I Got Fat Shamed in Front of My Daughter — By a First Grader

Picture this: I’m at a hotel pool with my family, and I’m feeling pretty good about myself. One year postpartum and I’m rocking a turquoise tankini that shows off my legs and rack (thank you, nursing) while theoretically camouflaging my gelatinous mid-section with lots and lots of ruffles. My 5-year-old daughter is playing with a nice little girl she met at the slide and I’m splashing around with the baby in the shallow end. What could possibly interfere with this idyllic vacation moment?  How about this news flash: “Mom, that girl said you have a fat tummy.” 

Yup, my daughter ran over to report that her not-so-nice-after-all playmate had just rained all over my postpartum parade. What could I possibly say in response to being fat-shamed by a first grader? I considered many inappropriate reactions, such as, “Well that kid’s got a big, fat mouth!” And, “Excuse me, I have to go drink vodka and burn this tankini.”

While all of these voices in my head were sounding off, my kid was staring at me, very interested in my reaction. Stymied, I mumbled something about not criticizing other people’s bodies. I also told her that it’s what’s inside that counts. My daughter looked unsatisfed, but knowing her, I was sure we’d be revisiting the topic. 

“Remember when that girl said you had a fat tummy?” she asked a few days later. This time, I was ready. “Yes, darling,” I began, a Zen earth mama, here to drop some wisdom. “What that girl said didn’t really bother me,” I lied. “Because I love my body. My body gave me two beautiful babies, you and your sister. My belly streched out when I was pregnant, and it will take time to shrink down again. I am grateful for my strong, healthy body.”  Enlightened, right? I thought so. But my kid was still acting squirmy and weird. Finally, she admitted that the comment had embarrassed her. My interpretation: She used to think her mommy was as beautiful as a Disney princess. Now, I was on par with Ursula the Sea Witch.

I wanted to be sympathetic to her plight, but really, this was getting ridiculous. “Honey, haven’t you ever noticed that moms come in all shapes and sizes?” I asked.  I would never have named names, but some of the moms we saw daily at the schoolyard were rather, err, rotund by comparison. “Sure, Mommy,” she agreed. “There are thin moms. And there are thick moms. You’re a thick mom.” It’s a good thing I didn’t have a mouthful of coffee because that was a true spit-take moment. Instead, I just blinked at her, uncomprehending. At 132 pounds (10 more than before I was pregnant), “thick” is not how I think of myself, but I guess thickness is in the eye of the beholder. All I could think of to say was,”Okayyy.” I sounded annoyed. 

It’s hard to explain why being called fat and then being lumped in with the “thick moms” (by my own daughter!) bothered me. Weight isn’t a hot button issue for me. I grew up skinny, with a high metabolism, and didn’t struggle much with my weight until the pregnancies. So it’s not like being called fat or thick triggers some deep emotional baggage. At the same time, I was hormonal. And tired. And disappointed that my muffin top was apparently so obvious. Sure, I had planned to get back into my skinny jeans eventually, but what the hell was the rush? My patient husband understood that the yummy baby on my lap was a way bigger draw than the gym. I thought I’d been buying myself some time with creative wardrobing, but I guess not.

So back to my embarrassed 5-year-old. What was the right message to send her? It felt like a lose/lose situation. If I told her my feelings were hurt, then I was modeling a thin-skinned, superficial attitude I didn’t want her to mimic. But the body acceptance argument clearly wasn’t working on her either. I could tell her the truth: that 40-something bodies don’t just magically regain their shape after a pregnancy. It was going to take hard work on my part — aggressive exercise and serious food deprivation, neither of which I was looking forward to.

But no. That felt like an adult truth, not fit for a 5-year-old. I don’t want my impressionable, string bean of a daughter to have any awareness of calorie counting. I’ve never even let her see me step on the scale. (She recently referred to the digital scale in the master bathroom as “that thing,” and I didn’t bother to correct her.) I didn’t want to open that can of worms. But I didn’t want to field any more questions about my fat tummy either. 

In my mind, there was only one solution. 

“Fu*k it, I guess it’s time to get back in shape,” I told my husband.  He laughed. “I had a feeling this would do it.”  

See ya at the gym!

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