“That baby is too big. It doesn’t matter now, but it’ll matter when she grows up,” she said.
One of my fellow junior kindergarten moms had a baby around the same time I had my fraternal twin girls. She approached us early on with her stroller in hand and a mouth full of baby comparisons. I felt sorry for her and engaged her in conversation despite the competitive vibe. You see, no one else wanted to talk to her, and I’ve always had a gooey soft spot for outsiders.
From the beginning, the size of one of my daughters became a focal point of her daily doses of verbal diarrhea. When she dove into the subject in front of me (or my husband), it was heavily flavored with the kind of passive aggressive back-talk that made it awkward to address directly.
The real issues began when she spoke about it behind our backs to other parents we’d become friendly with that year. That’s when she started laying out such time-honored gems as the first quote.
Yep, that’s right, a fellow mom fat-shamed my 6 month old baby.
Now, I have a long, sordid history when it comes to body image and struggled for most of my teens and twenties with an eating disorder (ED). I was never supposed to have kids, according to the doctors, but I would sometimes secretly count that as one of the blessings of being unable to conceive: I wouldn’t have to pass down the horrendous relationship I had with my body to anybody. The idea of saddling a kid, particularly a girl, with that kind of baggage seemed beyond cruel.
After years of treatment and commitment to a mindful eating program, I managed to access the volume switch that controlled the voice in my head; you know, the one that told me I was a fat blob who wasn’t worthy to be a mother, or someone’s partner, or be successful at anything. It would never go away, my therapists would tell me, but I could turn it down low enough that eventually it would become like a white noise machine. During times of stress, I was warned, it may come to life the same way a rogue radio station will suddenly break away from the static of another’s when you cross state lines. For the most part, they were right.
When I got pregnant with my twins, my biggest hopes and concerns revolved around their health and survival. The stress of the pregnancy, however, triggered some deep, shameful fears — courtesy of my old ED “frenemy”. I secretly hoped that the babies would be boys, or at the very least, have the same lean, straight-up-and-down body their older sister had inherited from her father. I felt terrible and didn’t share these thoughts with anyone.
Yep, I fat-shamed a fetus.
As luck would have it, my frenemy didn’t get her wish—we ended up with two girls, one of which has a taller version of my body type. I say we were lucky because having a daughter with my ample backside and push-that-plow hips forced me to talk about the issues I was having, and because she is an amazing, Brienne of Tarth, Amazonian baby (and I wouldn’t want her any other way).
It also forced me to look at myself in a new way. I, to quote another Lady, was born that way. My frame, my physical destiny (outside of regular exercise and eating mindfully)—was set in utero. I wasn’t meant to be slight, or straight up-and-down, or compared to a tea-cup sized anything; I was designed to be what I was and words like “worth” had nothing to do with it.
This was especially significant because my twins were fraternal and had wildly different body types. My other twin was the same weight as her sister when they were born. They were fed the same way, with the same foods, and had the same activity level. One just happened to be in the ninety-fifth percentile for both height and weight, and the other was in the fiftieth percentile.
My female twins had taught me a life-lesson in body image that no therapist or book ever did.
With that in mind, I tried my best to understand the actions of my fellow mom. I did what my mother always told me to do: I considered the source. Instead of just dismissing her though (which I think that adage might suggest), I really considered her and anyone else who might be harboring those internal voices that perpetuate the ass-backwards idea that a woman’s worth should be weighed on a scale. It was hard to judge her from my busted-up glass house. We were both a product of a lifetime of social indoctrination and the need to be valued (even if it meant tearing down other women/girls to been seen).
Recent studies have suggested that when young girls hear adults calling them fat the likelihood of them struggling with weight as adults increases, but I didn’t need a study to teach me that. After years of watching emaciated women in ED groups too dulled by starvation to cry and experiencing the lasting side effects of comments, like my fellow JK mom let loose, coming from people in my life—I had the antidotal evidence to back up the science.
Words have weight—literally.
All I can really do is weigh my words carefully and actually follow them up with actions. I can’t control what another mom says about my child. I can, however, take that person’s authority away by providing a better example for my girls and addressing the matter in the moment. Shame and social niceties kept me from being up-front last year, with this particular woman. I won’t let that happen again.
I think it’s important do this with kindness and understanding. My experience says that in order to have the lady-balls to publicly fat-shame an infant, I’d have to have a pretty damaged sense of self. Chances are, I would’ve heard the same things as a child and never had another adult stand-up and tell me that I’m valued, regardless of my size.
I realize doing this won’t immediately change society or mean that I can protect my daughters from the hate thrown at them about their bodies. On the other hand, as an opinionated woman once told a friend of mine: it may not matter now, but it’ll matter a lot when they grow up.
Rebecca Dreiling spent most of her professional life pretending for adults and now does it, almost exclusively, for her children. She’s an American expat living with her husband and daughters in the wilds of Canada’s biggest city. Currently, she’s taking a break from her performing career, going to school for creative writing, composing her fantasy novel, and vicariously soaking up the superior talents of her monthly writer’s group. Her oldest daughter is in Kindergarten and her fraternal twin girls were born last fall. Follow her on Twitter and on her blog.