I’m a recovering bulimic, a mother whose eating disorder settled in in the teen years and has continued to rest like the devil on one shoulder, whispering angry words of shame in my ear when I catch a glimpse of myself in a mirror.
Fat is a word I have had to teach myself not to use, a word I’ve excised from my language in an attempt to give my daughter what I did not (and likely never will) have — a healthy sense of self.
My plan was to protect her from fat, from the damage this word can do to one’s psyche. It’s often noted in the literature that the worst thing that can happen to a girl — at least in terms of disordered eating — is to hear her own mother refer to her own body as anything short of absolutely normal. I have striven to keep my own insecurities well hidden.
But it has not been enough.
Last week, as she settled into her bed and we began the work of picking apart her day, she burst into tears.
“X called Y fat today,” she told me.
Y is her friend.
X is a schoolyard bully, a child who, at just 8 years old, is already tearing other children down.
My daughter was horrified at the cruelty of this word being thrown at her friends, and that, at least, lessened the blow of hearing this word coming from my daughter’s mouth. She knows better than to hurl cruel words at her friends, is horrified by the notion, and for this I am grateful. We’ve done something right, my husband and I.
And yet, have we done enough, I wonder?
More From Inside Out: I Am Now & Forever Shall Be … A Bulimic
“Fat” is a word this bully is using to hurt children’s feelings, to shame them, and while my daughter recognizes the vicious nature of these attacks, she also recognizes the word as something derogatory, something one would not want to be called.
Her relationship with the word is already negative, and I fear what comes next. A relation to her own (perfectly proportioned) body? A fear of becoming whatever it is that word describes? An understanding that society puts decidedly too much value on thin?
The latter, at least, is inevitable when you’re raising a girl. At one point she will look at the stick thin models in the magazines and realize that they may not be the norm, but they are held up as better than, that this world is full of bullies who will tear a person down for nothing more than the number on a scale.
I had only hoped she’d have a little more childhood before it all began.
How have you approached the “fat” conversation?
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