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.
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?