Not Fat: A Guest Post by Desi Valentine

I’m a corporate refugee, quiet activist and child care provider.  I write about grace, joy, hilarity, leg hair, and life looking after other people’s kids, over at The Valentine 4: Living Each Day.

“Oh, Mum!  I have so much FAT on my legs!”

This came from the backseat of the car, while my husband drove us all to errand number 5074 on a typical Saturday morning.

Me:  “Pardon?”

Backseat:  “This FAT here, Mum.  I have SO MUCH of it!”

It took me a minute to process this.  I mean, I consider my daughter to be a bit of a weird egg.  At four, she started working her way through Shel Silverstein’s “Lafcadio” because she found it on her bookshelf and enjoyed the illustrations.  I didn’t actually believe she had read it, until she rattled off a chapter-by-chapter summary at bedtime, one night.  I did know she could read.  I didn’t know she could read that well.  And when she got bored with “Charlotte’s Web” and moved on to “Harry Potter”, a bunch of new fears arose:

Will she pretend she’s stupid so people will like her?

How will she deal with the nerd-hating mean girls in the playground?

Without a gifted teacher, school could be a cerebral anaesthetic for her.  Are we going to have to deal with problem behaviour?  (Oh, c’mon, now.  NO ONE wants to be on that bench outside the principal’s office.)

Because she is so bright, learns so quickly, and loves discovery so much, I assumed that her feminist battle would be over before it started.  If she’s that smart, there will be no limits for her.  She can be, do, grow into whoever she wants to be.  Forgetting, of course, that our political forebears had startling intelligence, limitless drive, and a profound understanding of the human condition.  And that we all still struggle with limits.  And that some of those limits are self-imposed.

When my five-year old daughter leaned forward in her carseat, grabbed her thigh muscle and pulled it up like an especially rancid slab of meat…. I didn’t know what to say.

On the beach in Jamaica, last summer, I chuckled to my in-laws that my kids look like an advertisement for Save the Children.  I was only half-joking.  We are thin people, at my house.  Thin people who LOVE food.  My son, all 39 inches and 29 pounds of him, once sat down to 6 multi-grain pancakes, 6 breakfast sausages, and two oranges.  And then cried when he couldn’t have more.

“Oh, Mum!  I have so much FAT on my legs!” said my daughter, with her stick-bug appendage thrust out in front of her.


So, I asked her.  “Why do you think your legs are fat?  That’s your big muscle, isn’t it?”

Well, she had overheard someone she loves complain about her own “fat thighs”, internalized it, and decided to try it on for size.  She was looking for a physical definition of “fat”, as children tend to do with new things.  That’s all.

So we chatted for awhile about what muscles are, how important fat is, about how our brains are made almost entirely of fat, how it coats our nerves and gives us energy, how our bodies couldn’t survive without it.  I answered her questions about why some people have too much fat in their bodies to be healthy, but how no one can actually be “fat”.  Fat is something that we have, not something that we are.

And me?  I am FAR less worried, now, about mean girls at school, or how my skinny nerd will survive the public education gauntlet, or whether or not she’ll ever pretend to be stupid.  Now I’m worried about how our culture of “fat” and “thin” will change her.  And I’m painfully aware of how far feminism has left to go.

When this issue comes up, again – and I know it will – I’d like to have some ammunition.  How would you deal with it?

19 Comments Add yours

  1. Great post. I recently took my kids to the dr for their check up and my youngest at 6 weighed in at 70 pounds. She is not fat in any means of the term but she is built like her grandmother mor of a stocky short leg build.

    I explained to her that everyone has different body types and pointed out that we ate fairly healthy as well as got lots of exercise.I don’t ever want her to think of herself as fat.

    Our problem we run into though is finding pants that fit. Since America has taken the fad of “skinny jeans” and have run with it it’s hard for me to find her pants that fit. If they fit around the waist they are way to long in the leg and if they fit on the leg they are way to tight around the waist…sigh.


  2. Great Post! I have no idea how I’ll deal with that situation, when it might come up with my daughter, or son, for that matter. It took me many years to relax about not being thin enough myself. At least now, I’m coming from a more mature place, and can hopefully better guide.
    Even if there is a sense of confidence in them, I always wonder (have nightmares!) about how much influence the other kids / people around will have on my children, not only on this topic.


  3. Andie says:

    I just love that you told her that no one can be fat, they can just have fat. This is a good reminder that we – adults – have to be very careful of what we say in front of children. And, sadly, in front of other adults, too, who have thoroughly internalized the harsh judgment that fat = something to be ashamed about, afraid of, or ridiculed.

    I strongly suspect your daughter is going to be a great, amazing woman. With her mom and grandmother as role models, there’s no guessing what she’ll accomplish, but it will be worth telling.


  4. Auntie N. says:

    I have no idea. But I love when you write, “fat is something that we have, not something that we are.” It’s easy to forget that sometimes, on those fat days ;)


  5. troismommy says:

    I worry that MY OWN self esteem will ooze out of me and influence my lovely girls. I often look at myself and see ONLY flaws – bags under my eyes, bad skin, aging, the 10 lbs I need to lose. I always feel ugly. And then I look at my beautiful girls and the LAST thing I’d EVER want to hear out of their mouths is that THEY felt what I’m feeling, so I need to keep that in check and make sure they know I’m happy with myself, but I keep myself healthy and try to foster healthy, happy, self-confident attitudes in them.


  6. CJ says:

    I also love the way you handled this. I hope that when I’m in a similar situation (my daughter is still a toddler), I’ll have the grace to reply like you did. Yet I do feel that my job starts now. I think it’s the female condition to insult our reflection in the mirror. It is so reflexive that I hadn’t realized I was doing it, till I started taking my infant daughter into dressing rooms with me and seeing her watching me closely as I scowled and grimaced at my reflection. I’m trying really hard to keep my inner bitch silent, especially when she’s watching, because I know, I KNOW, how much mothers model behavior for their children. This is a work in progress …


  7. Team Suzanne says:

    I’m with Auntie M.–this line: “Fat is something that we have, not something that we are.” is more S-M-R-T than I could hope to whip out in the same kind of conversation.

    It’s awkward. The rampant obesity problem in the country means that as parents, we have to discuss it, and I don’t find it easy. When my kids watch their friends get overweight, what do you say–that is intellectually honest but at the same time sensitive to the body image issues involved? I want my kids to understand the relationship between what you eat, what you do physically, and your weight. But I’m not interested in passing judgement on other people, or giving the kids any reason to ever do that.

    I think your line captures it better than anything else I’ve seen. Which should be no surprise, right–it’s like Respectful Communication 101–do not assign people to groups but instead recognize their whole personhood.


  8. Awesome, awesome comments! Thanks, everybody! I don’t think any of us have all the answers, but the fact that we’re all thinking about it speaks to the validity of the issue. How else could we find solutions, right?


  9. Tori Nelson says:

    This is such a tricky situation for parents today. It’s overwhelming to be the one mom against all of pop culture. I’d say constant reminder is key. If she knows what’s normal/ true at home, she’ll have all the ammunition she needs out in the big, scary world!


  10. mamamash says:

    I agree with Tori. Whatever you equip her with at home will serve her well in the world.

    I love how you noticed that she was just trying on the phrase. There are some serious brains in your house. :)


  11. Thanks, ladies! The simplest solution is usually the best one. And, really, what else can we do? We can’t hide our girls from the world, and can only do so much to filter their media. So, I only have to be a good role model, right? No pressure! (I kid. Mostly.)


  12. Neeks says:

    I reminded my daughter too, of puberty and the often associated weight gain girls experience with it…as if the mood swings and pimples weren’t enough!
    “Baby fat” is real for some and often does go away when they get out of their teens. The trick is not to replace it with burgers and fries and laying on the couch.


  13. etomczyk says:

    I’m hoping this one is the”Miss What’re You Gonna Do About It!” daughter because that already tells me that she’s got a strong streak in her that you can build on. I personally blew this with my own girls because I had such body self-esteem issues. I wasn’t hard on them; I was hard on myself and that message came through loud and clear. So, no matter how much I told them their beauty came from the inside out, they could tell I didn’t value that in myself. The other day my now 27 and 29-year-old girls were looking at pictures of me when I was a young mother and commenting on how pretty I was (size 9), and all I could remember when I looked at those pictures was how I thought I was too fat then. In real life, looking back, I was one hot momma! It’s all perspective. I think one of the tools to teach them perspective is if their Momma is happy with who she is. Just a thought.


  14. @Neeks, I agree. I suffered over my baby cheeks when I was a teenager. Suffered! They do go away, especially if we make reasonably healthy choices. Our daughters need to know that.

    @etomczyk, it WAS Miss. What’re You Gonna Do About It! She is a tough one (God help me), and I’m grateful that she was born after the worst of my body-image issues. And I’m (usually) grateful for her strong streak, too :)


  15. Chantel says:

    I love your comment about how nobody is fat we all just have fat! I am going to steal that next time one of my daughters complains she is fat! Thank you for a great post!


  16. I have one teenage son (who is very thin) and 2 teenage stepdaughters, one of whom has probably gained 50 pounds over the last year and a half. I’m concerned about her weight gain because it’s not usual, but she doesn’t seem to have any health problems. I know that if I expressed concern about it her feelings would be hurt. I’m worried too about how she will fare in our “thin”-oriented culture. Your comment that “fat is something that we have, not something that we are” is something I will remember when thinking of others and myself. Thanks for a great post! :-)


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