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Chewing the fat with my 6-year-old

“Were you born fat?” she asks me.

No, I wasn’t. I remember always having a smidge more puppy fat than my sister, but I wasn’t a fat child.

Gleefully: “Then you don’t move enough!”

That’s true. Also true that I eat too much chocolate. I’m fine with this conversation, as long as she understands that it’s not okay to talk to anyone else like that. My guiding principles are that she should be comfortable to talk to me about anything; and she shouldn’t experience “fat” as an offensive word. And yet, I do have to make it clear that other people will be offended by it. And that’s only the start of this minefield.

My question, of course, is where is this coming from. “Frau B says children shouldn’t be fat.”

Ooooookay. Now things are really getting hairy.

Her teacher, as previously mentioned, is admirably fit and trim. I suspect that – like Armin – she is a natural thinifer, and naturally assumes that the only reason for anyone to be less than thin is that they are greedy and/or lazy. I imagine she is teaching the children the importance of exercise and healthy eating, and hooray for that. But I’m not at all happy that she’s doing so in terms of Fat. I am very conscious of the importance of teaching my kids good, healthy eating habits, and making sure they move their bodies and building regular exercise into their lives for the long term. I’m not that great at always feeding them well, or modelling perfect habits myself, but I try. However, I work hard to always, always frame it in terms of making your body strong and well. Never about looking good. And never about fat.

Frau B is apparently teaching them that fat, heavy bodies are unhealthy and harder to move and so on. So it’s not about looks, exactly. But it is very judgmental. And I’m fighting so hard to avoid that. I’m trying to teach her that people come in all shapes and sizes, fat doesn’t necessarily mean unhealthy (in either cause or effect), and most importantly, it’s nobody’s business.

Elf is lucky: she has inherited Daddy’s long, lean body shape. And she really loves doing gymnastics, so that’s sport sorted (at least for now). She’s not likely to battle with fat herself. But that’s not enough, is it? Whether or not she develops body issues (and I don’t know how many girls manage to avoid those, no matter how fantastic they look), she will be constantly looking at other people, measuring herself against them, judging them. This is what girls and women in our culture do.

She’s recently become obsessed with “prettiness”. “Mommy, you know who I find the prettiest (in this picture/game/film/book)?” Even in a book with minimal illustrations, she judges the characters on prettiness. Why are you so interested in who’s prettiest? “I just am.” I try to talk about their other attributes. I tell her that prettiness is the least interesting thing about a person, to me. But that won’t change the fact that it is a real, big thing for her. And it’s only going to get worse. 

So this is what it is to parent a girl. But apparently boys won’t be much easier – going by this (German) blog post. A seven-year-old worried about his sixpack? Bloody marvellous.

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