A few weeks ago a friend of mine posted something like this on Facebook “Overheard at the playground from a Mother sitting on swing talking to her daughter: ‘God this makes me feel fat.'”
Everyone, including me, tsk tsked the overheard, non-enlightened mother. Does she really not know the damage she’s doing to her daughter? That poor girl is now destined to have a lifetime of poor body image.
As I said, I joined in the tsk-tsking, too. Of course I did. For over eleven years now, since the day I gave birth to a girl, I have been careful to never mention the words “diet” or “fat” or to express discomfort with my appearance in front of her. I have pretended that I work out because I want to be “healthy” and that I don’t want that brownie sundae because I’m “full.” I have pretended that I have hot wax poured over my eyebrows and then ripped off my face because I enjoy it.
So far, it seems to have worked. As far as I can tell, my daughter has no body image issues. She never complains about being fat or calls other people fat. When I ask if she and her friends ever talk about diets or being overweight or how people look she tells me they have better things to do. Incidentally, my nine-year-old son also seems pretty happy with his body, at least judging by the amount of time he spends walking around the house naked.
But lately I’ve been wondering if I’m wrong. Parenting already involves a lot of self-censorship. As my neighbor said, “you want to maintain the adult status.” So, you don’t say things like “No, you’re the big idiot head,” or “Jesus Christ you crybaby.” or “For the love of all that’s holy, do not tell me that story again.” You think it, but you do not say it.
I do not say things that will hurt my children’s feelings and I do not swear in front of my kids. Is adding self-censorship about my body really a good way to teach healthy self-esteem?
My daughter isn’t an idiot. Eventually she’s going to figure out that after a night where I was woken up by dogs, kids, and a husband running at 6 a.m. is not “healthy.” She knows what a brownie sundae tastes like, she surely already knows that it is physically impossible to be too full to eat a brownie sundae.
Eventually, she will know that if you take your 40-something ass and try and squeeze it in to a playground swing built for a five-year-old, it will make you feel like a sausage. It will make you feel fat. So, why can’t you say that?
I have always wondered why calling yourself or anyone else “fat” is forbidden. Try going in to a room of women and saying, “I feel fat.” You’ll instantly be met with a chorus of “Oh my god, you are so not fat” and “If you’re fat I’d hate to know what I am!”
In February when a film critic referred to Amy Schumer as “chubby” and an “unrealistic” object of romantic desire she took to Twitter to proclaim that she wasn’t chubby she was a “proud size 6.”
Whether or not Amy Schumer is a size six is debatable, but either way, she is chubby. So what? The issue isn’t whether or not she’s chubby, she is. The issues are 1. Why is a film critic spending so much space on the actress’ appearance instead of her performance or the movie she wrote and 2. Why does he think being chubby makes you unattractive or unlovable?
I loved Schumer so much more in June when she accepted a Glamour “Woman of the Year” Award not by proclaiming how thin she was but by saying, “I’m like 160 pounds right now, and I can catch a dick whenever I want, and that’s the truth.”
The problem isn’t being fat or feeling fat, the problem is thinking that your weight is all that matters. The problem is thinking that weight defines you or anyone else. The problem is that thinking you’re fat also means you’re unlovable or incapable of catching a dick.
When I talk to my female friends we talk about a lot of things. We talk about work, politics, art, television, food, sex, and sometimes we talk about our weight, or the ways our aging bodies seem to be betraying us. This conversation is part of our lives as women, but we aren’t allowed to share that part with our daughters.
Lately it seems like we’ve been replacing all the old oppressive rules about eating small portions and being polite and well mannered with new oppressive rules. Women should never use upspeak? We shouldn’t say that we “feel” or “believe” something, and most recently we learned that we just shouldn’t use the word “just.” We shouldn’t offer to make the coffee or help a coworker or do anything that might mean we’re perceived as care-taking.
If you are a middle-aged American woman and you have never thought to yourself, “I feel fat” or “I wish my thighs were smaller” if you have never convinced yourself that it was worth it to spend $100 on eye cream, then more power to you sister. It makes perfect sense that you never mention your weight or your wrinkles to your daughter.
But for the rest of us, those of us who have spent a lifetime living in and thinking about our imperfect bodies, why are we adding this pressure? Why do we think that refusing to acknowledge that we are fat or have imperfect bodies will help our daughters be accepting of their own bodies? Why do we think that practicing a constant form of self-censorship will help our girls grow in to healthy and confident women?