Friday Night’s Alright for Writing (#3) – Raising girls

Imagine my horror when the following words exited my darling 3-year old’s mouth earlier this week.

Look at my fat tummy!” 

Fat. Fat? What the f&c%? I kissed her belly and told her that her belly was not fat, that in fact she was beautiful. I knew for a fact my child has never heard this word from me, as I have made it a point to never refer to my own body as such (despite how I’m feeling about it that day), and was pretty sure she hadn’t heard it from her Dad or my Mom, so I let it go as an anomaly, until yesterday…when her Dad told me that while looking at herself in the mirror and slapping her perfect little pull-up covered butt she said, “Look at my fat tushie!” 

As far as I’m concerned, this meant war.  I knew raising a girl would be tough in today’s weight-obsessed, sex-crazed, often love-starved society, but I didn’t know the swindling of her self-esteem, the needling of her self-image would start at 3. And it kind of broke my heart.

That being said, I know she doesn’t really know what the word means (as if she did, she wouldn’t be describing herself as such…at least I hope not), but it’s not going to be too long before she does know what it means, how it can be used as a weapon to hurt others, or how it can be incredibly hurtful to hear about herself.

After some discussion amongst ourselves and a talk with her teacher, her Dad and I figured out that the word must have been learned at school from some of the older children on the playground.  Her teacher promised to address it in an age-appropriate manner, for which I am grateful.

I have to say this really got me thinking though. I work with teenage girls every day, some who clearly have been wounded by this word, and those wounds manifest themselves through poor self-image, eating disorders, or worse. How is this a word of choice for anyone who is in preschool? What are their parents saying at home or letting them watch on TV to use this word on a regular basis?  Shouldn’t we all be helping these little beings of light spread loving-kindness towards themselves and others rather than using words like “fat”, even if it’s in joking manner?

Maybe I’m taking this too personally. But it is personal.  It’s personal because this is the flesh of my flesh talking about her body in ways she shouldn’t be.  She should think she is cute and adorable and beautiful and strong and capable because that is what we tell her and that is what she is.  It’s personal because growing up I always thought of myself as “fat.” I would read those horrible “girls” magazines, and later on “young women” magazines and later on “Cosmopolitan” and “Glamour” and compare myself to the models in them and think, well, yeah I’m definitely never going to look like that…I’m never going to measure up.  And when I look back at pictures now to times when I thought I was “fat” – I wasn’t!!  I have consciously decided that I will do my best to provide Maya with opportunities so she will never have the desire to compare herself to unrealistic ideals.  She will be too busy being her fabulous little self.

I know I won’t be able to protect my little monkey from everything, but I feel it’s part of my job as her Mom to give her the tools to cope with these negative messages so that she grows up to treat herself and others in a loving way.

For those of you who are raising girls (and boys for that matter), what are you doing to keep those negative messages at bay? I’d love to hear.

9 comments

  1. Isn’t it ridiculous that we have to worry about body issues with our toddlers. I am a mother of a recovered anorexic and I too have my own blog to share. Your attitude and awareness of body issues will give your daughter a fantastic grounding from where she will form her own thoughts to guide her life. More mothers like yourself are needed to support the world’s children through this phenomenal increase of body image under the microscope. Well done to you super mum and great blog.

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    • Tracy – thanks so much for your kind words. It is indeed ridiculous that this is the world in which we have to raise our children, but I know collectively we can change it. I wish you and yours well!

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  2. You’re NOT taking this too personally! (I LOVE THIS ENTRY! haha). I am recovered from an eating disorder and have a 1 year old girl – I made a vow a long time ago to never call myself fat – and this makes me a better Mom today. It’s a derogatory word and it’s a shame that people use it.

    To keep our body image high in our house, I try to do fun activities with my girl where she can use her body expressively. I was taught growing up that I was something to be looked at only. So, it’s nice to be able to teach my daughter her body is powerful and has many uses.

    Thanks again for this affirming entry!

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    • Thanks for visiting the blog! Since my daughter was born we have danced around the house (when she couldn’t walk I’d carry her!) and she’s already copying yoga poses that I do. I want her to always focus on how strong and powerful she is, never on how she compares to the ridiculous…thanks again for the comment!

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  3. We jump on it immediately and make sure to leave him with a positive image… and stress that some words – like “fat” – are simply not nice to use and can hurt other people’s feelings. Most of the time he’s trying out new words because, like you said, he’s heard them somewhere and doesn’t fully understand their meaning or the implications.

    As a victim of childhood bullying, I think it’s very important to educate your kids on how words can hurt.

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    • Yes, especially as the degree to which words can damage only gets worse as kids get older…something you unfortunately know all too well Richard. Thanks for sharing how you handle things like this with James 🙂

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      • You’re welcome 🙂 I neither want him to be hurt or inadvertantly say something that would hurt someone…

        …but hurt, I fear, is an inevitable part of life. How else do we learn and grow?

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