Tuesday, May 10, 2016

She Doesn't Know What 'Fat' Means

via pinterest

Let's face it: kids are brutal. I don't mean the things they accidentally do to you (look, that golf-ball size ugly old bruise near my knee all week? That was Lila's elbow), or the way they'll beat you in a game of Memory or Uno. I mean the things they'll say with the most terrifying brand of candor.

"Miss Rachel, your arms are so squishable. They feel like new Play-Dough!"
"Hey Rach," *pinching my nose so it turns red* "Your nose looks like a strawberry - it has a ton of tiny little holes in it."
"Miss Rachel, you have arm-boobies. I just like to squeeze your arm."
"Wow, your chin is rough." 
"Miss Rachel, your booty is shaped like an oval."
"Stop smiling, Miss Rachel. I'm trying to draw your face and when you smile I can't see your eyes!" 
"Miss Rachel, your hair is puffy like a lion today."
"Miss Rachel, when you run your booty goes up and down." 

Yes, I've heard it all. But you know what I've also heard? I've also heard that I'm beautiful. That my hair is pretty even when I know it's not. That I look gorgeous in a dress I think looks hideous on me. That my lipstick is perfect. That they want to smell like me so what perfume do I wear? That I am the most comfortable person to hug. What takes away (most of) the sting from their numbingly accurate observations is this: the world of children is naturally without stigma. Sometimes that world is broken into too early and the innocence is shattered. But I've made it a point to retain the non-stigmatic life for the girls I take care of as long as possible. See, they observe the observable and leave it at that. Their logic is still kind. They see that Miss Rachel has squishy arms and can probably surmise that I don't have very strong arms. But you know what? They still think I'm the fastest runner on the block, that I can play soccer better than anyone (newsflash: I can't) and that I'm probably the best ever at volleyball. My physical appearance is not, to them, a measure of my capabilities. And that's rare - the world won't let them think that for long. Because sooner or later, the world will begin telling them that if you don't look a certain way, you can't be confident. Or that if you don't get a certain education, you won't succeed. Or that if you don't live a certain way, you won't have friends. Right now, the future is beautiful and wide open for them. And here's a big secret: the future is beautiful and wide open for us all.

Sophy opened a book the other day to an illustration of an outrageously enormous king. And rather than saying "He's fat," she merely laughed, pointed, and remarked: "Look at that puffy guy!" These girls have not yet learned to call people fat. I can't imagine what that's like because ever since I became self-aware somewhere along in my childhood, "fat" was something everyone worried about becoming. It became an instinctive question lodged in the wall of my heart: "am I fat?" much as other questions "Was that right?" "Is that safe?" are; since when does the term "fat" belong as part of my conscience? But it's in there because in our culture there is nothing worse. "Fat" is a word you'd avoid even more than being called "rude," "harsh," "tough," or "clingy." 

My girls don't know what 'fat' means.

I won't be the one to teach them. I'm careful never to discuss dieting or weight loss or anything but positive remarks on appearance with them. If we all sought to see the beauty in ourselves and others instead of focusing on how discontent we are with our physical appearance, how much less often we'd feel inferior! The innocence my girls have in this area is precious and I want to retain it as long as possible. I truthfully don't think either of them has had a single moment yet, in their five and six years (respectively) when they haven't felt beautiful. It's almost to a hilariously vain point:
"You look adorable today, Sophy."
"Oh, Miss Rachel I know! You always say that."
But it's said without a trace of vanity. The natural response to hearing an oft-stated fact: I know this to be true. You have told me so my whole life.

Kids will keep you humble because their verbal observations are accurate: your arms are soft, your booty is big, your mascara is crumbling. But they also accurately observe the beauty that you will overlook. So maybe they'll grow up and learn that they've been anomalies in this. That there are words like "fat," "ugly," "chubby," and "skinny." But for now, they're confidence rockets. We're building a love for healthy eating and staying active. For getting good sleep and loving hard and dreaming bigger than adults dare. 

So who cares if you've got squishy arms? Raise 'em high. They're the best kind for hugging.

18 comments:

  1. Love this! Was just thinking yesterday about my first experience of examining my body to see if it is "fat" and it was because of what I heard from older girls!!
    The world will teach them this lesson soon enough, it's so crucial that we try to protect this in our little girls

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    1. I would be so interested to read a companion post to this on your blog if you so chose...

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  2. This is so important, Rachel. As the oldest sister to three beautiful little sisters, and someone who has struggled with being borderline anorexic for years, this is something I've thought about a lot!! I don't want them to have to deal with what I struggled with, and if I can help with words of encouragement and confidence than I definitely want to!!!

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    1. Of course words will never ever supplant real confidence which comes from knowing our identity in Christ, but they certainly have great power!

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  3. Protecting that innocence and feeding them the right words is so important! Keep it up. :)

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  4. Love love love this. and love you. <3

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    1. How funny - I feel the same way about you!

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  5. What a terrific and truthful post, Rachel! The way you take things on with such grace and poise is truly inspiring. :)

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    1. Thank you so much, Eowyn. Your words mean a lot.

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  6. I love children candid and unfiltered something hard to find in this world.

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    1. They're quite something...after work today I'm not sure I want to hear any more unfiltered comments, but some days are wonderful! XD

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