This is what I want to scream from the roof tops these days. My 9-year-old son, who isn’t even overweight by the clinical definition or any other definition for that matter, has had to contend with kids calling him fat at school. He is a classic “Dennis” (my maiden name)
male at this age–thin everywhere with a ponch in the middle. He looks exactly like both of my brothers did at that age, right before they shot up and became tall and thin. I also know that I am doing my damnedest to ensure that he eats real foods in balance so he doesn’t develop a weight problem.
Whether or not he has earned the moniker “fat” is beside the point. The fact that we have such a toxic attitude about extra weight in this culture is the point. Because of this attitude, I have been waiting for this day–the day when my son would hear the f-word used to describe himself and the inevitable pain it would cause him. I knew it was coming. Having endured years of cruel epithets from the same kind of boys who are calling him names, I know how cutting and damaging these comments are to his tender little spirit.
When I go and speak with people taking the Nutrition 4 Weight Loss series, I see and hear the pain that being called fat has caused so many of them. When I was obese, I felt invisible. Invisible, that is, until I would hear a cruel “hey fatty” yelled from a car window, or see the numbers on the scale under the disapproving eye of a nurse. Or, most humiliatingly, “waddle, waddle” being yelled at me by a group of boys from the back of my son’s school bus. Do these people have any idea what their casual cruelty does to people?
I have been very cool in dealing with the boys at my kid’s school. After all, I have 25 years of experience being called fat and that brings a lot of baggage with it. Baggage that would be unfair to unleash on 9-year-old kids. So, I deftly (according to my husband) handled the situation with politely worded emails to the parents and his teacher. I made it very clear what was said and by whom in the spirit of “clarity and fairness.” To their credit, I got no “boys will be boys” from anyone, but only cooperative, responsive action. The situation is better, thank goodness.
However, if I am honest with myself, I want to take a scorched Earth policy toward this flavor of cruelty. It is so damaging to people. When I think of some of the comments made by Roman B. in 3rd grade (whale!) or Jeff K. on the bus in middle school (made earthquake noises as I walked up the bus aisle), tears well up in my eyes to this day. I can’t remember the name of my best friend from third grade, but I can give you the names of every one of my tormentors and their stock-and-trade insults. Sad.
So, navigating these waters as a parent is awful. I know I can’t protect him from all the bullies out there with fat jokes in their arsenals. What I can do is be honest with him and empathize with how he feels. I kept most of my exchanges with bullies to myself. At least I know that he will come to me if this happens again.