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'As I tucked my daughter into bed, she told me she felt fat. So I lied to her.'

I was tucking my daughter into bed one night as she whispered in the dark, “Mum I feel fat.”

I felt like I’d been punched. Here it was, the new “F” word. If you have children, you know it’s coming. I just didn’t expect it so soon.

Fat should not be a bad word. I’ve told my daughters it’s merely an adjective – tall, short, skinny, fat. As if it were that simple. It’s not.

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I’d thought I’d done everything I was supposed to do. I never talk about my body or anyone else’s. We never spoke about food as good or bad. I tried to provide both healthy foods and treats. 

I thought I’d done all the right things, said the right things.

The feeling of grief washed over me. Grief for walls I had carefully built, crashing down. I could no longer hold off the army of voices. Suddenly my lone voice telling her she is perfect the way she is was becoming a whisper against the societal screams. The outside world was smashing it down, brick by brick. As it should be. 

It was inevitable; she wouldn’t live within my protection of love and adoration forever. But it didn’t make It any less painful.

I laid down next to her. 

“Why do you think you feel that way?” I asked, taking her hand in mine. 

“Because my tummy is too big. I’m too big.” 

I took a deep breath. And everything that came out of my mouth next was a lie. 

“Sometimes I feel that way too, but it’s so silly because fat is not a feeling. It’s not who you are. Fat is something you have. Just like you have bones. Just like you have muscles. Fat is not a feeling.”

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Except I think it is. For me, fat is an emotion. I feel sad, I feel happy, I feel fat. 

I feel fat in a visceral way. 

I don’t just feel it in the rolls on my back. Or in the rubbing of my thighs. Or the wobble of my tummy. I feel it in the never-ending vastness of my skin. I feel it gathered in my hands, pulling at my top. I feel it in the heat of my cheeks when I realise I’ve eaten an entire block of chocolate in one sitting. 

I feel it in the constant sucking in of my stomach and beneath the hands of my husband who knows which areas make me flinch uncomfortably.

It’s a gnawing feeling that has settled deep into my bones so much that I feel fat, even when I’m not fat.

I tell my daughter, “You are kind and funny and smart. This is what makes you beautiful, because it all shines out of you. The way somebody looks is the least important thing about them…”

Except that merely existing as a woman means she will be navigating a world led by how she looks. That her attractiveness can be judged by the swipe of a finger. That she will feel the pressure to conform to impossible standards of beauty. Then face backlash if she tries too hard to keep up or be condemned if she doesn’t try at all. 

She will be damned either way.

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I tell her, “Everyone’s body is different, forever changing…and how boring would it be if we all looked the same?”

Except that I’m so bored of women’s bodies becoming their entire brand, I could scream. It is always the headline to our narrative and the older I get, the more boring and frustrating it becomes. 

Every year, it’s the same movie, just a new script. It’s not a diet, it’s a lifestyle. It’s not fat, it’s curvy. It’s not thin, it’s well. 

I’m so bored of the hypocrisy of the well-meaning wellness bloggers telling us to love our true selves whilst selling us the cure-alls for our flaws.

Most of all, I’m bored of calculating calories and deciding if I’ve burnt enough that day to “deserve” a treat.

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Sometimes I wish we all did look the same. Because wouldn’t it be thrilling if we needed to talk to a person first to know their value? To have to hear their thoughts and opinions, to have to search a little deeper for the headline. To not be judged by our covers. 

I tell her, “Real women’s bodies are not what you see on billboards or screens. It’s all warped and changed, shrunken and smoothed. It’s not real.”

Except she sees real women shrinking and smoothing in real-time, all the time. She sees everyone compliment and stare and remark over how great they look. 

What is their secret?! What is the trick? As if we are all magicians just pulling new versions of ourselves out of a hat. She sees Disney princesses with tiny waists getting their happily ever afters. 

I tell her, “I have fat. I love my soft, fat tummy, it held my babies. It stretched and grew and developed tiger stripes as it literally held life. Because of that – it’s my favourite part.” 

She can’t see me wince in the dark. That is the biggest lie of them all.

I finish talking, then I tiptoe from her room and into the bathroom. I peel off my tummy control shapewear. I wipe off my concealer. I put on a face mask. Control, shape, conceal, mask.

I then strip off and look in the mirror.

I silently curse that chocolate I ate and start the boring dialogue my brain reels off, whether I want it to or not. “What do you expect? You have to do better, cut back, if you could just lose another five kilos….”

I then curse my brain for still doing this.

One day if I’m blessed enough to be old and grey I know I’ll regret the time and thoughts wasted on this body. The body that I should be thanking for remaining healthy enough to carry me through to old age. 

So yes, I lie. Because I was programmed to know fat as a feeling.

I want to believe that fat can be seen and not felt. That it can be a part of you, not the whole of you. I want the script to be rewritten. I want new headlines.

I lie to her because I have hope. I hope with every part of me that by the time she grows up, everything I’ve told her will be true.

Feature image: Getty.

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