I’m sitting here in my kitchen, while my six-year-old daughter sleeps on the sofa, exhausted. The conversation I just had with her before she fell asleep is completely, 100 percent, absolutely ridiculous. And there is completely, 100 per cent, absolutely nothing I could do to avoid it. At least, nothing I alone could do (apart from maybe deserting society and establishing a new tribe with my little family in the wilderness). You see, the problem is here, in society. Or maybe it is here, in humanity. Or maybe both.
For her, it was in the classroom, from the mouth of a boy who proclaimed to be her friend.
And I can’t help but just say to myself, “Are we really still doing this? Really? More educational, inspiring, enlightening resources than we’ve ever had before, more history available to us, more psychology, more knowledge, more sharing of sympathies and feelings, more voices, all of these things are more accessible to the people in our society than ever before, and yet…we’re still doing this? Really?”
We try to shelter our kids from a lot of grown-up things in life.
We shelter them from things that we believe will have a negative impact on their childhood.
Some of these things — like drugs, alcohol, sexuality, violence, large-scale decision making—have scientific, physiological backing that supports our withholding, for the good of the children and their health.
Some of these things — like sarcasm, metaphor, mixed emotions (happy tears), intensely dramatic situations— are not necessarily harmful, but are withheld because they are simply outside a child’s understanding and would be confusing or upsetting to them.
We are so thoughtful, so studied, so pointed about these things. We are doing a great service to the next generation by being purposeful about it.
And then we go and let this sh*t happen.
This sh*t that I had to talk to my six-year-old daughter about today: This F-word that is far worse than F’s at school, or frappuccinos, or f*cking f*ck words, or any of those other F-words we parents get so worked up about.
Now, don’t get me wrong, this f-word is not a bad word in and of itself in the slightest. It is simply a descriptor, an adjective. It is a word that should be used technically, in relation to health and in conjunction with so many other factors, but it isn’t. It used to be an emotionally-simple word, a factual word, even a word that once connoted beauty, strength, and viability against nature and famine. Once, it may have described desirability in the oldest known statue.
Once, it described the first inspiration (a sea lion) for one of the most alluring mythological creatures — the mermaid. Once (not even so long ago), it was witness of a person’s wealth.
Once, it wouldn’t have been placed in the mouth of a six-year-old boy who was told it was a weapon. Once, it wasn’t loaded with so many holier-than-thou assumptions and used in firearms to shoot down the mental health of the already fragile (who — news flash — already know everything everyone tells them about it).
Once, it wouldn’t have created this conversation with my six-year-old. Once, it wouldn’t have caused her great amounts of anxiety. Once, it wouldn’t have been brought up by her over and over again for fear of being despised for its potential presence, even though it doesn’t technically apply to her.
This very fact — its changing level of acceptance in society — proves that it has been manipulated.
It used to be simple and fairly innocuous. It used to describe just one of the multitude of aspects of a person and their health.
Indeed, it was normal, once, to be “fat.”
Now it is our collective fault that the word is dangerous.
It is because of our hunger for things, our inability to be smart about consumerism, that made it this way. It is our fault for letting sellers of things change our opinions about beauty and beat us at the game of life, our fault for letting makers of marketing tell us what we need, what it should look like, and that we need it now! We were once in control of our thoughts, feelings, and desires, but then we turned on auto-pilot and flew through the world of commercialization without another proactive thought.
It was there on our journey that this f-word gained its brand-new, one-of-a-kind, state-of-the-art, must-have negative connotation. And now it is not just there, but also there, and there, and over there, and everywhere that the negative connotation is re-emphasized. Fat is bad, it tells us. Fat is bad.
And we bought it.
It is sold in our movies (with all their skinny protagonists), in our media (with all its “perfect” pictures), in our porn (with all its belittling, possessive, controlling, emphasis on the thin female form).
It is sold in our commercials of innocuously-placed skinny people who always look happy. It is in our print ads of photoshopped thighs enjoying the water of some magical beach that brings happiness only to those with gaps. It is in our mannequins made to convince our eyes of how our clothes “should” fit. It is in our clothes and our fashion and our sizing structures.
It is sold in our competitions, in our sports, in our pageants.
And in fact, not only did we buy it, but now we sell it ourselves.
It is in our music, in our hobbies, in our purchases, in our lists and Comments and Pins and Saves and Shares. It is in our language to one another and in front of one another, and most importantly — more importantly than in any of the other places, it is here — in our hatred of ourselves and our bodies.
Listen: Are there any circumstances under which it’s acceptable to comment on someone’s weight? The Mamamia Out Loud team discuss.
When we mock and belittle others or ourselves for our bodies, we sell it. Ever asked your lover if you look fat? Ever done it in front of your kids? Ever stared at the mirror for hours? Ever tried on multiple things, letting your frustration and sorrow show? Ever played that “He’s on your team” game? How about the “Ooh, she shouldn’t be wearing that” game?. Ever commented on the bodies of the people on TV? And where were your kids?
When we talk about weight incessantly, we sell it. “Lose 3 kilos in 10 days!” “I started eating healthier, and now I’ve lost 7 kilos!” Sometimes we throw in an “And I feel great,” but it’s always second to the weight. Always. When we talk like this, we sell it.
Ever ogle your celebrity crush? Buy that movie because “so-and-so is in it, and she’s so hot” (and, newsflash: skinny!)?
Ever fawn over and consume love songs that focus on how a person looks? We feed these songs to our kids and let them draw their own conclusions about “love” from them.
“And you just look so beautiful. It’s like you were an angel”
“I don’t deserve this; you look perfect tonight.”
“When I see your face, there’s not a thing that I would change, because you’re beautiful just the way you are.”
And we go, yeah, but we want our kids to feel beautiful, don’t we? These songs are about someone seeing beauty because of love, right?
Did we really need more songs where love is coupled with physical appearance? Did we really think we were lacking in that department?
And how is this going to pan out when our kids look up the accompanying music videos to see what “beautiful” looks like to these singers? Hint: it doesn’t look like them.
When we create a market for Hollywood producers to constantly couple “sweet” love songs (or cool girl songs, or rich rocker songs, or popular diva songs) with emphasis on appearance and then music videos full of skinny beauty, we sell it.
When we buy magazines about beauty or celebrities or fashion and allow Cosmo Bigwigs to dictate our subconscious desires fueled by advertisements, we sell it.
When we constantly try extreme diets to change our natural health, or talk about “earning” our food, or talk about losing weight to fit an occasion, we sell it.
Are we really still letting rich people in suits, CEOs behind doors, and marketers without conscience tell our entire society how to look (and letting that look be an impossible standard)?
To myself, to you, to everyone, really? Are we not past this yet?
Of course there is a place for aesthetics, for health, for constructive communication about better eating, but we are so far past that line that the line is completely out of sight now. I’m sure we can stand to inch back toward it.
And so I sit here, thinking of this conversation:
“Mum,” (my six-year-old daughter frowns) “look at my tummy! I don’t ever want to be fat!” She buries her head into me.
Really? I think to myself. Are we really doing this? At six years old? I hold in my emotion.
“What do you mean? Who or what made you think that fat was bad?”
Note that I’m skipping right past making her understand that she’s not fat. She’s not. Not even close (she got my lightning metabolism). But that will never be enough. It will never be enough because our current equation is 1: fat is bad + 2: fat means anything other than impossibly skinny = 3: you cannot win at the fat game. You just can’t.
She couldn’t pinpoint just one thing, but she said, “It’s not good” and “John called me fat.”
And I had to ask myself how the hell a little, tiny, six-year-old boy got the idea in his head that girls shouldn’t be fat and that he could call a girl fat to make her upset.
And then I answered myself: probably the same way a little, tiny, six-year-old girl— who grew up in a house without the f-word, a house with health but without a dieting mother, a house where self-hate is not acceptable, a house without magazines and with little media — got the same idea in hers.
It just seeps in because we live in a toxic society of anti-fat messages, both subliminal and direct, selling us the impossible image and calling everything else “fat.”
“John said that?” I asked her.
“And what did you think about that? How did it make you feel?”
“What about that made you think it was bad?”
“I don’t know.”
“Did John say it was bad?”
“Well, he laughed at me, so he thinks it is.”
“Do you think John should get to decide that?” I asked.
“No,” she said quickly.
“Is he the boss of what’s good and bad about how you look?”
“Who should get to decide whether it’s good or bad?”
“I don’t know.”
I lifted her little chin to look in her eyes. “Do you want to decide that? It’s your life, your body, your power; you should get to decide, don’t you think?”
Her face brightened as she smiled her child’s smile and said “Yes!”
“Good.” I smile back. “You decide then!”
And with that, she fell peacefully to sleep.
But will the lesson stick?
Will it stand up to the barrage of anti-fat messages that are still to come her way? Will it beat the army of anorexia and anxiety that lurks behind every smiling fashion model pictured all around her? Who is going to help me fight this? There are some voices standing up, even in the consumer markets (applause for Dove, for Knixwear, for MakeLoveNotPorn, for Torrid), but we need more voices. We need yours.
And it starts with you having a conversation…with yourself. Your worth is not in your weight (or in the weight of your significant other). If you think it is, unplug, stop buying, stop staring, stop comparing, stop expecting. Give yourself permission to be less than a lie. Give yourself permission to be honest, true, healthy you. That’s enough. And she’ll see it.