Like many women, I am hyper-aware of the importance placed on being thin in our country. The pressure can be enormous and the resulting stress sometimes leads to overeating for some or under-eating for others.
As an expectant mother, I made a firm decision to never use the word “fat” in my house when describing myself or anyone else. Being a thin person who as always favored the phrase, “I feel fat,” I began thinking about the negative impact such a remark could have on my future children. I never wanted my children, particularly a daughter, to think that just because they ate a good meal and were “full” meant that they had been “bad” and were now feeling “fat.” As my husband says, “Full does not equal fat.” It took quite a bit of effort, and although it has yet to be removed from my silent thoughts, the phrase has been removed from my speaking vocabulary.
At some point, my daughter was getting pretty good at using adjectives to describe people. They were tall, had yellow hair, curly hair, green eyes, etc. Then, something interesting happened. There were certain physical descriptions that had not been pointed out to her. For example, I had always hoped that my children would view people as equal regardless of gender, race, religion, etc. What do those details matter if someone is a good person? But, some physical attributes are obvious and children can be extremely literal. One day, my daughter came flying out of her room as proud as a peacock and declared, “I know! I know! My friend is brown and I’m orange. Isn’t it great? We can almost make a rainbow!” She was about 3 years old at the time.
The next obvious physical difference that she noticed was size. After drawing a picture of a different friend, she pointed out the hair, the eyes, and proudly stated that she made sure to draw her friend “puffy.” Never having heard the word “fat,” “puffy” was the term that she came up with. A few years have passed, both of my children have entered school, and both continue to use the word “puffy.” They have no idea that it could mean anything bad. I was amazed recently when reading There Was an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Bat, by Lucille Colandro, to my daycare children. One of the lines is: “She was so fat.” Immediately, I was asked, “Mama, what does fat mean?” My next thought was, “Am I keeping them in a bubble?” They have also not heard the words “thin” or “skinny” ever come out of my mouth. I told them that fat just meant puffy, but explained that it is a word that could hurt someone’s feelings.