It was a beautiful autumn Friday in New England. My daughter had just completed two successful, confidence-inspiring hours of gymnastics at the Little Gym. (In a blue shiny leotard we had just purchased, nonetheless!) We walked back to the car, hand-in-hand; I was proud of this time. She was a baby who had low muscle tone, and I had put her in gymnastics purposefully. Now, she was doing flips over the bars.
As I unlocked the car, Fiona started to gaze off into the distance. Stare, in fact. I followed her gaze to her classmate and parents, who were walking together.
A slow smirk spread over her face, as her gaze focused on the obese father.
“Mama, he’s fat.” She continued smirking, and an implied sense of power washed over her as she realized she was NOT and he WAS.
Not my daughter.
For those of you who don’t know, I was a FAT kid. I was mocked for it by classmates, I was deemed “disgusting”, I was even sexually assaulted by a classmate in music class “because I was fat.” (Because I deserved it, because I was fat.)
There are people who will view this who will argue with me and say that there’s no negative connotation with being fat. They will tell me that I’m too sensitive and that I put too many expectations on my daughter and I say to them, I AM DONE WITH YOU.
I LIVED it and I continue to live it every time I lose 5 pounds and I am praised for it. I continue to live it every time I gain weight and I notice people give me less compliments about my appearance. You are bullshitting yourself if you think there is no negative connotation with being fat. There is less today, but it still exists.
When Fiona uttered this sentence, I panicked. Where did she pick this up? I, for one, don’t use the word fat. I use the word heavy and overweight, but not fat, because I know what it carries with it. We also refer to foods as being healthy, or having “vitamins to make you run fast”. Had she picked it up from her friends? Seen it on an ad? I was a little stunned, and a little disgusted, even know the intellectual side of me knew she was four years old. She reminded me of that blonde in my class on the playground who always made fun of my awkward body during Project Adventure.
“Fiona, we do not say that. That is not nice. Get in the car.”
I buckled her up, prayed, and said to myself – Do not be hard on her. Do not project your experience on her and shame her. Just be honest, factual, and tell her your experience.
“Fiona, I have to tell you a story.”
“A long time ago, Mama was overweight when she was a kid. A lot of people made fun of Mama and called her fat and it made Mama feel really, really bad. So I know how it feels, and it doesn’t feel good. That’s why we don’t call people fat.”
I don’t know if was blood memory, or a sudden lightbulb that went off in her head, but Fiona’s face turned ashen. Her face crumpled, and she GOT IT. Like, mourned for her mother got it. Like, cried all the way home got it. I immediately felt horrid, even know I know I maintained an even tone (isn’t this motherhood thing fucked?)
On the way home, she turned her face into the seat, ashamed. I tried to reiterate my unconditional love for her. “Baby, Mama doesn’t think any differently of you – Mama would love you even if you punched somebody! It’s just important we’re kind to people.” It didn’t seem to help. She whimpered and finally started to come around after I distracted her with a joke.
Parenthood is brutal. It’s even more brutal with a trauma history you have to dissect and not project onto your kids whilst maintaining some sort of a lesson for them when they’re unkind. Childhood is brutal too – imagine not knowing you were being unkind, and then being told you were being unkind in a way that hurt your parent when they were kids? Imagine being so innocent and then not, knowing your Mama was hurt for the way she looked? And would that happen to you?
Yesterday, someone on my husband’s facebook feed disagreed with the meme that Donald Trump’s words about sexual assault leading to the actual crime did not matter, and that words are very different from actions. I sit here enraged, thinking about that, because I know the effect of words. Words that lead to sexual assault. “FAT” leading to “less than” leading to “it’s ok to touch her in a sexual way because she’s less than”.
Not my daughter.