Monday, December 21, 2009

Fat acceptance for 4 year olds

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?"

"No."

"Do I look the same as (another student)?"

"No."

"Does (another student) look the same as (another student)?"

"No."

"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?

18 comments:

Rachel said...

Well, it looks like you already started. You started and others will have to continue. Just keep on doing what you're doing, confidently and lovingly, and we will help you continue. Just as one comment can be damaging, one comment can be affirming, despite the other negative images around.

Carry on.

lisa h said...

Good job lindsay! This child is lucky to have you in her life!

You don't need to say the perfect thing. She will remember the gist of it more than the specifics. And yes she, like all of us, will need to find her way in a world of many negative voices. We all do the best we can.

Continue to speak words of liberation, with all the love you can muster!

purplegirl said...

I think you did the best you could--it's a simple concept, and yet difficult to impart all the same because we're all raised with the "but what about ...." kind of mindset. But she's very young, and to complicate it too much would've been worse.

CarrieP said...

oh wow. Well, you could say "no, you're not fat, but even if you were, that would be just fine." and then continue about how everyone looks different. Frankly I think you did a fine job.

Thornacious said...

Oh man, how heartbreaking.

I think you did a great job, especially for being put on the spot like that.

The only other tact you could take, I think, would be to kind of own the word "fat" and make it plain that being fat doesn't preclude people from being beautiful, happy or loved. Maybe something like, "Well, my friend Leanne is fat, and I think she's one of the prettiest people I know." Or "I don't think being fat is a bad thing. My Grandma is fat, and she gives some of the best hugs around."

Since we know that "fat" is so often used to indicate other unpleasant characteristics, that when someone asks us, "Am I fat?" chances are they're really asking, "Am I un-lovable?" in some way.

Saranga said...

what the other said. especially thornacious.

Anonymous said...

Not being obese is not "impossible".

At what point did we become so lazy as a species (or, since you don't hear men saying that being in shape is "impossible), at what point did women become so lazy as a gender, that the simple concept of proper diet and exercise became "impossible"?

lindsay said...

@Anon

First, you know NOTHING about my student. You don't know what she looks like or what her body shape is. I didn’t give any indication if she is thin, fat, round, tall, short, has three arms or anything. YOU KNOW NOTHING ABOUT HER.

Second, I used the word impossible because, if you had followed the link, you would have seen many, many, many, many examples of societally beautiful women photoshopped to be thinner, taller, have wider eyes and fuller lips. If models and movie stars aren’t pretty enough, how can everyone else do it? That, my anonymous commenter, is the definition of impossible. Aspiring to something that is unattainable.

Third, my student is FOUR YEARS OLD. FOUR. Do you look like you do now at age four? NO. Little 4 year old girls do not need to be worrying if they’re fat or not. They need to be learning letters, rhymes, numbers, how to count, how to recognize their emotions, what to do with those emotions, and how to develop into someone ready for kindergarten. I will NOT ever, ever, ever tell my students that they need to lose weight. I will tell them that if they want to do the monkey bars, they need to practice. I will tell them that they did a fantastic job at writing an A. I will tell them that I love spending time with them every day.

But never in a million years will I tell one she’s fat. And I hope to god you never work with children.

So Anon, since it’s the holidays and we’re supposed to respect everyone, I won’t tell you to f*** off like I would otherwise. But you sure as hell better not write a response telling me that I should have higher standards for diet and exercise with my FOUR YEAR OLD STUDENTS.

Saranga said...

well said Lindsay.

Esther said...

Anonymous:

There's an ocean of a difference between excusing obesity (which is an entirely different issue and debate) and encouraging people (men and women) not to hate their bodies. Telling a student that she is not fat is not telling her to lead a life of sloth by your, which I'm assuming you correlate directly with obesity.

Second, you seem to think that proper diet and exercise will produce a body that the (future) young lady and society will deem acceptable. What these people here and elsewhere are raising their voices about is that this isn't what happens. I'm assuming you find non-obese and non-overweight people more acceptable, so I'll speak of that range just for discussion's sake. There are millions of people, men and women, but historically more often women, who are within this range that are devastatingly unhappy with their bodies. A size 8, a size 6 is no longer acceptable, and they will either go to extreme measures to get smaller or just live hating their bodies. As someone who has lived with messages about the "proper" thinness to achieve since she was a young child, I can tell you the effects.

What Lindsay (and we) are trying to prevent is more people hating their bodies because they don't fit into a size 4 or 2.

Lindsay didn't tell the child not to go and be healthy or not work hard or to become a moral failure or "drain on society" who takes up too much space whom you have to deign to look at when you go to the mall. She told the child that everyone looks different. And that's OK.

Got it?

Anonymous said...

Most major adult obesity problems start in childhood.

Catching them in childhood is the best way to prevent them from becoming major adult obesity problems.

lindsay said...

The issue isn't her body size and what you think is her obesity (since you have no idea what this child looks like). It's her self-image. It's her and my other girl students facing a lifetime of society telling them to be disgusted with their bodies.

Again, the actual shape of my student's body isn't the issue. It's that regardless of what body type she has, society will tell her it's not good enough. And that it's impossible to become good enough.

@Esther

I was reading an article in Vogue about a size 4 model that was "too curvy" for the runway. If she's not skinny enough, how can anyone be?

lindsay said...

@Esther

Here's an article about the story in Vogue and the ridiculousness of it: http://www.lemondrop.com/2009/12/22/vogue-lara-stone-a-plus-size-model-at-size-four/

CarrieP said...

Anon:

I know a LOT of really fat people, and let me tell you what event the overwhelming majority experienced in their childhood: A parent or authority figure telling them they are too fat and need to go on a diet. Most of them have been struggling with fatness their entire lives when maybe if they were taught that their body was okay, just as it was, they wouldn't have dieted so young, screwed up their relationship with food, and had such a negative body image.

Nothing good can be gained from telling a child of four that she is fat. Nothing.

Anonymous said...

Okay... Okay... I'm just furious at this "Anonymous" fellow.

First of all, he uses the term "obese" which is a label used by the Body Mass Index (BMI). The BMI system is hugely flawed and doesn't take into account race, age, gender, or muscle mass and was not developed by a physician. I can forgive this as the BMI is still widely used.


Secondly, he assumes that fat people are lazy and that "proper" diet and exercise will "fix" fatness. Okay... fatness isn't an illness, it's a body shape, like thin, lithe, round, and muscular. Also, when it comes to diet and exercise, what is "proper" and good for one person, isn't "proper" and good for another. Just like certain medicines don't work the same on different people. (I could go on and on about this.)

And finally, no only are fat people lazy, fat WOMEN especially are lazy. "You don't hear men saying being in shape is 'impossible.'" O yes! Because there are NO fat men ANYWHERE. (Taste the sarcasm?) Could you PLEASE make your sexism a little more obvious? (More sarcasm there.)

Look. I like being fat. A lot of people (women AND men) are fine with it and even like it! I wouldn't be thin if you paid me because I love my body as different (and as beautiful in it's differences) as it is!

If you can't learn to love every type of person, then you're going to have to learn to deal with them and, most importantly, leave them alone. Your comments only allude to your ignorance and lack of compassion.

Please, sir, a little tolerance (especially for children)? A little REASEARCH, would go a long, long way.

-Lexie Di

wriggles said...

I don't see how this;

'....the standard of beauty is constructed to be impossible'

becomes this;

'Not being obese is not "impossible".'

I don't doubt that it is not impossible not to become fat theoretically speaking. We just don't have an actual real life method.

It is those like yourself who claim that we can prevent it with the knowledge we have now, when we cannot, who are actually stating it's impossible by dint of that fact.

If people want to prevent fatness occuring, come up with a method that is effective, until that, it is not possible.

diana said...

You've no clue how much your concern for the body image of your four year-old charge warms my heart. Been a fat activist for decades now, listening to life history after life history, and the main way that women go from weighing 160 pounds to 360 pounds is by repeat dieting. This culture is absolutely obsessed with "obesity," but the cures, moral condemnation and insistence on semi-starvation, only serve to make people hate themselves as they gain more weight.

Even more, four year-olds don't need to hear "Eat less." We have innate appetite and balance systems (over several days) that work well -- when we don't mess with them. Shame only serves obsession. Thank you, Lindsay. Lucky, lucky children to have you care for them!

Eva said...

1) Don't beat yourself up about not saying more. You are part of the solution, not the problem. Be proud of that fact!

2) Go with your instincts and be more explicit next time. Children draw their own conclusions and if you want to head off the full strength of the media and hurtful societal opinions you should give them the strongest and most unambiguous message you can manage. Repetition is also good, but I'm betting you've got that down. :)