fat, when you get older you’ll never be anything more than a garbage man because you’ll eat everyone’s garbage” or “you weigh more than a truck” or “I can hear you walking down the hall from a mile away because you’re so fat.” FAT. Fat is who she thinks she is so it makes perfect sense that she would inscribe it into herself. It doesn’t matter that when people started telling her she was fat she was not fat. She was not particularly thin because she has a larger frame and still held onto the baby type weight that comes before puberty, but she was definitely not fat. But when people repeatedly tell you that you are something, guess what? You begin to believe them and sometimes you even prove them right. It wasn’t until after the teasing began that she began to binge eat. She had never done that up until the harassment convinced her that she was fat so she figured, well might as prove them right! Before then she had a healthy appetite and was still fairly physically active. When she started to believe the bullying and teasing, she started gaining weight and more weight until people like the doctor started telling her she was fat. I mean, she didn’t come right out and say it, but the words “you really need to lose weight” were enough.
But this is not all. The kids who teased relentlessly are not the only ones to blame. I am too. Every time I looked in the mirror and said “ugghhh I look so fat in this” or stepped on the scale and complained that I had gained a couple of pounds or said, “god i’ve gotten so fat”, I made her believe she was fat. Why would she think anything else? I weigh less than her, have a smaller frame than her and here I was fat shaming myself. I am as much to blame as anyone for her negative body image.
But it doesn’t even stop there. Every time social media posts a picture of a person who is not a size 0 in a bikini, the back lash and fat shaming is all over the place. So my child, who was never slender, believed that if she was not the size 0 that was expected, then she was fat as all the magazines, tabloids and tv shows pointed out on a daily basis. How could she ever expect to be anything but fat since she will never be a size 0 even if she dieted religiously and worked out for months and months because she does not have that type of frame?
So now my child will live with the scar of the word “FAT” on her thigh for the rest of her life and I sit here and wonder what I can do and how I can make this all stop. I know for me, I need to stop obsessing over the scale and every morsel of food I put in my mouth. I need to see and talk about all the other things I am so that she knows that she is so much more than the word FAT. She is funny and beautiful and the most kind-hearted, gentle spirit I have ever known. But she can’t see this because all she sees is the word FAT that she’s been called over and over until it has become her identity. I know I need to start talking about myself in other ways too and not use the word big or fat either in front of her or behind closed doors. It’s not helpful and it’s actually hurtful, to me and to her.
What can we all do? Parents, don’t fat shame people in front of your children. Better yet, don’t fat shame at all. You can teach your kids that it’s important not to tease and bully people but when they hear you and see you fat shaming another person at the beach, or amusement park, or restaurant, you are teaching them just that. Show your kids how to love EVERY body, everybody no matter what the size, shape, color, religion, ethnicity, learning profile, and idiosyncrasies. If you don’t like something or someone just do everyone a favor and shut the fuck up. We’d all appreciate it. I know I would as would my child. I’m sorry if it makes you feel better to shame other people but your behavior is inexcusable and you need professional help.
To all those people, including my child, who have been called names, I hope you start to believe that a name is not an identity. A name does not make you who you are. A name can be changed. You are more than a name, so much more.