It’s really never, ever OK to tell a girl she’s fat. Unless she really is, and you’re her mom.
Charlotte Alter recently wrote a piece for Time about a moment in her life when she was a tween and her mom told her she needed to lose a few pounds. It didn’t end her world. She didn’t develop an eating disorder. In fact, it was a good wake-up call for her.
“[T]his nugget of real talk was one of the best things my mother ever did,” Alter wrote. “Horrified relatives said I would need years of therapy to forgive my mother for ‘fat-shaming’ me into anorexia, that I would eventually turn to drugs and cutting to heal my crippled psyche before I succumbed to a life of crime. None of these things happened. Instead, I have a good relationship with my body and my mother, partly because she told me when I was getting a little plump.”
I wish the times in my life when my mom told me I was fat had been so few and so benign. But I’ve been overweight far too many times over the years with more than just a few pounds to spare each time. It doesn’t matter if my mom ever told me I looked like a relative of Shamu (which she never would have) or if she told me I looked like I was too broad on top, like someone in a military coat (which she probably did). I invariably felt shamed, ashamed, and disgusting all the same.
The thing is: she’s never been wrong. She’s just been honest. And even if I seethed or binge-ate or cried myself to sleep or silently vowed to never speak to her again — which I usually did one or all of — it was still always what I needed to hear. Because she was always right.
My weight problems have never been a pound or five. It’s been more like 15 or 40. We’re talking the very real potential for health problems. I trust and love my mom enough to know that she was never trying to shame me. She was just loving me. She knew that I would be happier if I was thinner. She wasn’t sending a bad message about body image. She has taught me to love myself for what’s inside. She’s made her pride in my non-beauty-related accomplishments abundantly clear.
But she has had legitimate concerns about my weight over the years (and years and years). I’ve had people confuse my big belly for a pregnant belly. That hurts. My mom telling me I need to lose weight hurts, too. But not because she’s trying to hurt me. Because I know she’s right, and losing weight is hard, and being overweight — for me — comes from as much, if not more, of an emotional place as it does a physical place.
There’s so much fat-shaming these days that it’s too much to quantify. But just ask Lena Dunham, Kate Upton, Melissa McCarthy, or pretty much any Hollywood actress who has ever taken one too many bites of her sandwich. They are analyzed relentlessly from every single angle using photos taken by paparazzi agencies that are snatched up by magazines like Us, People and InTouch. Magazines writers are evasively cruel. Online commenters are even worse.
So, then, there are the writers who try to do damage control by talking about teaching young girls to love their bodies. That there’s no shame in being plus-size. That plus-size isn’t even really plus-size anymore but normal-size. I never talk to my daughters about their weight. We talk about being healthy and making smart food choices, never about being fat or looking bad. But on the flip side of the fat coin is the simple fact that our kids are way fatter today than we were at their age. And more adults are too heavy than ever before.
And the fact is that there are plenty of girls and women that really just need to lose some weight. Not to look like Gisele — because no one but Gisele ever will — but for their overall health.
I can attest to the fact, too, that it does feel better to be a normal weight than to be overweight. It’s a life-long struggle for me, and I can’t nor will I ever accept being on the plus-side of it all. I’ve had a few doctors tell me to lose weight, although, never without at least some judgment. Which is why I will also never be able to ever really hear it from anyone but my mom. Because no one will ever love me like my mom does and tell it to me quite like she can. As far as I’m concerned, that’s just the way it should be, too.
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