Parents of all sizes have to navigate how to teach their kids about bodies. But for us fat parents it can be even more challenging because we have to deal with internalized fatphobia as well as the fatphobia directed at us from the world (and sometimes our kids). These thoughts are things that have worked for me as I have navigated being a fat parent raising (hopefully) fat-positive kids. Feel free to ignore anything that doesn’t work for you. All families and kids are different and therefore what works for me may not work for you.
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- Be Honest with Yourself – No one loves their body 100% of the time and no one needs to. It is completely okay to have mixed or negative feelings about your body. It is impossible to live in a culture this fatphobic without internalizing those messages. As parents we often hold ourselves up to unrealistic standards and this is one of them. You are not failing as a fat or body positive parent.
- But Be Thoughtful About What Your Kids See and Hear – Children are not exactly known for their ability to understand nuance. So while it is crucial that you are honest with yourself, you will also want to be conscious about the messages that your children hear and see about your body. Kids often look at their (biological and non-biological) parents as mirrors of their own future. Talking negatively about your body in front of your kids may influence them to think negatively about their own bodies, especially if their bodies end up being similar to yours. (Also, no dieting!)
- Food and Movement – As parents we are responsible for teaching kids about nutrition and exercise. It is incredibly important to frame this conversation in a way that will help contribute to fat positivity and not put thinness as the implicit or explicit ideal. Both food and moving your body should be framed in terms of pleasure.
- Talk About It – If your kids end up being thin, it may seem easy to just skip talking about fat and bodies, but don’t do it. It is important to talk about the fact that fat bodies are treated differently than thin bodies. Kids will notice body diversity at a young age and it should be reinforced that these differences are a good thing and are not to be ignored.
- Media Stuff – The media is generally – strangely – devoid of many depictions of fat people. When there is a fat person represented, they are typically shown in a negative way, often embodying fat stereotypes. Because of this, it is actually really easy to find examples of negative portrayals of fat people that you can point out to your kids. Watching TV with my kids has inspired many conversations about important issues. Media literacy about all sorts of issues is an important skill.
- Fat-Positive Community – One of the things about parenting that we forget a lot is that we do not have to be all things to our kids. If you are not at a place where you feel like you can be the best fat role model to them, hopefully you know someone who can. Feeling confident and loving our bodies is not something that any of us can accomplish 24/7. However, kids learn lessons from many different people and making sure they spend time with people who will (for example) happily prance around in a fatkini is important, whether that person is you or another trusted adult.
- Expectations of Activism – This is something that I feel like is not talked about enough. For our kids of all sizes, it is not enough for them to just not further fatphobia, but they need to also affirmatively stand up against it when they see it. This will be easier for some kids than others and your expectations should take that into account. One important thing is that since fat kids are already targets, that should be taken into account in terms of expectations.
The most important thing is to talk to them and keep talking. Kids will also pick up a lot from what they see and hear you do. Being quiet about these things won’t help anyone and will keep our kids more vulnerable to implicit and explicit forms of body terrorism they encounter. With kids there is (almost) no such thing as talking too much.
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[Feature Image: A photo of a few people at a market. The person on the right has their hair pulled back and is wearing a blue tank top. The person next to them is a child with short black hair, dark glasses and a green shirt. The person on the left has their dark hair pulled back and is wearing an orange striped shirt. The person facing the others has short dark hair and is wearing an orange plaid shirt. Their back is to the camera. They are standing in front of a table with potted plants, plastic bags and a scale on it. Source: Michigan Municipal League]