Fat acceptance: Sewing buttons on our children

This is part 3 of a 6-part series on fat acceptance, modified from a talk I did in 2008.

“Parents know how to push your buttons because, hey, they sewed them on.”

–Camryn Mannheim, award-winning actress and author of Wake Up, I’m Fat!

The road to dieting, size prejudice, and dissatisfaction with our bodies starts early. A few years ago, a woman I knew online posted a story about something funny her son had started doing. Every morning, he would get on the scale, look at what it said, then make a face, say “Ugh” and get off. 

She was amused. I was horrified. The only way he could have learned this behavior was if he had seen her do it on a regular basis. She was teaching him that whatever the scale told him was not good enough, and that he should never be satisfied with what he weighed.

He was 18 months old.

Studies have shown that 5 year old children prefer to lose an arm than be fat. Girls as young as six say that they’re on a diet. Once, I was in a grocery store, and a very young girl, who was probably only three years old, said to me “You’re fat!” In order to use that language and apply it to me, she had to have heard it at home on a regular basis. I wonder who her parents were calling fat?

Our children learn what they see and hear. If we’re not comfortable in our bodies then it’s not likely they will be with comfortable with their bodies, unless they do a lot of therapy and work hard at it. If we comment about how fat others are and make negative judgments towards them, our kids will likely continue to judge others based on their size and shape. Is that the kind of world we want to live in?

I certainly don’t. If you want your child to be free of judgments about weight, then you must set an example by not judging yourself. I have tried very hard to never show any dissatisfaction about the way I look in front of my daughter. We don’t own a scale. We go to the gym regularly, not so I can lose weight, but because “Mommy gets grumpy if she can’t work out,” which is the absolute truth.

What’s my goal? A daughter who knows she’s beautiful and strong and thinks that she can do anything she puts her mind to. I want her to enjoy moving her body in whatever way she likes, and I want her to make healthy choices. But I don’t want her to ever think that she is limited in any way or that she can’t do something because of the way she looks, whatever size she grows up to be.

But I think I need to go further.  Not showing dissatisfaction isn’t enough in the face of what we’re bombarded with.  As this author states, “I want them to become women who remember me modeling impossible beauty. Modeling beauty in the face of a mean world, a scary world, a world where we don’t know what to make of ourselves.”

I think she needs me to acknowledge that I’m beautiful.

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