I’ve had several questions about how to talk to kids about the fatphobic world that they live in. I wrote this post a few years ago and updated it for today. I got a comment from reader Kest about the struggle to help kids deal with living in a fat phobic environment. It provides a great framework for talking to kids about Size Acceptance and weight stigma.
My kidlet just finished kindergarten… recently the Kidlet has started making comments about how he doesn’t want to be fat…the Kidlet claimed that he was getting these ideas from commercials…I can certainly attribute this to a combination of commercials and the messages the school is sending, but I don’t know how to counter it…How do we address size acceptance with a generation coming up with all these messages bombarding them?
I think it’s an utter shame that the government has decided to focus on the weight of children, putting a “middle man” between kids and their health that doesn’t need to be there and encouraging appearance-based bullying. It’s particularly disturbing because there is no evidence that it will work, and lots of evidence that it is dangerous. Kids are also barraged with the exact same 386,170 negative messages about fat bodies that adults are assaulted with every year. They are also encouraged by the media, schools, even the government to stereotype people based on how they look. That can cause a lot of difficulty for kids who are fat, and for kids who have people close to them who are fat. It can also be heartbreaking for fat parents.
There is an added difficulty with kids because no parent wants their kid to suffer, so I do want to point out that when people say that they don’t want a fat kid, what they may really be saying is that they don’t want their fat kid to grow up in a fatphobic society. I suggest that focusing on the weight of the kid is working the wrong end of the problem.
I have neither kids nor qualifications to tell people how to raise kids (though my dogs seem pretty body positive) so, with that caveat, I’m just going to tell you what I think I would do, and also request that you use the comments to add your advice. If I had a kid, I think I would be having two ongoing conversations.
The first would be about why we don’t stereotype people or treat them differently based on their size, health or anything else. The second would be an age appropriate conversation about how weight and health are two different things and that, as has happened before in science, medicine and society, some well intentioned people are making a big mistake and that we are among the first group of people to realize it, and how that poses its own difficulties.
You’ll need to decide if you want to encourage your kid(s) to challenge authority on this or perhaps have a mantra that they say in their heads when they hear things that they now know are problematic. There’s also the issue of talking to them about sticking up for the fat kids who are being harmed by all of this (and other people who are being oppressed.)
I would continue to have these conversations, and work to find teachable moments. I hope that it would be a continuation of my work to instill critical thinking in my kid, and that I could encourage them to look at the evidence about this, ask if they thought it sounded like what happened to Galileo etc. If the kid has already been, or is being, fat-shamed, here are some things that you can try.
I think that some of the most important things that kids can be taught are critical thinking, questioning authority, the difference between opinion and fact, and the underpants rule. Again I want to encourage you to add your thoughts to the comments!