Thursday, March 12, 2009

Fat Kid, Skinny Kid

"Wow, she is so fat! How much does she weigh?"

If you were a mother, and a stranger said this to you in public about your child, what would you do? And what do you think the effect would be on your child, if they heard this sentiment over and over, no matter where they went?

Thankfully, most people in society are civil enough not to blurt out such absurdities, especially not in front of a child. Most people understand that body size is a personal thing, and, in general, it's none of their business what you or your child weigh. And if your kid blurted out something about another person's size in the grocery store, you'd probably explain to them that it is not polite to do so... whether it be a woman weighing 400 pounds, a man who is 4 feet tall, or a kid who is 6'5. You just shut up about stranger's bodies, because everyone is different and there is really no reason to comment on another person's size.

But somehow it is okay for people to bust out with, "Oh my God, she is so skinny! What does she weigh?" or "Wow, she is super tall! How old is she? Is her father tall?" when they see my daughter. For crying out loud, people, she is THREE. Leave her alone! It does *nothing* for her body image to be labeled "skinny" and "tall" by every stranger who crosses her path. She is not even in preschool yet and already she gets the sense that something is wrong with her body. She is "way too skinny" and "taller than other kids her age." From the grocery store clerk joking "you need to feed that kid!" to the receptionists blurting out, "she is taller than my five year old!!" and the granny in the parking lot saying "she needs some meat on her bones," it all tells my daughter that she is not okay. These same people would probably never think of telling a fat kid's mom "you need to stop feeding her so much" or "wow, she is fatter than my chubby toddler" or "put that kid on a diet." But it's just fine to go on and on about her boniness, skinniness, and tallness.

It is NOT just fine. These comments are not meant to hurt, but they hurt. They make my little daughter self conscious. They make her wonder why she is not "normal." And then I get crap from onlookers no matter what I feed her. Just like the fat person eating a burger gets eye rolls from people because they "shouldn't be eating that fatty food" but also gets comments if they eat a salad because "it obviously isn't working," I get all kinds of unsolicited commentary on my "skinny" daughter's eating. If she wants a vegetable, I get "you need to give her more calories" but if they see her eating french fries I get "you are feeding her junk!" I wish people would butt out.

What I'd like to tell these people is that while yes, she is thin and yes, she is tall, SHE IS NORMAL. That what they don't know is how sick she used to be, how she almost died, how she couldn't even breathe on her own. It's a miracle she is here! Yes, she is "skinny" but her doctors (which are many, due to chronic conditions) and her nutritionist are PLEASED with her progress. Yes, I give her french fries sometimes, and thank goodness that she will eat them at all, given her feeding issues from having a breathing tube down her throat when she was an infant. What I'd like to tell people is, stop making assumptions. Stop trying to be her nutritionist. You really have no idea.

A little boy who was about 6 years old got brain cancer. He was a normal sized, healthy little boy until this happened to him. He had to get a lot of treatments... chemo, radiation, other stuff I don't know about. And this little boy bloated up like a blowfish. This child *looked* obese because of his treatment. How cruel would it be for an adult in a grocery store to see this child (who, by the way, ultimately died), and make snide comments on his weight? If you'd made that kind of assumption about him, and then found out what was really going on, wouldn't you feel like a heel?

Best thing to do: don't assume. There are reasons for every size, every condition. That bum on the street begging for money might have "brought it upon himself" by drinking and doing drugs and wasting his money, or maybe he has a medical condition that left him mentally ill. Or maybe he had a catastrophe in his life that left him homeless. Or perhaps his family died in a car wreck and he just can't get it together anymore. That fat lady in the motorized cart... maybe she didn't just "eat her way" to that condition. Any number of things could have happened to her. Why judge? Let people be.

And if you see my skinny girl, just tell her what lovely blue eyes she has, or what a sweet smile she has. Compliments are always welcome, especially by little children.

Make the world a better place. Leave the body comments and judgements at home, and instead, offer a smile and say something nice... to children (and adults) of every size.

35 comments:

Joy said...

Ugh Lyn, I get the same with my boys (both big for their ages) and have been told by MIL that "at least I got it the right way around and the girls are skinny" ??!

Sherre said...

What a great reminder for everyone. When I was a kid, I too was skinny (go figure what happened) and everyone commented on it. It really did affect my body image (even tho skinny is supposed to be ok) and I wonder how much of that plays into my food issues today. And, as a woman who is nearly 6' tall, I find it interesting that so many people comment on kids who are tall (or maybe I'm just sensitive to tall comments?). Whenever I'm within hearing range, I always pipe up with "tall is good" or some such thing to the "tall" kid. Coincidentally - I went from an below average to average height, skinny kid to a very tall obese adult. The things about kids' bodies is they are going to CHANGE!

Daphne Garrison said...

Crap. Thanks for the reminder. I was commenting on a little girl's tallness last weekend. I hope it came across as a compliment... now I feel bad.

Lynn Haraldson-Bering said...

Excellent reminder, my friend. This bleeds into all parts of our culture. If someone in a car ahead of us is driving slower than the posted speed, how do we know he/she didn't just get bad news or had an accident last week and is afraid? We can't assume (or comment) on things that aren't our freaking business.

Your daughter's just living her life, just as you're living yours. Why do people (and I'm guilty of it) make other people's business THEIR business? Yup...good reminder, hon.

*Kristine* said...

Gosh... now I want to apologize to my coworker/friend that I call shorty :( I don't THINK she takes offense to it but I can't be sure. Tomorrow I'm going to apologize for my sarcasm. I know that I'd hate it if she called me fatty.

Graze with Me said...

Thank you for saying that!! I'm still struggling with my body image because of all the "you're so tall and skinny" remarks I got growing up. It's so hard to get over that stigma. I still catch people staring at me (for whatever reason) and I just want to go home and hide under a blanket. I used to cry and say that I wanted to be overweight instead of underweight.

I completely agree, it's rude to comment on other people's appearances - period.

Madame said...

I just had this convo with a co-worker who's daughter is well, "skinny" ... and how so many people make comments about her size that she (at such a mentally fragile age, 16) ... is depressed, constantly feeling like a spectacle ... I think people should be a bit more mindful/considerate as anyone can have body image issues ... not just the overweight ...

Tony said...

Just reminds me of what my professor brought up in class (forgot the term, ugh) about how humans always look at things from their own perspective, and not others. For example, if you were to see a person cutting you off on the freeway, you immediately think he is a jerk, even though you don't know why he is speeding. He could be racing off to the emergency room, or he may have diarrhea. You never know, so it's best not to assume.

Heather said...

it always amazes me what people feel necessary to say about things that are not their business. I used to have a friend in high school who was extremely thin and used to get made fun of. people would say she was anorexic and she wasnt - thats just how she was. I know she felt just as I felt being overweight and hated having to defend herself. it sucks, and I wish that people would just mind their own business.

Marshmallow said...

One word, Lyn.

Respect.

Great post :-) Body acceptance shouldn't just be applied to fat people, it should be applied to everyone.

Super Squared said...

You make a very good point. I think people just don't think because its way more acceptable to be thin so they don't consider it rude to comment about it, but I can totally see where it would be just as harmful to a little one's self image. Do you ever enlighten the people who make these comments? I could understand not wanting to make a bigger deal about it in front of your daughter though.

Thanks for sharing, I hope I've never done this before, but I'm sure I have. This will be on my mind in the future.

Andrea said...

I would agree with everything you just said!

IRJessica said...

Great post. I never never would have thought of it this way. I hope many people see this!

spunkysuzi said...

I totally agree! When my daughter was 5 someone told her she had fat thighs!! It took forever to stop her thinking that way. And this girl has always been slim!!

Lyn said...

Super Squared~

usually when someone makes this type of comment I smile and say, "she is such a wonderful girl! I am so proud of her!" or "she is an amazing artist! and she knows all her letter sounds!" or something else complimentary about my daughter that has nothing to do with her size. That way she gets to hear something nice about herself, and it doesnt draw more attention to her size.

Bethany said...

If you can't say something nice, don't say anything at all! :) You are so right. Too bad we can't all judge people based on their personal merit rather than looks and preconceived notions.
Bethany

Karyn said...

This is a great post, Lyn....wish it could be read by even more people - especially the ones who are guilty of judging and running off at the mouth!

This is becoming a sensitive subject in our family....my 8 year old grand daughter is very tall (although not skinny). She has always been tall for her age but is really starting to notice it. Terms like "giant" are used about her (although that is an exageration). On the other hand, her 7 year old sister is quite tiny - beginning to be smaller than the 5 year old.

It is not only strangers who comment.....even those who love her and accept her for who she is have been coming out with things like "Wow, Em....you're almost as tall as Gramma!" in such a way that she (being smart) can tell she is not supposed to be as tall as Gramma for quite some time yet. I've started to stick my nose in and reprimand those who thoughtlessly say things like this. After all, it doesn't take much to be taller than Gramma! And Mommy is tall - look how beautiful she is!

I fought hard to keep my kids from having body image issues and I will fight even harder to protect my grandkids from having them!

I am thankful, however, that they do not have to endure schoolground ridicule since they are homeschooled. The kids in the neighborhood just accept them for who they are - there isn't the mob rule factor at work.

Tena said...

Such a great post! Thanks for bringing this to our attention. I was always so tall and was told how "big" I was and always had to stand in the back row for school pictures with all the boys. Got teased about it and it shot my confidence right down.

It all goes back to "if you can't say anything nice, don't say anything at all!"

Twix said...

Oh I can relate to this! I'm married to a thin man and his kids take after him, thin and small. We get those comments and happen to agree it's frustrating. But have you ever got this one? I have heard; we know who eats in the family; look who must be getting all the food; did you eat today little boy - the whole time looking at me. Sheesh....if I lacked self control I might have knocked a few teeth out by now. Sad really what people think they can and do say...sad!

Crystal said...

Can I just get an AMEN to that. Love this post and completely agree!

Anonymous said...

well said!

JJS said...

Amen! I am definitely guilty of silently judging people. I know it is often because I don't feel so great about my own body. But, even keeping it to myself isn't good enough. If I want my kids to do better than that, I need to set the example, even if they never know.

Amanda said...

Lyn,

This is a great post. You are really looking out for your daughter.

When I was younger I was really tall and super skinny for my age. I was referred to as the tall skinny girl and constantly was told I should be a model (trust me, just because I was skinny, definitely wasn't pretty enough!).

I was a picky eater and my parents eventually just let me eat whatever I wanted. I could eat a whole thing of oreos and not gain weight.

Well evenutally my body changed and it caught up with me. I am not really considered overweight, but I weigh a lot more then I used to. Now I am in my mid-twenties trying to learn eating habits and realize that I can't eat what I used to.

But the hardest part? I'm not referred to as the skinny girl anymore. That became such a part of who I was that it has been really hard to deal with. And even though most people would think I looked fine, I am obsessed with becoming that skinny girl again. And it was kind of an unhealthy skinny.

So good for you for looking out for your daughter because you're right, it can really mess with her body image.

BVar said...

WOW, great post.

Lyn said...

Thank you so much for all the comments on this one! Hearing how those types of comments affected YOU as a child (or affects your family) has really confirmed in my mind how important it is that I stick up for my girl, and make sure she knows she is okay at her own size.

deanna said...

well said!

somebodys mother said...

Lots of thoughts about this post. Yes I have had body image issues my entire life. Yes what other people said to/about me (especially my mother) affected that. I finally figured out that, for me, there is a bigger issue. I realized that I was taught to be much more concerned about what other people said/thought about me than what I thought about me. How many times did my mother scold me with 'what would the neighbors say?' I not only encourage my kids to be more focused on themselves and not worry about what other people think/say but, I have to remind myself of the same thing quite often. When I stop and think about the things people say/do that I find disturbing I now try to look at it from a different perspective. Tony hit it on the head; they're coming from their own perspective the same way I am. It's amazing what I can learn about people when I listen to them knowing they have their own issues and those issues motivate their comments toward me a lot more than anything that I am doing. People are always going to say/do things that are, well just wrong. It's about learning to not emotionally grab onto the issues that someone else has and let them dictate my emotions.

Anonymous said...

Lyn,

My 15 year old daughter has always been very tall for her age. She stopped growing last year at 5'10. She always had lots of hair for her age too, so people always thought she was much older than she really was. When I was pregnant with my second she was only 18 months old and I was carrying her into the grocery store. A lady commented to us that I "better teach her to walk before the baby gets here".

Although she has always been thin to normal weight my daughter sees herself as "huge" (her words) because of her height. Her doctor is careful to always point out to her at her physicals that she is a very healthy weight for her height and could actually stand to gain a few pounds.

Thanks for bringing up this topic, I think alot of people would like to be taller and sincerely believe that it is a compliment when they make the remarks about height.

L1z4 said...

yeah! I remember old ladies in church would comment on "how pale" I was when I was a little kid. I was too white for their liking. I remember thinking "there is something wrong with me my mom isn't telling me". There's no pleasing those busy-bodies!

Our society is really weird about bodies, isn't it? That's just rude!

new*me said...

the world need to live more like this! If only.....

Thanks for the reminder Lyn ;)

Mel said...

What a great post. My son is taller than normal at 3.5 and we always get comments. I brush them off but you make a good point that it might affect him differently. Thank you for your words.

Chubby Chick said...

Psst... there's something for you over at my blog. :)

Stormy Vawn Bradley said...

Excellent post... People really need 2 think b4 they speak.

Ria said...

Wonderful post, Lyn. You've certainly done your part to make the world a better place by reminding all of us that we should not be arrogant enough to assume that we understand another's experience because of a physical trait we can see, and that we certainly should not be rude enough to comment on any such trait.

Minnie said...

Just found your blog today, but this is one of my biggest peeves. I've posted about it several times.

http://theirwickedstepmother.blogspot.com/2008/04/how-other-half-live.html

http://theirwickedstepmother.blogspot.com/2007/10/oh-is-that-what-ive-been-missing.html