Helena was playing dress up today after I picked her up from school, and mid-costume change, she decided she was hungry. And, in typical stubborn five year old fashion, she refused to focus on changing when her stomach was growling. She chose, instead, to eat her snack at the dining room table in nothing but her underoos. I mean, she’s five years old, whatever, it happens. There were times when all of my roommates were girls that we’d run through the hallway in various states of undress, and we were grown women. But I digress. Sophia, her little sister, was sitting across the table from her and said something to the effect of Helena having a “big, fat tummy.” She just turned three; her grasp of insults is rudimentary at best.
Still, Helena absorbed it. She internalized it. For the first time ever, she took those words personally and called me over to tell me what Sophia had said. Whenever they turn the other in for doing something wrong, you know that it hits them hard.
I had a conversation with them both about how they are each the only people who can ever talk about their bodies, and that neither of them are fat at all. But it was, all the same, heartbreaking to realize that such messages begin sinking in even when they’re that young. It was more disheartening still to hear that they’d picked up the phrase from their father, who had said it about his own stomach, and from a show they love to watch, where the whole pig family joke’s about Daddy Pig’s stomach constantly. How are you supposed to tell them that their father, my boss, has said something wrong? You can’t, really, and so I had to revert back to the idea that it was his stomach, and therefore his prerogative to say it about his stomach, yet they shouldn’t say it about his or anyone else’s, and certainly not theirs. My stomach is bigger than yours, I told Helena, does that make mine big and fat, too? Both girls shook their heads no.
When their mother got home, I told her about the incident, but it just… leaves me a little shaken. When I was little, one of my first memories was asking my dad why mommy wasn’t tucking me into bed that night. She’s at a diet meeting, he said, and though I didn’t understand the word diet at that moment, I learned within the next few days. I was five years old, too, and five year olds should never even have the faintest clue as to what a diet even is.
These are lucky little girls. They’re beautiful, they’re funny, they’re caring, they have every door open and available to them, and they’re loved. Immensely. Immeasurably. They are told every single day how special they are, yet if a child with so much love in her life can take a comment like that, from another child who didn’t understand the gravity of her words, to heart, how much deeper would that cut a child without such a strong foundation? Why should any child have to suffer remarks like that at all? Since when does it matter what size your stomach is when you’re their age, unless it’s life threatening? Even then, why should pressure to have a smaller stomach be on their radar?
Kids are kids, and it’s surprising how perceptive they are. So please, whether you have children or not, whether you ever plan to have children or not, if you’re around kids? Don’t talk about a diet, or if you hate your body, or if there’s something you’d change. They’ll hear you, and they’ll mimic you, because after all, when you were a kid, didn’t you want to emulate the adults in your life, too? This isn’t groundbreaking, and so many people have tried to pass this message along before, but it never truly sunk into me until this moment, until today. Just honor your body, and they’ll honor theirs. It’s really as simple as that.