‘Mama, I love your big fat bod.’  Raising a fat positive kid, hopefully (PART 4 – THE END…FINALLY).

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photo by my kid. She really takes the best pictures of me. 

You made it to the end? Congrats. I don’t think I would have so good job. I don’t know why I left number 8 here to start off this round(I CLEARLY need an editor), but I did so I guess here is as good a place as any to start…

8. We look at pictures of fat people ALL.THE.TIME.

Ok, so I totally stumbled in to this one by accident. Instagram is my social media platform of choice and I have a heavily curated group of fat babes that I follow all over the world that have style I want to jack. This means that there are ALWAYS fatties in my feed and my kid has, to date, grown up mostly looking at fat bodies and checking out fat fashion. I really feel like constant fat babe exposure is great for kids cause mine doesn’t even blink an eye about fat babe crop tops and she likes to see what people are wearing as much as I do. A fat babe in a bikini? My kid only ever says things like ‘mama, I like that one.’ OR ‘I wish that came in red’. The bodies wearing the suits are not an issue. I know that shit is gonna change as she gets older, but for now I am so over the moon that the social media she is consuming centres the queer, fat body. I especially love this cause we don’t have to have a big to do every time we talk about fatness and how fat bodies are good bodies blah blah blah, cause she can see that, right there, as I scroll down and find the cutest sequined miniskirts on the fat babe market.

 

Here are the last few items that I probably should have edited out but couldn’t because I have zero ability to keep shit focused and also my vanity means I think i need EVERY WORD. I tried to keep it short and sweet, but really didn’t or whatever. Here, in no particular order, are my final thoughts.

  1. Lead by example: Similarly to the point above, We find fat people who are doing activities that my kid loves to show her examples of fat people doing those same things. Fat babes dancing, fat babe artists, fat babe yoga teachers, fat athletes, fat designers etc
  2. No shame in our eating: We NEVER talk shit about our own bodies before we eat. EVER. There is a weird white lady cultural thing (maybe this happens with other folks too, but I notice it with white ladies the most) that happens where people need to be disparaging about their bodies before they eat – ‘I shouldn’t…just goes straight to my hips’, ‘ugh, I’m trying to lose weight who do I think I am eating this sandwich?’, I’m so baaaad.’ – etc etc. People don’t even notice they do it. It is as regular as breathing for a lot of people out there. Well, we don’t do that in our house and we don’t let other people do it either. We aren’t dirtbags about it, we just make it awkward. ‘What do you mean you are bad? for eating that pizza? How is that bad?”Aren’t you hungry though?’. We think those turns of phrase are toxic to our kid and her relationship to eating and food and can set her up to slip right into body/food shame. So an awkward conversation where we make those statements a real part of the conversation and not just unacknowledged body hatred filler means that we don’t have a ton of this happening when we have company over (also we don’t have a ton of company that isn’t fat positive to begin with, but I recognize that is not everyone’s world).
  3. Don’t be positive when you don’t feel positive. We don’t pretend being fat is easy. It isn’t. The reality is that fat bodies have a harder time navigating the world and people fucking hate us for being fat. Like they are really, really mean, you guys. And I begrudge exactly zero fat babes for trying to make it through the day with their families however they need to. It is hard for a fat babe about town not to internalize the socially acceptable hatred of our bodies. And, like everyone else, we don’t expect to feel good about our bodies every day, and so if we are talking about our bodies in this way, we try to be gentle and generous about anything that feels hard when it comes to how we look, and we talk about context always. This does NOT mean that I talk shit about myself in that constant perseverating way that many of us do because we think it is the expectation. I hear parents (especially mothers) talk about what they hate about themselves right in front of their kids, all the time, and it is so pervasive we don’t even hear it. Now, I parent a young kid who still thinks I am beautiful and amazing and I want to make that last as long as I can, and not make her second guess her feelings about me by shitting all over myself. How she sees me is true and real and magical and wonderful. I am happy to tell her that some days i don’t feel as comfortable in my body as others, but I do not, and will not, insult my body in front of my child. I never want her to think that it is ok to hate yourself casually in the lunch room as a way to bond. I don’t need to perfectly love myself to teach my kid, I just need to be super intentional about how I talk about myself because while I don’t want her to feel bad for feeling bad, I also don’t want her to be ashamed of eating or her body when eating. It is a fine balance, y’all.

 

  1. No Food Policing at the Dinner Table – We talk to our families and loved ones about their fatphobia, body negativity, and food hang-ups, set boundaries, and do not let them be crossed. I feel like there is a lot at stake here, so I tend to be a wee bit rigid on this. There is a strict ‘no food policing’ rule in our family and if it happens anyways at least our kid sees that we are addressing it straight on with people. (This is how white people should be dealing with racism at the dinner table as well, FYI). If you want to know how we do it, we literally shout ‘no food policing’ at people, or say ‘you weren’t just trying to tell me what to eat were you?’. People are mostly so worried about making a scene that it doesn’t often go much further than that. If it did I think I would turn to my kid and say ‘auntie so and so doesn’t understand the rules in our house so we will talk to her about it later and let you know how it goes. Would you like to be excused and go watch a show?’ And then I would go in with auntie so and so. Overall though, I don’t need people to change their opinions about the obesity ‘epidemic’, to suddenly become pillars of fat positivity, or to stop judging the food I give my kid, I just need them to get very quiet about it in my house. So quiet they are SILENT. Sure I want them to get with the fat babery, but barring that I want them to respect me and the rules in my house and with my kid. At the end of the day if they can’t just get with the program they don’t get to hang out with us. Sad for them because we are super party time and aren’t weird about food.

 

  1. Manners. We don’t talk about other people’s bodies unless we have explicit permission. EVER. Manners, babes.

That’s basically it team. My anecdotal approach to (hopefully) raising a kid that is minimally fucked up about food and her body. I sure don’t have all the answers- or even like a dozen, but I’m trying and figured this might help some of you out there who are navigating this stuff as well. Bottom line there is always a do over if we screw it up. My kid is very used to me apologizing to her when I mess up, and she lets me try again on the regular. So, hopefully this series was helpful and didn’t just make you feel worse which is what ALWAYS happens to me when I read stuff about parenting. To be clear here, I am just a fat parent trying not to raise an asshole, so for real, don’t go thinking I’m some child expert. I just know how I want to be treated and so I’m trying to do that for her, and I know that is how you are trying to raise yours too. So here’s to growing a generation of kids who do no harm and take no shit.

Smooches.≈

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‘Mama, I love your big fat bod.’  Raising a fat positive kid, hopefully (PART 3).

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Street art in Iceland – because I am Icelandic and unicorns, and rainbows, ok?

Part three and there is still another round of this stuff. I kid you not.

In which we talk about activity and moving our bodies and ‘health’.

So I wanted to tackle this section without sounding like an ableist asshole. I tried to write in a good way and also probably some of this still might sound sketchy. If it does feel free to slide into the comments and let me know – if you have the spoons that is. Just to be totally clear, I do not think fat bodies only have value if they are healthy AND I do not think that ‘health’ is a ethical metric for measuring worth.

6. Move your body cause you love it, not cause you hate it.

We talk about learning our bodies and how good it feels to move them, to get sweaty, play games, run. Too often people are exercising as punishment for being fat, or a consequence for something that they ate. That babes, is a heaping serving of bullshit. We should every time move our bodies because it feels good, or because we get a major benefit from doing it. There is a reason so many people feel like they should drag their ass to the gym or outside or whatever and I blame this on our fucked-up belief in the ‘activity as punishment’ model (I also blame rampant fatphobia in gyms, but I digress).  Our kids should not learn that every time they eat dessert they should do 50 crunches and a couple laps around the block. Adults suck the fun out of so much the least we can do is keep fun policing away from food and activity. Kids want to be active. They want to play and run and learn what their bodies can do. This step is easy, we literally just have to get out of their way! We try to give our munchkin all kinds of chances to be active. Even just little things like climbing trees, digging in mud, creating weird obstacle courses, or jumping onto a stool from the ground without a head start, all these little moments of learning what our bodies can do help our kid feel great in her skin and curious about what else she can learn to do.

7. Fat bodies don’t tell us anything about what people eat or whether they are ‘healthy’.

We talk to our kid about how looking at someone does not tell us their story. We started this early by talking about gender (since she has so many queer people in her life and she was learning pronouns at the time anyways). We learned our approach from an 8-year-old we know. She taught us that we never know whether people feel like a girl or a boy or both, or neither, or something else entirely unless we ask them ‘how they feel in their heart’. Is that not the goddamn nicest? So, we talk a lot about how people feel in their heart and that it is a personal question that we can only come at lovingly. Our kid, like all kids, is boss about the flexibility of gender and doesn’t blink an eye if what is in someone’s heart is different than what she first thought. It is gentle and kind and creates space for the queer or gender non-conforming kids in her life to talk about how they feel and identify. Thank goodness for genius kids who understand implicitly how to be generous about gender (unlike the vast majority of adults, currently).

We have also applied a similar line of thinking to fatness. We talk about how different bodies can do different things and we can’t tell by looking at them what they can do. So, we should ask if it (whatever activity ‘it’ is) is something people can do and something they want to do and not assume that because a body is skinny that it can do a thing or that because a body is fat, that it can’t. Look, the truth is that someone’s ability to engage in a particular activity, or their overall health status are not things we can know unless we are told. Lots of skinny bodies have high blood pressure or bad backs, lots of fat bodies don’t and so on. The definition of ‘health’ is widely debated and hotly discussed out there in the world and so we don’t spend any time talking to the kid about what is healthy and what isn’t, instead we emphasize the importance of moving her body and putting the food that she needs for fuel into it (also, for the record the idea that a person is only valuable if they are ‘healthy’ is ableist and just a shit thing to believe overall). We debunk myths about fat people, like the assumption that if you are fat, you are ‘unhealthy’ AND that ‘health’ should be the ultimate goal for fat people- especially when skinny people get to choose from any number of other life goals. If skinny people can have life goals that do not revolve around their bodies and health than so the hell can I. With our kid, we mostly just talk about how silly it is to value people based on what their bodies can and cannot do, rather than explore the gifts people do have and honour those.

Health trolling side bar – everyone wants to shame fat people and say that they are concerned about our health when the truth is people, almost exclusively, only give a shit about ‘health’ when they encounter a fat body. There are tons of medical studies out there (google ‘obesity paradox’ instead of getting up in my comments about this) that show that people who are in the first couple categories over ‘normal’ on the BMI scale (also problematic as hell, but whatever) live longer healthier lives, but you don’t see ‘concerned citizens’ on Instagram, or doctors for that matter, encouraging people who are underweight or even in the ‘normal’ BMI ranges to gain weight. Skinny people do not have to deal with the same pervasive and never ending health trolling that comes with fat bodies, it is a different scenario all together (although many like to insist that they are also targeted and maybe they are and that sucks, but it is not the same level of cultural and social pervasiveness and honestly, let’s be real, the visceral hatred is reserved for people with bodies like mine). Also, the idea that my body only deserves respect if it fits into some fucked up definition of health is ludicrous, mean-spirited, and, categorically illogical.

So there.

Last round tomorrow…

‘Mama, I love your big fat bod.’  Raising a fat positive kid, hopefully (PART 2).

Part Two, Y’all: Sections 2 through 5. In which we talk about talking about food.

IMG-16662. Fat is a necessary part of every body.

The role of the body is to store fat. Surprise. That is the literal point. Tell your kids that when you are talking about bodies. Say to them ‘Hey kid did you know that a really important thing that our bodies do is store fat and that is what has kept our species going in times of famine? Did you know that our body can burn fat to keep us warm when we are cold? Our fat is an important part of keeping us alive! ISN’T THAT AMAZING???’ Fat is not a thing our kids should fear, it is a thing they should understand. The more we can buffer kids from the fear of fat, the better – cause that fear sets our kids up for worry, low self-esteem, and a solid shot at disordered eating, all because of a part of our bodies that we all need to goddamn survive. Fat is just fat. I don’t want my kid afraid of any part of her body. Because bodies, and the parts they are made of, are flipping amazing and if our kids learn that from us, then they are less likely to believe any random busybodies who try to tell em different.

3. Be value neutral about food.

We talk about the benefits of food for our bodies in terms of energy. In our house, there is no such thing as a food that is ‘bad’ for you. We never talk about clean eating or healthy vs unhealthy eating – That kind of talk is FORBODDEN. Every kind of food serves a purpose. Food is not just about nutrition, it is comforting, celebratory, ceremonial – this is as important to us as the role food plays in keeping us alive and our bodies working well. So, for us foods like candy or cookies are treats and they taste good, and feel special to us. That is important. Other foods like bread and pasta give us short energy really quick which is good when we are feeling low and need a speedy surge, Things like fruit give us quick energy that also lasts a little longer than say, white bread. Protein gives us energy that takes a while to get going and then gives us a ton of steady, over time, energy. We have found that talking about food in terms of energy is value neutral and teaches our kid about how to mix and match food to get the right kinds of energy, for the right activity, when she needs it. For example, if she is going outside to play and is feeling hungry, she knows that she should snack on something that will give her a quick jolt of energy and probably something that will give her more lasting energy. That could be a cookie and some tuna, or cheese and crackers, apple and peanut butter, or carrots and hummus – really any number of things. This teaches her that food is an important part of her life and helps her do the things that she wants. It also eliminates the idea that food is bad, cause y’all once our kids learn from us that certain foods are bad, then that opens the door for the rest of the world to get a chance to tell them what is bad too, and that is where (if they have blessedly not started at home) fucked up relationships with food can begin. Don’t let other people get their twisted food relationship tenterhooks into your kids – no one needs to feel shitty for eating a potato, and yet, here we are. Protect your kids from that garbage. FOOD IS NOT BAD. IT IS LITERALLY ESSENTIAL TO LIFE.

4. Listen to your belly.

Since our kid was little we have been asking her to listen to her belly. My partner did a ton of research on how to talk to kids about food and read something about telling kids their job is to fill their bellies. We were into it, and because we like to amp shit up, we made it a HUGE thing in our house. Our kid’s belly is a girl (Natch) and babes, she has got a lot to say. When our kid eats more that she needs, her belly lets her know. When my kid wants a snack, we ask her belly what kind of food she needs so she can get the energy she needs. Her belly tells her when she is full. That belly is wise as hell and teaching our kid to listen to that wisdom has meant that she checks in with herself on the regular. She lifts her shirt, gives her belly a look, and really listens. Her belly also tells her when she has eaten too much and when that happens we have a conversation (a kind, compassionate curious convo) about what we could do next time to help our belly not feel sick from eating when she had already had enough- like listen to your belly ahead of time, take breaks from eating so your belly can take stock of what it wants etc. Our kid has had conversations with us about how her belly sometimes tricks her because the food tastes so good so we have talked about how sometimes our belly needs a moment to finish enjoying her food so she can then figure out when she is done and avoid feeling sick afterwards. Now, obvi, no one needs to be that literal, but regular belly check ins do tell us when to eat, what to eat, and when to stop eating. We have also found that bellies generally don’t believe in diet culture so that is a bonus.

5. ‘Too Much’ sugar.

Have you ever heard someone say too much sugar is not good for you? Wait don’t even dignify that with an answer. How about someone saying, ‘too much steak is not good for you?’ or ‘too much lettuce is not good for you’? My guess is a strong ‘probs not’ on those last two. And yet the truth is that ‘too much’ of any one food is not good for you. There are a million complex reasons people choose the foods that they do for themselves and their families and honestly, I’m not interested in getting into this debate with anyone. The bottom line is that a positive relationship with food is more important than our kids understanding that simple sugars aren’t the greatest. ESPECIALLY SINCE LITERALLY THE WHOLE WORLD IS TEACHING HER THAT. That information does not protect you from disordered eating. Seeing food as positive and a way to fuel our lives does.

Part 3 tomorrow – I told you it was SUPER LONG. Your fave has a lot to say about this one.

‘Mama, I love your big fat bod.’  Raising a fat positive kid, hopefully (PART 1).

IMG-3191Hey babes, so I have been tinkering away at this blog post for a year or so. Mostly because it is so freaking long and I am tres realistique about how many words to foist upon you at any given time. I’m super clear that as a rule, I could be a little less verbose/everything I write could use a hard edit, but, I have decided that it is, after all, just a blog so if it is kinda shitty, the stakes are low. I’m gonna share it in a few parts so  people will be able to get through it without muttering curses at me under their breath. There are no cliffhangers though so you are gonna have to rely on intrinsic motivation to get through all the parts. Hopefully it can help us raise a fiery band of fat positive kids who look upon diet culture with disdain and pity. Fingers. Crossed.

My kid is lucky. She has fat parents who don’t hate their fat bodies 24/7. We are basically the fat positive needle in the parent haystack. Even better, we are for sure the vainest babes in our peer group. I believe that my kid’s accidental good fortune in the parent lottery has meant that her relationship to her own body is pretty damn good, at least I freaking hope it is. I have never heard her say a bad word about how she looks or her body overall which is saying something. If anything, we have tipped her over into a deep sea of vanity which, to be perfectly honest, I consider a protective factor against the body hating fatphobia of the rest of the universe. Now can I say for certain that having fat positive fatties as parents is *directly* responsible for the fact that at 7, she does not know what a diet even means? Well not totally, but I mean SURELY we have been a contributing factor? I mean I will concede that, in general, my parenting approach is ‘cross your fingers and hope I don’t fuck her up too much’, and I am certain that much of my parenting ‘skills’ could be improved dramatically, but I feel like in this area, I have done some on purpose shit that I think has contributed to (at least for now) a less messed up perspective on bodies and fatness. And, at the bare minimum, has not added to the constant barrage of media and moral panic around fatness that is coming at her.

I know I’m not the only one who gives a shit about this stuff. Other people, who are also in charge of raising a better generation of humans than us, want their kids to love their bodies, act as allies to fat people, and not have disordered relationships to food and activity as much as I do. I know this is true.  Now, obviously, desire and action are two different things and most of us are so busy trying to keep these tiny people alive that we don’t always have time to share what works with each other. Which means we don’t always have the tools we need at our fingertips. What I also know is that, like most other fucked up shit in the world – I’m looking at you white supremacy, cissexism, racism, settler colonialism, ableism to name a few off the top of my head – if we are not constantly examining how we engage with fatness and interrupting that shit with our kids, they will just end up defaulting to the socially acceptable norm, which to be clear is actively harming everyone and is literally dangerous for those of us navigating these norms in a fat body.

And for kids being raised by thin privileged parents it is extra important to make sure that the kids that you raise won’t be the ones making life a living hell for the fat kid in their class AND that, if you are lucky enough to be raising a gorgeous magical fat kid, that they know that you love their body and them and that you will fight for a world that can recognize how goddamn valuable, beautiful and important they are.

So, I want to share some of the things that I have found helpful (or at least not actively harmful) AND some of the things that I do in my day to day to counterbalance the influence of every other input in the lives of our kids. I want her to be the best fucking accomplice to fat people she can be or a fat babe living her best life, so I do what I can. I’m working hard now because I am very aware that in a hot second she will think everything I have to say is irrelevant garbage. The clock is ticking y’all. So, let’s get to it.

  1. Fat Neutrality VS Fat Positivity

We use the word fat not only in a neutral way, but in an actively positive way. It is not enough to use the word ‘fat’ simply as a descriptor. It is a good start. OK let’s be real, in the current social context that shit is a radical start. And yet, babes, I feel strongly that just because the bar is miserably low that doesn’t mean the bare minimum will cut it. we need to take it further. If we can get to a place where we are talking about all the amazing things that fat bodies can do (float, offer comfort, lift things, etc.) then we are rejecting the idea that fat bodies have nothing to offer. When I was a kid I remember walking the dog with my dad, who is also fat. I was a kid and I must have said something about being fat that didn’t sit well for him – likely wishing I was thin like my mum and brother. And my sweet, fat, gentle, science fiction loving dad, who probably had no clue what to say to his girl, looked at me and said something like ‘different bodies are good at different things. For example, in an apocalypse you would probably live longer because you have more fat stored than skinny people.’ Now, this sentence probably began my obsession with apocalypse planning, but it also shifted my thinking about bodies to include context, and I goddamn hung onto that over the years. Cause even though it was a weird as shit thing to say to a kid, it was also the first time I had heard an adult name a strength associated with being fat and therefore my body. He acknowledged my body, saw it, and in his weird way acknowledged a scenario where my body would survive. Bodies have different value depending on what is happening around us and thinking about that context starts us thinking about systems and shit outside ourselves that plays a role in how life plays out. Now we certainly don’t need to get that heady with 6 year olds, just pointing out how fat bodies are valued in different contexts and how awesome fat can be is probably enough for now.

In a similar, but slightly different vein it is also important to move past saying things like ‘all bodies are good bodies’ and engage in ultra-specificity around the awesomeness of the fat body. ‘Look at your mum’s beautiful belly that feels so good to rest your head on.’ ‘Auntie Maggie’s bathing suit looks amazing on her.’ Etc. I mean obviously get permission to talk about someone else’s body, but you catch my drift. Pretending my body is not fat is not being fat positive. Cause, while all bodies are good bodies, some bodies have to shout a little louder to make sure the punks in the back can hear. So, the more of us shouting the better.

Part two continues tomorrow…