Today while reading a story with one of the PreK students I work with, she stopped me in the middle of the book to ask me a question.
"Am I fat?" she asked.
"No." I said.
"Am I skinny?" she asked.
"You know what?" I said, "Everyone looks different. And that's ok. Do you look the same as me?"
"Do I look the same as (another student)?"
"Does (another student) look the same as (another student)?"
"We all look different. And that's not bad. It's good. It's ok that we all look different."
And then we started talking about the different ways we get to school in the morning and how she wanted a bike for Christmas.
Now that I've had the chance to think about our talk, I wonder if I wasn't clear enough. If I didn't state explicitly enough that she is wonderful just the way she is. If I could have made her understand that her body is her own, to be judged by no one. If I should have used words like acceptance and love instead of different and ok. If when the other teacher called her "our big girl" and told her not to eat quite so much, I should have done ... something. Anything.
My student is 4 years old.
She is facing a lifetime of societal messages telling her to be thin, white, blonde, tall, physically able and more from every angle, explicitly and subconsciously. Already my students dress up as Belle, Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty and other princesses that don't look like them.
Since the outside forces of society are so strong, should I have been explicitly clear that her body shape does not define her? That there are more people who don't look like Cinderella than do? That the standard of beauty is constructed to be impossible? How can I use my limited role in her life to help her accept herself?
My student is 4 years old and asking me if she's fat. How can I ever do enough to help her?