Kids and the “F word”

People all the use the “F word” differently around children.  Since I’ve worked with probably over 200 young children now, I know directly the impact the “F word” has on them.  I’m probably too over-protective of the word as I go so far that I switch out the words in children’s songs and stories that use it.  However, every family is different and people can make the choice to include it in their daily vocabulary if they want to.  It is just a word, right?

I had a moment tonight regarding the “F word” while working with two of the most special people in the world to me, a girl who turns 6 in three weeks and a boy who recently turned 3.  I’ve been babysitting for this family since the little girl was just nine months old and one of the best parts of my life has been watching these children grow up.

It was bedtime and the kids were rambunctious and rolling around on the ground, begging to play their favorite bedtime game.  We call it  “abalone”  and they curl up into balls and I pretend to pry off them off the rock before baking them in the oven (a big reclining rocking chair) and nibbling at their toes after they’re baked.  Well, tonight I laid down for a change and the kids dog piled on top of me with my annoying low cut jeans and “normal length but too short for a tall girl” shirt both separating on me just like my abalone shell was being shucked apart.  I immediately became so AWARE that my belly was hanging out that it became my top priority to get back up, pull my pants up and my shirt down and proceed with my mission of getting their teeth brushed.  I remember thinking as it was happening, “THEY ARE SEEING MY FAT! NOOOO!  WHAT ARE THEY THINKING?!” and having this frantic moment of body shame as the kids played on, their smiles brighter than the sparkle of any abalone in the world.  These kids weren’t thinking about the fat on my stomach.  They were in play mode, happily living their lives as WE ALL should, unaware of judgement placed on our bodies.

I didn’t have the realization of what that moment all meant to me until I was driving home soon after. I was so happy the way the moment went over.  Sure, it sucked that I had a freak-out of body shame, but the fact that the kids SAW my stomach and didn’t say anything made me feel so much better.  They didn’t use the “F word.”  They didn’t call me fat.

I think I have a lot of body shame around children because, just out of a child’s simple curiosity, I’ve been asked about my weight many times before.  The most common is a child asking if I have a baby in my tummy, likely because they’ve seen other women who DO have tummies similar to mine.  When it first started happening at the beginning of my preschool career, at age 19, I didn’t know what to say to that.  Now I’ll just say, “No, my tummy is just squishy.”   Kids will ask, “April, why is your tummy so fat?” and I’ll make a joke about eating too much soft ice cream.   It doesn’t effect me now nearly as much as it used to now that I’ve worked with kids long enough to know that sometimes, questions that hurt really are just questions of wonder.

But then at the some point soon after those innocent years of toddler time, their perspective on the word fat changes completely.    The word fat transforms from a curiosity of different types bodies to a sharp dagger that can be used at any moment on themselves or other people.  Unfortunately once a kid has a grip on using the word fat, it’s hard to drop that habit and the image of what fat is to a child may be something that carries on with them into adulthood.

 

In a place where fat is all around us, how can we even control the word from changing from simple adjective into the piercing dagger it is known as today?

Is there anything that you do to try to promote better body image to the children that may be around you?   Do you think that as obesity becomes more common in the USA, the way we use the word fat will change?

Besides those DEEP THOUGHTS, today marks the one week of my weight-watchers week!  I weighed in this morning with a loss of 3.8!  Yeah!!!!  This next week I’ll work on improving my habits even more, as this past week I still struggled with my desire for liquid sugar.  My buddy Laura, the woman doing it with me, lost eleven pounds!  I’ll share how we did it in a post early next week!

Until then, happy Friday, everyone!

Love,

AprilSignatur

Chunky

One good thing about this blog, and one of the reasons that I started it, is I realized that I wanted to blog on a topic in which I would have a never-ending stream of things to write about. Not all of them are funny, like I had hoped, given my blog’s name and tagline, but all of them are honest and hopefully evoke a little emotion inside of your heart. Tonight’s post is kind of a bummer, and I apologize for that – but if I’m going to be completely honest in my little space on the internet about my weight loss quest, I need to be willing to bare some of these difficult details.

OMG! A bathing suit shot of me surfaces on the internet! Scandalous @ 11 years old.

I must have been 11, or maybe 12 years old. I was wearing the biggest size in the junior’s jeans – i think at the time, a 14 or a 15 depending on the brand. They didn’t make Junior Plus back then – it was just juniors, and if you were too fat for that, Misses. It was a precarious thing to try on jeans because I was burdened early on with blooming hips and often left dressing rooms in tears, cursing my full, changing body.

I recall after a particular shopping trip coming home from the store and craving a popsicle. My Nana was visiting from Tennessee and I remember her leaning back in the recliner as I came in the door. She was just the type of grandma you imagine in movies – heavy, but in the squishy old lady way, with tight gray curls and a never-ending supply of lifesavers and tic-tacs (for her diabetes). My Nana was a shocker because she looked like any sweet grandma on the outside, but when she opened her mouth, unexpected swear words would fly out of her pink-lipsticked mouth.

My beloved Nana and Uncle Larry in Georgia

“What are you doing, Lyss?” she called from her recliner, curious about the immediate opening of the refrigerator so soon after I arrived home. “I’m just getting a popsicle,” I replied, tearing the cold stick out of the waxy paper, happy that I had found an orange one amidst all the leftover red ones. My favorite flavor was green – for lime, but those always went fast in a house of three kids.

“Are you sure you want to do that?” she said.

I looked down at the popsicle, not sure why anyone WOULDN’T want to eat a popsicle – cold, refreshing, easy to carry, quick to eat. “Why?” I asked back, at this time licking the melting juice from the bottom of the stick.

“Well,” she said, her voice distinctively trailing off.  “You’re getting kind of chunky.”

I froze. “Chunky” is a word reserved for a type of soup. Not pretty, 11-year-old girls with wavy blonde hair who win school-wide spelling bees and play flute in the concert band.

I felt the instant welling of hurt inside of me, churning upwards like vomit in my throat. I can’t remember what I did after this, but I’m pretty sure I went upstairs and cried – cried to my little 11 year old self for being a big fat failure and for not being able to resist a popsicle. Despite my Nana’s warning, I remained chunky.

It’s hard writing about this, because I know I WAS chunky. What was hard about it was the way it was presented. I know my Nana didn’t mean to hurt me, and this post isn’t about a “Mean Grandma”. She also battled her weight and had lots to lose. I try to put myself in her position, to think about what I’d say to my future daughter or granddaughter if their life was so quickly mirroring mine, one headed towards the grim and painful path of obesity. It’s things like this that make me so afraid for when I have children, because their worldview can be so easily melded depending on the lessons you teach them.

If I was my Nana, would I have said it a little differently? Would I have waited until there WASN’T food in my hand, albeit a 50-calorie popsicle? Would I have saved my concern for my parents, or rather had a frank discussion about exercising and healthy food? Might I have said, “Have an apple instead”? Would I keep the popsicles under a locked box with a key, and have only frozen grapes instead? I don’t know. I don’t know, I don’t know, I don’t know. She wasn’t saying it to hurt my feelings, she was saying it to try and prevent me from starting down the very path she herself struggled on so often.

If you have kids, or when you have kids, how would you handle it if they were getting a little chunky? Would you be so matter of fact and hope that bluntness would drive home the point, or would you approach it in a completely different manner? My father has always been very pragmatic and closed-mouth about his daughters’ weight, whereas my mother is quite a bit more blunt. Is a child’s perception of what a word means just that – THEIR individual perception, or is it the way the message is presented that carries the meaning?

At least I’m not fat

I wasn’t always overweight – I arrived into this world at an average 7 pounds, 4 ounces or something like that. Through out my childhood I sported plump, apple cheeks, but didn’t tilt the scales until about the age of 10, around when my family moved to California. I remember wearing the girl’s size XL, and an unpleasant discussion at the doctor’s office about being overweight. “She needs to exercise,” the doctor had said, noting my ever-climbing weight. My mom replied, no doubt in protection, “She doesn’t love sports, but she does love to read.” I’ll never forget the doctor’s reply – “Reading is great exercise for the brain – but not the body!”

Age four - no chub yet!

As puberty crept up on me, my weight blossomed even more, morphing into fleshy hips and a soft, pudgy tummy. I was outgrowing the junior’s size 12s, having to squeeze my curvy waist into cheap L.E.I. jeans in women’s size 13s from Mervyns. My first devastating insult about my weight came from a boy I had a huge crush on, Patrick. We were friends and classmates and walked home from school together, crunching leaves and sucking the sap out of honeysuckles. He called me “Hey Arnold” after the cartoon, because we both had blonde hair. He was really tall and gangly, with small, narrow eyes and a deep, nerdy voice. In gym class one day we had to run a mile. As a fumbling klutz, running was something I despised, a special torture for a chubby girl with a propensity for words. I can even remember my outfit that day  -a purple Guess shirt and white cotton shorts.  As we lapped the dirt track together, he taunted me that he would win.  Adrenaline and ambition kicked in, and by some miracle, I propelled myself past him through the finish line, the victorious winner by a few seconds. As I applauded my own girls-against -boy victory, he hit me where he knew it would hurt – my emotions.

“Well – at least I’m not FAT!” he spat out, the friendly look in his eye replaced with macho venom.

Had I been the spunky girl I would have liked to imagine myself as, I would have replied, “Well – at least I’m not an ASSHOLE!” but instead, I slunk off like a guilty dog, reminded that once again, it didn’t matter what girls accomplished, but rather, what they looked like. I never wore those white shorts to school again. (He’s dead now, how’s that for Karma? I kid, I kid. Sadly, he is deceased of a drug overdose, which is a shame because despite this little sting, he was a nice, intelligent kid)

It’s so easy to remember the insults and the bad things that happen to you, even when you hear a lot of praise otherwise. I’d like to say comments like these didn’t affect me, but I guess they did if I’m blogging about them 14 years later – but hey, it fueled a blog post, so I guess that’s something.

Do you remember insults about your looks from days past? One of the worst I’ve ever heard is a guy who called my sister “Princess Fat Arms”. WTF! People can be so cruel.