Yesterday, I spent the afternoon hanging out with a seven-year-old girl I’ve known since she was born. Her parents are friends of mine. I was her first babysitter, I helped her harried young parents take care of her when she was a newborn, and I was her babysitter the night her baby brother was born. She’s my friend, and I care a lot about her. In some families, she’d call me her aunt. She just calls me Gecka.
In the course of talking about other things, she said to me, “There must be lots of clothes that fit you.” (As opposed clothes that fit her seven-year-old self.)
“No, actually, most clothes don’t fit me because I’m fat.”
“Don’t say that! You’re not fat!”
“Yes, I am. I have to shop at special fat lady stores, because most of the clothes in regular stores don’t fit me.”
“But you shouldn’t say you’re fat!”
“I am fat. It’s ok to be fat. I’m ok with being fat. It’s not bad to be fat.”
“You like being fat?”
“I don’t dislike it. It’s just what I am, just like I’m short. Some people make fun of me for it, but they’re just mean people. Mean people will make fun of you for anything. They might make fun of you because you have freckles. That doesn’t make having freckles bad.”
“Being fat or skinny is like being tall or short. It’s just the way we’re shaped.”
“Oh. I’m short. I’m always the shortest kid in my class at school.” At which point we started commiserating about always being the shortest or the next-shortest kid in class. And I could breathe again.
She’s seven, and she knows that fat is a bad word, a mean word, something people call you to be mean. You shouldn’t ever say it about yourself, it’s like saying you’re stupid, you shouldn’t say it. There’s no way it can be just a descriptive term, it must be an insult. There’s no other option.
I makes me want to cry, and scream, and maybe punch somebody in the nose. It also makes me tired. I am so sick of this. It is so exhausting to have to counter this everywhere I turn, even on a fun afternoon hanging out with a friend, playing in the fountain and reading comics.
I can only hope I’ve started to counteract the idea in her clever little head.