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The Fat Girl's Guide to Handling Weight-Related Remarks from Kids
Posted by Toni in Getting Real
My oldest son and me hiking in the Tetons

"Jason says you're FAT!" yelled my oldest son as he climbed into our minivan, throwing his backpack on the floor as he began to cry. As I drove away from the school, I gently pointed out that I am overweight and not everyone uses the word 'fat' to be mean.

"He says you're so fat, you wear your socks on your toes!" he cried.

"Okay, maybe he was trying to be mean," I said dryly. "Or he was trying to be funny and doesn't understand that jokes like that are inappropriate and hurtful."

I wasn't hurt so much as surprised: not only did I not realize that my weight merited pint-sized commentary, but I wasn't prepared for my son's reaction. He hadn't grown up with a mom who talked about her weight in either positive or negative terms, bounced from diet to diet, or continually put herself down like so many women I know had. I was just . . . Mom. And to him, I was just right. I'd prepared myself to steel my kids against bullies and meanies, but I hadn't anticipated having to talk to them about how some people might feel about my size.

So what to do if this comes up? I know that every fat girl's attitude about her body will vary as much as her parenting style. But here are some ideas for helping your kids (and you) deal with negative remarks about your size.

Listen. Before reacting (or over-reacting), let your child share what happened and how it made him or her feel. The first time my son shared a remark a classmate made about my weight (an observation that I was fat with no joke or apparent malice attached), he didn't seem at all bothered, so I let it go. But when he became upset, I sat him down for a heart to heart talk, listened to what he was trying to tell me, and carefully asked questions as we talked. Knowing your child helps a lot here - some will share every detail of every moment, while others will only open up while walking or working with their hands. Also, keep in mind that stories that come home from school reflect your child's perception of events and not necessarily objective reality. If you suspect any form of bullying, call your child's teacher and/or school administrators to discuss the situation.

Don't play the blame-yourself game. You may have noticed that our philosophy here at FGG is different from many weight-related sites out there. We know that you know you're fat, and it's likely the rest of the world does, too. While it may be upsetting to be a potential source of either embarrassment or pain for your child, taking it out on yourself - either by apologizing to your kids or berating yourself out loud or in your head - solves nothing. It doesn't model self care to our kids, who take careful note of how we behave and despite their protests to the contrary, want to see us as heroes. And for those of us striving to make peace with our bodies as they are and even to lose weight, blaming and shaming is the surest path away from healthier states of body and mind. In other words, it won't help and it might actually hurt on several levels, so don't go there.

Talk to the other child's parents. Don't you do it! I can feel you rolling your eyes at this one. I'm sharing this because it worked for me, but I realize that every situation will vary and I know a mom or two for whom this would never work. I'm friendly with the mom of the boy who made the wisecrack about me and I know her parenting style, so I felt okay (though admittedly nervous) approaching her and sharing what her son said. She was mortified and promised she'd talk to him, assuring me that jokes about people's weight are not acceptable in her home. I felt better saying something, in part because it felt good to know I could come to my friend with this issue, but also because perhaps now one more family has a broader tolerance of people's differences.

Don't play the stay-at-home game, either. I remember interviewing a woman for an article who confided that she knew people who couldn't stand to be in the same room with a fat person. That was eye opening for me, but I ultimately came around to think, "So what? That's their problem, not mine." Easy to say, I know, but I spent a lot of years feeling ashamed of my looks,  even when I was a perfectly normal weight. If I let every negative comment deter me from enjoying my life or sharing in the lives of my kids, I'd never leave the house. So I hold my head high and act as if I'm the most beautiful mom in the classroom, because to one child there, I am. And that's the opinion that matters most to both of us.

So, fat moms: have you encountered this issue in your family? How did you handle it? I'm especially curious to hear from moms of teens who have hit that phase where they don't want to be seen with us, regardless of our size. Share your stories and advice in the comments.