This week I read a piece by a former coworker of mine about how she is tired of people who “fat shame” her eight-month-old by remarking on her rolls and overall chubbiness. The response to her story was mixed, with some praising her for speaking out and others saying that it was her own issues with weight that were going to give her daughter a complex, not the comments of strangers.
I understand where the author was coming from. She had weight problems in the past that made her sensitive to “baby fat” comments, and she wants people to understand how such remarks make others feel. Likewise, I had infertility issues in the past that made me sensitive to comments about having more children. People who responded to my piece about it told me to chill out, that it wasn’t fair to expect everyone to be sensitive to my particular problem. An advocate for infertility awareness, I argued that yes, I do expect people to be more sensitive to it.
But in my case, the sensitivity I was arguing for was solely for my own benefit, not my child’s. He’ll hopefully never have to deal with infertility, and if he does, it won’t be when he’s a child (duh); although the attitudes he perceives about infertility as he grows up might affect how he comes to terms with it should it ever happen to him. But in the case of weight, it’s a little different. I have heard of girls in elementary school already worrying about how fat they are or how they need to diet. This hyper-awareness of weight in young girls is a problem we need to face.
At the same time, I believe that the most important factor in how a girl develops self-esteem and positive body image is her mother’s own views and attitudes. So I also agree with the commenters who argued that the author of the piece was putting her own issues with weight on her daughter by taking to heart comments about her roly poly-ness, and that that would be more likely than anything to affect her daughter’s views on her body.
I’m coming at this without a history of weight issues. I was always curvy but still thin growing up, through college and into my twenties. I used to be able to eat whatever I wanted and not gain weight (yes, you can hate me for that). My mother and sister were also naturally thin, so dieting was not ever a thing in our house. We ate healthy and my parents prepared homemade, mostly Mediterranean-style dinners. We were only allowed to have “sweet cereal,” like Lucky Charms or Cap’n Crunch (mmm), once a week. My parents didn’t keep junk food like chips in the house; although there were definitely cookies and ice cream to be had. But thanks for the most part to good genes, we never got fat.
Then I got older, had fertility issues and had a baby. I am about 11 or 12 pounds heavier than I was at our wedding, and probably more than 15 over my high school weight. That might not sound like a whole lot, but I’m only 5″1′. Plus, my stomach has taken to bulging out thanks to a slight case of diastasis recti, which a PT friend of mine diagnosed me with. So I am definitely wider than I used to be. Foggy Daddy gets really annoyed when I make him help me pick out clothes to wear, because it usually ends with me in a rage screaming, “Nothing fits me anymore!” But he’s no help with my losing weight — he looooves food, especially food that’s not necessarily good for you, and seems to find me attractive no matter what I weigh. Annoying, isn’t it? Just kidding. Of course I’m happy that he accepts me no matter what; I wouldn’t want my husband critiquing my weight. But a little encouragement or mutual agreement to eat healthier would be great.
My mother and sister are still thin. Actually, everyone on my mother’s side of the family is incredibly trim and in shape, including my 93-year-old grandfather, who still walks five miles on the beach in Florida every day. True story. But lucky me, I got my body type from my father’s side of the family, whose women tend to grow round as they age.
But my weight issues are not so deeply engrained that I worry about passing along my hangups to a daughter, should I have one. Although, I would have to curb my habit of joking about my weight gain (favorite weight-related movie quotes that I like to pull out when I’m feeling large: “I will always be just a little bit fat” from Bridget Jones and “Ooooh would we call her chubby?” from Love Actually). But in general, I think a parent with deep-seated issues with weight is much more likely to inadvertently teach their children that weight matters.
I do believe being “healthy” is key – obesity is a real problem, and it’s a fine line we walk between encouraging kids to be healthy and accepting them no matter what they look like. In terms of what’s healthy on a baby, though, fat is good. A breastfed baby (and I’m not sure if the baby in the piece I referred to was) cannot be overfed because they stop eating when they are full. It’s hard to get milk out of a breast, so you can’t force a baby to nurse the way you can, conceivably, have them drink more from a bottle than they need. When they start eating solids, it’s encouraged to give babies healthy fats like avocado because it helps with brain development. We give them whole milk. We are even told by doctors to load olive oil on the food of some slow-to-gain babies (like mine).
Although the author makes reference to how this is not the middle ages, when people had to stock up on food because no one had enough to eat, slow weight gain in babies is a real problem even today – one that the author is not sensitive to in her quest to make us sensitive to other issues. And I am very familiar with it, because LM was born tiny at 5 pounds 10 ounces. He was in the NICU for low blood sugar. We had major breastfeeding problems. His weight gain was always a source of anxiety for me – I even bought a scale and had to do “weighted feeds” to make sure he was taking in enough. So when he finally got the hang of nursing and grew rolls, I was ecstatic. I was proud of his chunky monkey legs. I loved when people commented on his baby fat. It was evidence that nursing was successful and that I was feeding my child. It did not even occur to me to think it was a case of “fat shame.”
I believe there is a biological imperative for noticing, commenting on and loving chunky baby legs – because, in general, it is a sign of a healthy child and the perpetuation of the species. Even though it’s not the middle ages, this is not always an easy thing to achieve. As long as it’s not presented in a negative way (like the “I hate my thighs” onesie), I’m OK with remarks on baby fat.
What do you think: Is remarking on baby rolls “fat shaming”?