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Talking With Kids About Fat … It’s Not a Dirty Word

Talking With Kids About Fat. It's Not a Dirty Word. - Columbia SC Moms Blog“Mom, you have a fat belly.”

“Mama, are your arms fat?”

“Your belly is jiggly fat, mommy.”

“Why is your tummy fat?”

“You’re fat, so you must be full, right, Mom?”

These are all things my children have said to me at some point. Before you go thinking that I must have the rudest, most insensitive children ever, let me tell you why we talk about fat, and how.

It’s no secret that I’m a fat woman. As my children age and are more exposed to societal norms and pressures, they hear this word often, mostly in a derogatory sense.

I want to change that.

Fat is not a bad word. Even though I must admit hearing my children call me fat, or parts of my body fat, makes me cringe a little inside – and sometimes it makes me cringe a lot – I do my best not to let it show.

Because how we talk about our bodies matters.

These little people I share my life with internalize an awful lot – about body positivity, body shame, what it means to be pretty, or beautiful, or ugly, or imperfect. So we talk about fat. We talk about my fat in particular, as well as others.

blog fat2

This is the definition of fat. Straight from Merriam-Webster. There is nothing bad or wrong with fat.

My children are not fat. They aren’t overweight. They are solidly 50th percentile for height. They eat. They eat a LOT. I’m frankly terrified of the teenage years, because the toddler and preschool years have hit our grocery bill hard. They eat healthy food. And they eat some junk food, I’m not gonna lie. They know all the fast food places and what they like to eat at each one.

My 3-year-old pipes up from the back seat as we pass fast food row, “Fries! McDonald’s! Chicken! Coffee, Coffee, Coffee!” (Mama has a Starbucks habit, can you tell?)

It’s called, for us, balance. I want them to enjoy food. I want them to love good food. I want them to strive for quality over quantity.

My almost 5-year-old daughter is a burgeoning foodie. She loves a variety of fancy balsamic vinegars. One of her favorite things in the world is crumbled goat cheese. She’s the one you want taste testing your food in the kitchen, not that you could stop her anyway, because she is almost always right about what your recipe is missing, or could use more of. The other day I was trying a new recipe for Coconut Cauliflower Rice.

She tasted it and asked, “Mama, what’s in this?”

“Cardamom,” I answered.

“Card-a-mom? Cardamom? It needs more of that, card-a-mom,” she told me, absolutely certain of herself. She was right. I added more, and it tasted amazing. This recipe is now a staple side-dish in our house.

Taste testing the curry

Taste testing the curry

What’s this have to do with that word, fat?

Everything.

I’m not perfect. I don’t try to be. But in our many conversations about fat, I tell my children that fat is okay. Fat can be strong. Fat can be healthy. Everyone has fat, our bodies need fat to cushion our organs and our bones. Some people have more fat than others. Fat is not a joke. Sometimes fat people are funny, but it isn’t their fat that’s the punchline, or at least it shouldn’t be.

I also talk about skinny, because already my almost 7-year-old son knows that skinny is something people prize and value over fat. I tell him skinny is okay. Skinny can be strong. Skinny can be healthy, but it isn’t always. Just like too much fat, too much skinniness can be a symptom of sickness. There’s nothing funny about being skinny.

So when my children say all those seemingly rude things to me, we talk about it.

“Mom, you have a fat belly.”

This may sound like an insult, but I usually just answer in the affirmative, “yes, my belly is fat. There is fat in my belly. Everyone has a little fat in their bellies, some more than others.”

“Mama, are your arms fat?” 

Another one with an obvious response, (yes, they are) but I like to answer, “yes, they are fat, and they are strong. Want to see my muscles?” Then we have a muscle competition. This usually ends in giggles and laughter which is really the best part.

“Your belly is jiggly fat, mommy.”

Actually my kids don’t say this often, but my daughter loves to jiggle my belly. I am honestly not comfortable with that, and had to be honest with her. “I don’t like it when you jiggle my belly. It doesn’t feel good.” I say something similar when they make a comment to other people about fat, that sometimes talking about fat can hurt someone’s feelings, and we should not make a joke about that.

“Why is your tummy fat?”

This is a tough one. They do not need to hear about all my weight struggles. At least not now. So I break it down. I tell them that over time I ate too much unhealthy food and I wasn’t active enough. Now I try to eat more healthy food, drink more water, and be more active, but I’m still fat, because sometimes it is hard for our bodies to let go of the fat. I do emphasize that although my tummy is fat, I’m still strong. I’m still healthy, I’m smart, and I love them. Those are more important things than how fat – or not – my belly is.

“You’re fat, so you must be full, right, Mom?”

My son said this the other night after a delicious dinner of Mongolian beef and cauliflower fried rice (I might be a bit obsessed with cauliflower rice). Now, this, I made into a funny. I told him, if that were true, I’d never be hungry!

I don’t know if I’m doing this conversation about fat right. Sometimes I’m pretty sure I talk too much about fat, or that I shouldn’t allow them to talk so much about my fat.

I do know that talking about it is better than not talking about it. They are going to hear it from the media, from friends, from teachers and coaches and all the other adults in their lives. My voice needs to be in there, letting them know what I want them to know about fat, because for them I am Fat. They need to know that I’m not ashamed or bothered or grieved or angered by something that is just a word. So I talk about it.

I show them that there is nothing wrong with fat. I run with them. We do yoga together. I eat with them. I get in the picture. I don’t just take them. I swim with them. In a swimsuit!

I am Fat.  And I’m okay with it.

blog fat beach

Me. In the picture. With all my kids (granted the oldest is only in by a foot). At the beach. In a swimsuit.

How do you talk about fat with your kids?

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One Response to Talking With Kids About Fat … It’s Not a Dirty Word

  1. Mary September 12, 2016 at 12:52 pm #

    Awesome job, Katrina! 🙂

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