Advice for Parents
What advice do you and your readers have for a (thin, if it makes a difference) mom raising a fat daughter? I want to her be happy with her body, but I know that growing up in our fatphobic culture, she will hear so many times that she needs to lose weight to be acceptable. Obviously some things (never tell her she needs to lose weight, affirm that her body is fine the way it is) should go without saying. But I’d really appreciate any more specific advice that you may have. Was there anything your parents said/did that you found hurtful even if it wasn’t intended to be? Was there anything they said/did that you found to be especially helpful or affirming? How best can I help her to deal with bullies and fat-shaming from outside our family?
I have learned a lot from this site; I really appreciate what you do.
(Sorry for not using the ask box, but as I am talking about my daughter without getting her permission first, I feel obliged to make sure I’m really anonymous.)
I think none of the mods are parents, so our experience is a little limited there, but I’ll give it my best shot, and I’m sure the others will chime in if they have anything to add.
First, of course, don’t pressure her to lose weight. Don’t criticize her body or speak negatively about it. But also, don’t speak negatively of your own or other people’s bodies; anyone’s, not just fat bodies. Discourage or forbid other people to talk about weight loss in front of her. Don’t stand for people talking shit about fat people in front of her or you; challenge it as often as you can, or just walk away. Don’t watch shows that talk extensively about weight loss or promote fat hate (like The Biggest Loser). Talk to your daughter about weight, about how weight loss doesn’t work, and how it’s ok to be the size you are. I don’t know how old your daughter is, so I can’t help you with specific language, but I have a couple of conversations with an 8yo friend of mine up here, to give you an idea of what I would say to a relatively young child. Remember, kids, especially girls, pick these ideas up early, and it’s good to talk to them about it as soon as they start talking about it. (Her mom says she doesn’t call herself fat — she isn’t — at home anymore, either, so I guess that helped.) When and if she’s bullied about it, tell her that it’s not her fault, her bullies are jerks, and they would find something else to bully her about if it wasn’t her size (very true; they used to tease me about having curly hair). If a teacher or administrator at her school tells her she needs to lose weight, or especially tells her that the correct response to being bullied about her size is to lose weight, throw a fit. March down there with a stack of articles about eating disorders in kids, teens, and young women; articles about how high the death toll from eating disorders is; articles about how weight loss doesn’t work, anything you can find, and tell them that they are never to speak to your daughter that way again. You’ll have to find your own way of doing this, of course, but I promise you, there are ways of doing it politely. My mom, who is very much a Nice Southern Lady, politely pitched fits at my schools many times, although, alas, never about this.
Tell her that her body is good, that it is hers, and more, that it is her. If she hates her body, she hates herself, and she doesn’t deserve to be hated. Tell her her body is good no matter what size she is (remember, she may lose weight on her own as she grows up). Tell her you love her. Not, “We love you no matter what size you are.” Tell her you love her, period, and you will never stop.
Make your home a place free from fat hate. Make it safe for her to be fat in. Make yourself and the rest of your family safe for her to be fat with. Because the rest of the world isn’t.
Asking the question, wanting to do this for her, is a good start. Be aware that you’ll slip up or botch it completely sometimes, and don’t be hard on yourself, but just resolve to be better. You’ve been marinating in fat hate your entire life, it’s hard not to repeat some of it, especially when you don’t even know that it’s a problem.
There. That’s what I’ve got. I hope that helps.