Last night, something no parent wants to happen to their kid happened to mine.
A kid called her “so fat”, and not just once or twice.
We were at the neighborhood playground, and three very petite girls her age were playing with her on the seesaw. They all sat on one end while Lia sat on the opposite side. One of the girls was getting annoyed because every time Lia went down, their bodies bumped and had a hard time going down. The girl hollered, “Ang taba-taba kasi niya (She is so fat)! ”
I told the girl that name calling isn’t nice. She just looked at me, then proceeded to repeat it a second and third time. I turned to Lia to check her reaction. I didn’t want to intervene (I was dying to). Children need to learn to fight for themselves and not have their parents scoop them up all the time. She simply looked away and turned sullen. That was my cue to reiterate what I said earlier. The three girls then went to play elsewhere.
My daughter is in her pre-teens, an age when appearance suddenly matters. Hormone-induced mood swings are becoming more common, along with self-consciousness. Once in a while, she asks me if she is fat. “People say I am getting rounder,” she laments.
“Does that hurt you? Does it make you feel like you are not beautiful?” I would inquire. And always her answer is a resounding yes.
This is a far cry from school age Lia who, when spoken to negatively, used to just flip her hair and retort, “I am beautiful whatever you say”. Teen hormones, I tell you. They suck.
I won’t sugarcoat it. My daughter is heavy-set compared to other 9-year old girls. The pedia recommends that she loses at least 15 pounds (we are slowly working on this). She comes from a family of women with a genetic predisposition to obesity and diabetes. I myself have dealt with weight issues all my life and people ridiculing me for it. There are only three times I reached a normal BMI: before I got married, when I had hyperthryroidism, and when I suffered from anorexia and bulimia.
On the seesaw, she asked me again if she’s fat. My answer remained the same. “I don’t see you like that, because you are so much more than your weight. Your body is built differently. Everyone’s body is. Thin women can be beautiful. Heavy women can be beautiful too.”
A little later we played langit-lupa with two of the girls. The offending one – let’s call her that – approached us and asked if she could join. “Yes,” I told her, “but no name calling. Meanness is not allowed here.”
She agreed, and they all happily played.
It would have been easier to be mean in return. Exclude her. Make her feel the outsider this time. But what does that lead to? It will simply perpetuate violence.
Children are a reflection of society – at the very least, the immediate people surrounding them. Our culture – in movies and TV shows, music, in real life – jeers at “imperfections”. Most kids aren’t even aware when they are causing harm because that’s what they are constantly exposed to. Lia understands this. She bears no grudges against the kid. But of course, “it still hurts a bit.”
“I know. And you will encounter more people in your life who will do that. When they do, you need to ask yourself: if that person did this to a friend, what would you do?”
“I would tell them it’s not okay to say those things. And we are all beautiful,” she answered.
“Exactly. So whatever you would say and do for a friend, you need to say and do for yourself too. You need to stand up for yourself. You must love yourself and be kind to yourself, because you are worthy and you are beautiful, no matter what your size is. You can do that and be kind even even when reprimanding others, yes?”
“Yes, Mama. Thank you.”
I know this won’t be the last time we will be discussing this. It takes time to unlearn inner criticism that harsh words shape. My hope is we, adults, have this in mind as we go about our daily lives. It is a noble thing not to cause suffering to others, whatever form it may be, and children can learn it best from us.