I got a question from reader Sarah today that I think is really important. She asks the question in relation to being a parent of a fat kid, but I think that the question applies to everyone on a journal of self-acceptance:
Hi Ragen. I am struggling with my young son’s self body image. He has never heard this from us, but he calls himself fat as a negative. We practice describing our bodies in lots of different ways and explaining that people comes in call shapes the sizes, but it still comes up. My question is this – you seem to have come to a very strong, self-advocating frame of mind about yourself despite size prejudice. I imaging that wasn’t immediate or easy. Is there something someone could have done or said that would have made that journey easier?
First of all I think that this kid is really lucky to have parents who are supporting him in appreciating his body, and bodies of all sizes, and who really get it when it comes to size acceptance – so rock on Sarah!
I think that this is a multi-layered series of conversations that are based around a central theme. That theme is: The world is messed up, you are fine. This was, not coincidentally, the title of a talk that I gave to 3rd-12th grade girls and their parents at the GenAustin conference a couple weeks ago (a blog about that is forthcoming.)
Here are some of the pieces of that conversation:
The thing that we’re combating here is “everybody knows.” Allowing “everybody knows” thinking has gotten us into plenty of trouble in the past . Galileo was put under house arrest for challenging the idea that “everybody knew” that the sun revolved around the Earth. Doctors used to think that Heroin was a non-addictive substitute for morphine. Oops. It’s important to question “everybody knows” thinking – including when “everybody knows” is appearance based and people insist that they can tell a lot from someone just by how they look (this can also lead into necessary discussions about racism, ableism, transphobia, homophobia, stereotyping and more.)
A lot of people make a lot of money by convincing us that there is something wrong with us and that we should buy their product to fix it. This works especially well when it’s something that happens normally – diverse body sizes, aging, cellulite etc. are all examples of that.
Because making us hate ourselves makes lots of money, we all get tons of messages trying to make us feel bad about ourselves. Sometimes people react to that by trying to make other people feel bad about themselves in the hopes that it will make them feel better.
Bodies come in all shapes and sizes – fat ones, skinny ones, and everything in between and all bodies are good, beautiful, amazing bodies just as they are.
Currently in our society there is a tremendous amount of stereotyping, and stigmatizing of people with larger bodies. This is 100% wrong. people deserve to be treated with respect regardless of their body size and stereotyping and appearance-based bullying are always wrong.
Some people will try to justify this bad behavior by suggesting that it’s about health. Body size and health are not the same thing (there are healthy and unhealthy people of all sizes.) More importantly, it’s not ok to treat people poorly because of their health, and people’s health is between them and their doctor and is none of our business unless they ask us.
Though this kind of stereotyping and stigmatizing is wrong, if you or your friends have a larger body it will likely happen to you. Some people might suggest that those with larger bodies who don’t want to be mistreated should try to change their bodies. That’s a really messed up way to view the world – the cure for bullying isn’t for those being bullied to change, it’s for bullies to change and stop bullying.
Your body is amazing – it does millions of things for you every day without you even asking (breathing, blinking heartbeat) and it supports everything else you do – smiling, hugging, walking, rolling your wheelchair, waving etc. Your body is like a friend and when people are saying mean or negative stuff about your body, you can stick up for it just like you stick up for a friend who was being bullied.
Health isn’t an obligation and there’s no guarantee no matter what you do, it’s also not something that people should use to judge others . If you want to be healthy than the thing to do to give yourself the best odds, no matter what your size, is to participate in healthy behaviors – things like getting enough rest, drinking water, eating nourishing foods that you enjoy, move your body in ways that are fun for you. Taking care of your body should never feel like a punishment, and it shouldn’t be about trying to manipulate your size, taking care of your body is a gift you give yourself and how you choose to do it is between you and the people you trust.
Being treated poorly based on your size shouldn’t happen, it’s not fair, it’s not your fault, but it can become your problem. It doesn’t matter how many people participate in it, it’s still wrong.
You get to decide how you get to deal with this. You might choose to stand up to your bullies, you might choose to ignore them, you might choose to do things that might make them leave you alone. You might choose different strategies at different times and with different people and all of that is ok.
The most important thing for you to know about this is that you and your body are not the problem – appearance based stereotyping, stigma, and bullying are. The world is messed up, you are fine.
Like this blog? Here’s more cool stuff:
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