I have a kid who is learning about the world. He’s noticed that some people are bigger than others, and he points this out to me when we are out in public. He doesn’t yet know how to say the word “fat” with venom. He doesn’t associate weight with morality. All he sees is big people, medium people, and small people. This state of affairs won’t last long, and I want to get him before the prejudice settles in.
The first time he commented on a person’s size was at the library. He said, loudly, “Mom! That person is really big!” I felt as if I had unexpectedly been shoved onto a brightly lit stage as I was acutely aware of the fact that everyone within earshot would likely be aware of my response to my child’s observation.
I knew better than to frantically shush him, because all that would do is teach him that to be fat is shameful, and it’s best to pretend that such people just don’t exist, something I don’t agree with. I did my best to say in a bright calm voice, “Yes that person is big.” I hoped that he failed to pick up on my anxiety.
The truth is that at that moment all sorts of urges were tugging at me. The urge to look like a good mother. The urge to avoid being the star of a horror story about something-I-overheard-someone-say-about-fat-people. The strongest was the urge to teach my child that people are how they are, and that we should love them. That is is very difficult to tell why someone is how they are, and that it isn’t fair to us or to them to jump to conclusions about why that person is fat, or that person is skinny, or why that person has a beard, or that one rides in a wheelchair, or that other person is grumpy.
Only later did I pick up on something that bothered me. I also felt the urge to protect. To somehow communicate to the big person my child singled out that it is okay. I wanted to spout off the best ever answer to awkward child observations and through that answer let all who heard that I am Not Judgmental and that fat is not a moral failing. The thing is though, I don’t know that person. Unless one assumes that all fat people are the same, then no single answer could feasibly introduce fat acceptance to everyone, or even most people. My urge to educate all and sundry about fat-acceptance is really just as humanity erasing as fat-hatred. The thought that I should, or even could magically make everyone feel good about their weight just makes the whole thing about me.
All I can do is continue to combat out my own prejudices, try to teach my kid how to combat his prejudices, and talk with people as individuals, learn from them and share with them. I also want to teach my kid first and foremost that one shouldn’t talk about people, one should talk to them, because they are, after all, people.