To the Father of the Little Girl, Whom He Teased Publicly About Being ‘Fat’
Dear Sir, I’m guessing you didn’t mean intentional harm when you laughed loudly and instructed your young daughter to get on the scale at the Publix supermarket so you could see how “fat” she was. I’m sure you didn’t mean anything by your thoughtless remark. In fact, you acted quite tickled with yourself, as though what you’d said had been rather clever. You even looked around to gauge the reaction of onlookers — a goofy, expectant grin pasted on your face. You waited for those within earshot to reward your “witticism” with a hearty chuckle.
When you made eye contact with my friend who’d been there, she did not laugh. She did not smile. You may, at that point, have realized your social faux pas. You might have thought perhaps what you’d said had been in poor taste. Maybe you felt a little sheepish, a little badly, even. Had I been there myself, I would have stopped you in your tracks. I would have made you listen. I would have told you my story. Because I was that little girl. I am that little girl. Every day, I relive every instance of that hateful word “fat” being directed at me. I remember every single time in hideous, gut-wrenching detail. In fact, I still suffer frequent nightmares about one boy who was particularly cruel in middle school. I am 33 years old and have dealt with anorexia and bulimia for more than half of my life.
I have no doubt you love your daughter unconditionally and, had you realized your “playful teasing” might be doing irreparable harm, you’d have stopped yourself at once. Yes, there were times when my own parents were guilty of something similar, gentle teasing when I was going through some awkward stage. Truly, it boggles my mind, though, how parents, in the year 2016, can still claim ignorance to the pitfalls and dangers of body image issues for both girls and boys. I am not a parent, but damn if I don’t feel fiercely maternal when it comes to this topic.
More Radical Reads: 9 Common Mistakes Parents Make About Their Kid’s Weight
When it comes to The Absolute Necessity of Positive Body Image, how can it be, with all the efforts to educate and campaigns of awareness launched, that our society remains grossly uneducated and unaware? With glazed, unseeing eyes, we view The Dove Campaign for Real Beauty ads on television, flip past the pictures of “real women” and spend more time gazing at the fantasy. Although, I readily admit to being guilty of doing this myself, I recognize it’s not the way it should be and certainly not the way I would want my own child to experience the world. There really wasn’t anything like the Dove campaigns when I was growing up. I was raised as a Barbie Girl in a Barbie World, saddled for a lifetime of body dissatisfaction. But no one knew any better!
Positive Body Image wasn’t a “thing” yet. It took the healthcare community a long time to recognize anorexia and bulimia as serious (and deadly) problems. Bulimia didn’t even make it into the DSM until 1980, and the term “bulimia nervosa” wasn’t coined until 1987. I was born in 1982, and eating disorder advocacy didn’t really begin to gain momentum until the 90s, and even then, it wasn’t broadcast widely. Before I became sick, the only eating disorder case of which my parents had even heard, was that of Karen Carpenter.
How could they know any comments or observations, however well-intentioned or harmless, might be 1) Misconstrued and 2) Solidly ingrained in my memory and thus have an impact on my body image well into my 30s? They didn’t know. They didn’t know I was genetically predisposed to developing an eating disorder. They didn’t know I was battling a constellation of cognitive issues including bipolar disorder. They didn’t know what they might say about my body, their own bodies or the bodies of others would be interpreted as a guide for self-evaluation.
More Radical Reads:What I Teach My Son When I Say I Am Fat
I was (and am) hypersensitive to any and all comments and (perceived?) criticism, seeking external validation constantly. Awareness. just. wasn’t. I think it’s interesting to note the contrast in education and awareness between then and now. Although I stand by my assertion that continued societal ignorance borders on negligence, there are now more resources available resulting in an improved sensitivity within child-rearing. Of course, eating disorders are incredibly complex, and the causes are myriad. However, prevention can start at home if you Watch Your Mouth:
- Be careful of disparaging your own body’s flaws in the presence of your children.
- Be careful of disparaging other’s bodies in the presence of your children.
- Foster Positive Self-Talk.
- Resist the urge to comment or criticize your child’s appearance and/or how their eating habits have an impact on their appearance.
- Healthy eating does not require motivation by shame or guilt. Instead, emphasize improved health instead of improved appearance.
- Prioritize other qualities as having greater value than appearances such as intelligence and character attributes like kindness, generosity, honesty, i.e. fruits of the spirit.
Note: This Body Image “Prehab” applies to girls and boys; Eating Disorders do not gender discriminate. Protect your children and Watch Your Mouth.
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Kristen M. Polito aims for brutal candor in regard to her own struggle with anorexia, bulimia, and bipolar disorder. You can read her public blog,SaltandPepperTheEarth @www.saltandpepperthearth.com, follow her on twitter @saltandpepperth or visit her author page here.
[Feature Image: Black and white image of four children, two with long hair and two with a short haircut laying on the carpet. The first child looks sad as their eyes are facing down and closed, the second and third child stare upright at the camera while the fourth sticks out his tongue. Flickr.com/Enrique Saldivar]