Tuesday, February 8, 2011

The F-word: My 8 year old daughter's thoughts on "Fat"

I have been rather happy with my weight for some time now. I have struggled most of my pre-teen and teen years; not with my weight, but with my body image. I don't post numbers- not weight, dress size, comparison's to others (when not necessary for a point)- because I don't want to trigger other people and because I don't think it is necessary to talk about in most conversations, but suffice to say, no one would be likely to think that I had any reason to lose weight. No one, that is, except for my 8 year old daughter.

This week, she told me that if she were as big as I am, she would go on herbal magic. When I tell this story to people who know me, they seem to find it funny... possibly because I am so small that the comment seems ridiculous, but I don't find it funny at all.

We talked quite a bit about it afterward. I even showed her "photoshop disasters" (I use quotes because I could argue that merely using photoshop is disastrous) in order to explain how images that she sees in the media are not real. The bodies that she sees every day on tv and print ads, the ones that she is supposed to aspire to look like, are heavily edited.

But still, she thinks that all girls need to be as skinny as they can.

Now, normally in my posts I try to use polite language, to let my message get the point across, but not this time. This time, I am really pissed off.

Fuck you teletoon for showing my daughter weight loss commercials that tell her that fat people are miserable until they get skinny.
Fuck you media more generally for showing her so few variations of the female body; for presenting her with a very specific acceptable female body type.
And fuck you patriarchal capitalist social relations for teaching my 8 year old that her worth as a human being is forever linked to the numbers on the scale or the size of her dress.

Hearing her say things things hurts in a way that I can't even begin to describe. It doesn't hurt my feelings that she calls me fat... I'm rather thick skinned. It gives me a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach to think about what this is doing to her, what she is learning, how easily she internalizes these messages about what girls are and what they are supposed to be.

But what can I do about it? Talking to her probably helps, but it doesn't seem to be working. No matter how loudly I tell her that it doesn't matter, there are thousands of voices telling her that it does. They are louder; she doesn't believe me when so much goes against what I say. She is starting to believe that she is not good enough, but then, how can she be? How can anyone be good enough when the images aren't real?

I need some advice about other things I can do to try and get this message across... any good books or videos appropriate for an 8 year old girl?


  1. Look up Joy Nash's Fat Rant for yourself, and check out Free to Be You and Me (a movie for kids from the 1970s), for her....especially the song "We don't have to change at all" :)

  2. It's an Australian book, but my mum bought me Real Gorgeous by Kaz Cooke when I was about 10, and it made a huge impression on me. It was fun to read too. (She bought it for my Canadian cousin as well, and there didn't seem to be much lost in translation.)


  3. The Dove Campaign for Real Beauty is specifically made to help combat this kind of mindset in girls and young women and help them appreciate who they are and how advertising/media presents false images. They even offer workshops and 'camp' experiences for girls. There are also male versions and some about beauty and ageing. You can find some of the videos on YouTube.
    My favorite is the 'evolution' video which is a time lapse of a regular looking model into a billboard photo with makeup and photoshop included.

  4. I will look up some of those suggestions, thank you!

    As for the Dove real beauty campaign... although I like the message, I do have a lecture on how it ties into corporate consumerism and really isn't about the message at all (especially when unilever also owns Axe and Fair & Lovely skin whitening creams). Still, the commercials are pretty good for girls.

  5. Ask your friends - male and female, intimate and estranged, to never complement you on your looks - always your competence and works.

  6. When I was around your daughter's age my parents rented me video from our public library called "Buy Me That" which is a media literacy program for children. It shows them how advertising is deceptive. It really blew my mind - I couldn't believe that all the commercials were trying to trick me out of my allowance money! It's a bit dated (1989) but a google search shows there have been two follow up specials. It didn't focus on body image specifically but there was a discussion about trick photography used in selling toys, games and cereal to kids.

  7. My parents locked the TV away during the summer months, and rationed me to an half hour to an hour a day during the rest of the year. They only let me watch it at that because my peer group at school talked about TV shows a lot, and I was excluded when I didn't know what they were talking about. I was annoyed with them to no end then, but now I'm quite thankful.

  8. Free to Be You and Me is fantastic! It really influenced me. Also, I think you are doing great by showing your daughter that the pictures are airbrushed! It may seem like it isn't influencing her, but it is having an impact.

  9. There's a profat anthology coming out of waterloo in the next few months, but i'm not sure of the details. It's probably more targetted towards young adults, but we'll see what happens when it comes out.