Dear Virgie: Can I Save My 5-Year Old From the Fat Shaming Barbie-pocalypse Machine?
I’m a happy fatty now, but struggled like so many of us do for most of my life. Now I’m a mom, and my daughter is nearly 5 years old. I’ve been super body positive her whole life. I’ve gone out of my way to show her as much body diversity in the media as I could find. I’ve shown her my awesome squishy belly and worn my swimsuits with pride at the beach with her. And yet, despite all my efforts, she is slipping away from me into the Barbie void, saying she wants to look like a princess and being drawn to the glamorous blond characters with tiny waists. Am I freaking out prematurely? Is there anything I can do to keep her safe from that endless misery I lived through as a fat young person?
Help me help my babe!
Wow. Ok, can I just begin by saying THANK YOU for being a body positive mom.
THANK YOU for teaching your kid about body diversity and showing her your awesome squishy belly and for wearing your bathing suit with pride. What you are doing for her is one of the most important, loving things a parent can do for a child.
Related: 10 Body Positive Parenting Tips
Second, I want to extend my compassion. Being a parent is challenging, and trying to teach a kid how to avoid succumbing to the grossest and darkest parts of our culture’s sexist obsession with objectification is doubly so.
I want to offer you a word of comfort: you are doing an amazing job, you are doing all that you can, and the most important gift that you’ve given your daughter is the knowledge that she has options – the knowledge that there is something else, beyond Barbies, that she has genuine access to. She has this knowledge and access because of you and what you’ve modeled for her. But she has to choose that way. And maybe (hopefully!) she will when she’s ready.
I want to tell you a story about the time before I was ready to choose body acceptance for myself.
The first time I ever stood face to face with a woman who loved being fat, I was terrified of her. I was an undergraduate, about 21 years old, and I went to a poetry reading on campus. She got up on stage and read a poem about having sex with her boyfriend and how he worshiped her fat rolls and her stretch marks. I was embarrassed because I felt she was exposing the secret of my fat, my rolls, my stretch marks. I felt she was making visible something that I had been taught I should hide by any means necessary.
Even though I wasn’t ready to let this woman’s message in quite yet, I am thoroughly convinced that that experience was an important one. I believe that she was “planting a seed” (as we activist types tend to metaphorize), and it was growing in the dirt of my brain along with a bunch of other little seeds – waiting patiently until I was ready to make the change.
Erica, YOU ARE THAT SEED. You might even be multiple seeds.
Just last week I was talking with someone about my journey to body acceptance/fat politics, and the weird thing is this: yeah, there were some especially noteworthy experiences when it came to the process, but there were an innumerable number of conversations and articles and tiny exchanges over years and years and years that led to this massive change in my life. The way I fell in love with my body reminds me of a John Green line:
slowly, and then all at once.
I’m telling you about all this because I truly believe that your education in body love is not going to waste. Even if your daughter doesn’t totally remember exactly what you taught her as she grows up, she will always be able to call on that education. It will never go away.
You’ve shown her that she has an ally in you. So the best advice I can give is keep doing what you’re doing. When she needs you, remind her of her worth. Keep showing her that alternative media. Stay consistent and be patient – with her and you.
Dear Virgie is a weekly advice column by Virgie Tovar, MA, author, activist and one of the nation’s leading experts and lecturers on fat discrimination and body image. She is the founder of Babecamp and the editor of Hot & Heavy: Fierce Fat Girls on Life, Love and Fashion (Seal Press, November 2012) and the mastermind behind #LoseHateNotWeight. She holds a Master’s degree in Human Sexuality with a focus on the intersections of body size, race, and gender. Virgie has been featured by the New York Times, MTV, Al Jazeera, the San Francisco Chronicle, NPR, Huffington Post, Cosmopolitan Magazine Online, and Bust Magazine. Find her at www.virgietovar.com.