On "Fat" and Loving Our Bodies

As you all know, Project Fitness has been in full swing in our house. Collectively, Robert and I have lost 64 pounds over the last several months. As much as possible, we have emphasized strength and health over scale and waistline, particularly when speaking in front of our kids. Especially our girls. We know the stats, and the risks when it comes to eating disorders and self-punishing behaviors. We are well aware of our culture's dysfunction when it comes to weight and ideals of beauty. And we hope beyond hope that we're framing this weight-loss journey in a nourishing and positive way for our kids. We don't restrict what they eat. But we talk about good choices. We're reducing dessert size and frequency and are doing a lot of biking, hiking and other stuff as a family.

But I find it all very confusing. I have had lots of people tell me I look "amazing." I appreciate it and understand that they are affirming my hard work. But sometimes the gushing gets to be a little much. I'm not doing this to look awesome. I'm doing this to be awesome. And strong. And 40 and fabulous and all that Oprah stuff. I'm doing it to be marathon-ready, because even if I never run a marathon, a long life is a marathon all its own.

So part of me responds to all this affirmation by thinking, My God, did I look terrible before? And if I did, why didn't anyone tell me?

A friend of mine posted this great article to Facebook, called 'Mom, I'm Fat': One Mother's Response to Her 7 Year Old. I applaud this mother's persistence in not letting the moment go. And I loved the novel way she handled this particular encounter. But before she gets to the big Woman Power Moment, one bit stood out to me:

[My daughter] tells me on two different occasions friends have called her “kind of fat” when they were talking about bodies this summer in their bathing suits.  And she felt sad.  But she also felt good because finally she confirmed that what she thought about her body was “mostly true”.

The thrust of the mother's approach seems to be to try to erase the word "fat" from her daughter's self-concept. Now, I have no idea whether her daughter is, in fact, fat. But let's just assume for the sake of argument that she is heavier than average, and that when her friends called her 'kind of fat,' that her daughter recognized something true about herself. That's possible, isn't it? Isn't it possible that our kids, especially young kids, view fat and thin as relatively objective, non-loaded descriptors of different body types? Isn't it possible that our kids have not yet accumulated all of the baggage that we have? (Pun intended.) And isn't it further possible that our unwillingness to use the F word actually contributes to a negative self-image and dysfunctional attitudes about our bodies because it suggests that fat is shameful?

You'd have to suss all that out as a parent, of course: how much is your child picking up ridiculous Barbie ideals and how much is she simply looking at reality in the mirror? But if you're dealing with a child who is, in fact, heavy, doesn't it seem more honest, and in the long run, healthier not to try to convince her that really, her tummy is as flat as anyone else's? Doesn't it seem healthier to say that yes, she IS heavier than average, AND [not BUT] she is strong and normal and beautiful?

I don't remember having a lot of conversations with my parents about my body when I was a kid. But I was well aware of being chunkier than most of my friends. I was pretty strong, too, though not all that athletic. And that's OK. I did a lot of other things well and was talented in other areas. So now I'm just imagining myself in the same situation as the article, asking my mother whether my tummy was big. (It was.) I know what she would have said, out of absolute unconditional love---the same thing the mother in the article said, which is "Honey, you're perfect." And a child might hear that and think, I know I am. But that's not what I was asking.

Here is what I'm saying. "Fat" has become such a dirty word that we've become unwilling to use it at all. I'm not advocating calling people names, of couse, least of all our children. I'm saying it's time to reclaim "Fat," to use the word again and strip it of its shameful subtext. Because until we do that, we are not empowering the girls and women who are overweight and who know it.

Again, I'm not talking about slim girls suffering from a distorted picture of themselves. I'm saying, let's describe reality for one another AND love ourselves at the same time.

So... maybe I was a little fat before Project Fitness. So what? I gave birth to three children, for Pete's sake. I nursed them, carried them around on my hip and my back and my shoulders. I fed them, leaned over changing tables and bathtubs and high chairs, hoisted strollers and diaper pails. Meanwhile I served two congregations and wrote a book.

And I climbed the mountain.

Blessed be.