Flash forward to seventh grade. I had a huge crush on a boy whose locker was close to mine. For nearly the whole year (at least it seems now), I obsessed over this boy in my head. He was always friendly. We talked pretty often and I remember him being very funny (sometimes, as a seventh grade girl, that’s all it takes in order to be convinced that a boy is the love of your life). So after months of nervousness and ridiculously dramatic conversations with friends about what I should do, we all decided that I should express my love to him. So I did it. I wrote THE note. At the end of the school day, I slipped it in his locker and left. The next morning, after a night of imagining our lives together, I headed back to school - nervous that I was now going to have to face him. When I got to my locker and opened it, my heart fluttered a little bit as I saw a note drop to the floor. I picked it up, went to a stall in one of the bathrooms and opened it. It was a piece of paper with five words on it. Five words that molded the way that I viewed myself and my relationship with boys from that point on. “I don’t like fat girls.” Ouch. I faked a stomach ache that day and went home. That boy never talked to me again.
Even as adult women, it is at the core of how we were created to want to be seen as beautiful. We want (in some form or another) to be swept away by the love our life, told that we are beautiful and irreplaceable, then be taken on some exciting adventure where we live happily ever after (read the book Captivating by John and Staci Eldridge for a deeper look into that idea). For a young girl struggling with body issues in today’s world of Abercrombie and Fitch models and Beyonces, this desire can very easily be crushed and turned into a deep wound that may take years to heal. That is why, as adults, we need to be very aware of these issues in our children and learn how to combat the negative thoughts that our children may face regarding issues surrounding body image.
Without being overly sensitive and paranoid about every little word that comes out of our mouths, we do need to realize that as the parents and friends of young people that are in the process of developing their self identities, that our words have a direct and powerful hand in shaping the way that they view themselves. I’d like to offer some advice to grown ups about some things that you shouldn’t say or do to the child or teen who is overweight.
Here are some of the types of things that I remember (I want to clarify first that these things weren’t from my parents…they were always very supportive of me during these struggles):
“Oh, he is disgusting…look at his belly!“ Don’t laugh at or make fun of fat people. Besides it just being childish and mean, it can affect the person next to you even if you are talking about a stranger or someone on TV. The young person who is already self-conscious about themselves will take your comment about the other person and apply it to themselves.
“You’re getting as big as a house.” This one is pretty “duh” but I very clearly remember hearing it from a relative. Sometimes, you just need to remember that if you can’t say something nice, then you are an idiot. Uh, I mean…don’t say anything at all. Sorry. Old wounds coming out there.
“This is too big for me, maybe it’ll fit you.”
“Maybe you shouldn’t eat that.”
“You look like you are getting a little chunky.” (This one is often said with a playful poke to the midsection or a pat on the butt).
Whatever they are, these slightly snarky and passive aggressive comments typically come as you get into your older teenage years, but they are just as hurtful. Trust me, if your child or young friend is getting chunky, they are aware of it…don’t make it your mission to make sure.
If I had more time and readers with a longer attention span, I could go on for a long time talking about the psychology and strategy behind the way that we use our words to help and/or harm the people who we love. But I don’t have either of those so I’m going to try and just keep it short and simple. :-)
They say that people battle their weight for a reason. It IS an emotional battle. You can come out at the end of some days feeling victorious and triumphant and other days you can feel wounded, bloody, and raw.
I'm not saying you can't encourage and help someone to make healthier choices and develop good habits, but as a grown up, just be sure that you are the person who is helping to strengthen and soothe the wounds and scars that are going to come to the kid in your life, don’t be the one inflicting the damage.