“I don’t want them to see my body,” the 5-year-old screamed down from the top of the staircase when her mom asked her to come downstairs. I watched as my friend teared up–terrified, sad, and troubled. I happened to have not heard what she yelled down, but my friend made sure to repeat it to me.
Not much makes me speechless, but when my friend continued by sharing a story, I was in disbelief. She explained that just a few weeks ago her 5-year-old daughter came home from camp after a day filled with swimming, fun activities, and bunk camaraderie, and said, “Mommy, some of my friends told me my legs are fat. Am I fat?”
Let me repeat again. SHE WAS 5-YEARS-OLD. Please explain to me a) why these toddlers were even making one’s appearance a focus or thought, and b) how in the world they were, one, starting to judge each other, and, two, having the sass to harass their ‘friends?’
This was learned behavior. Clearly, they knew that being ‘fat’ had a negative connotation, and were obviously imitating harsh and insensitive dialogue. Though they may not have understood the lasting impression it would have on her, they had enough insight to say it.
The thing was, those awful words said to this little, sweet, innocent, and playful girl didn’t end that day at camp. Just the other day in the car, while the music was low, and they were winding down from a long day, she concernedly asked, “Mommy, am I going to look like you when I am bigger, or am I going to be fat?”
This shit happens in middle school and high school, and that is harmful and repugnant. But, in preschool?
As mothers, parents, grandparents, teachers, guardians, and just good citizens–isn’t it our responsibility to teach children about love, acceptance, and the importance of diversity? Shouldn’t we be the ones building our kids up, encouraging kindness, and demanding inclusion? I have a 5-year-old myself, and he is what I call a “sponge.” He listens, imitates, and notes every move I make and every word I say.
When we complain about being fat, call someone else fat, or even just identify someone as fat, we are hurting more people than we know. This little, innocent 5-year-old girl will continue to be anxious, worried, and aware of her body and flaws–or what she deems as flaws. She already has a vision of what society perceives as the perfect body, and desires it.
This is a good reminder for everyone to focus on teaching and modeling kind, considerate, and thoughtful behaviors. The world will be a better place, and, in time, hate will turn to love.