Laura Beck’s “Don’t Call People Fat in Front of Your Kids Unless You Really Want to Screw Them Up” opens with a situation and a topic that everyone is aware of: celebrity pregnancy. While Beck focuses the beginning of her blog post on Kim Kardashian and the ridicule her pregnant body recieved in the checkout line at Target, the real topic of her post is the influence parents have on their children and how many parents don’t realize it.
My mother and father didn’t realize how much influence they had over me, not in the beginning at least, and how can I blame them? They were first-time parents, 29 and 42, and had been set in their ways when I came along. I know they didn’t stop cursing in front of me because I’ve heard, as have many of my friends, stories of when I was barely talking and said, “Shit, shit, shit” in response to my mother’s frustration with the car seat.
There was also that time when I went to daycare and got sent home for saying, “Fuck” instead of “buck” in a sing-along about deer. (I guess they let the first one slide, but I kept saying it. Oops!) While I had a potty mouth when I was a child, my weight was never an issue.
Actually, that’s a lie.
My weight wasn’t an issue in the conventional sense. I wasn’t overweight, but I was dramatically underweight until I was about fifteen. My best friend from second grade to our senior year of high school came from a family of obese grandparents and parents who never held back in telling my mother that I was “too skinny” and looked “sickly.” To them, this was all a big joke.
Most of the time these comments were made right in front of me, and if not, I was within earshot. My mother relentlessly defended me and kept me from their house when they accused me of having an eating disorder in the fourth grade. I didn’t understand, but I knew I could eat enough for two people and not gain a pound, so I didn’t let it bother me.
Beck observes that, “It’s hard enough to be a woman in our sexist culture, and the greatest gift we can give our girls is confidence in themselves—and that includes their bodies.” Any woman within her right mind agrees with this statement. I know that I do. My childhood and adolescence proved that to me.
While my best friend’s grandmother and mother were busy harping on me for being underweight, my best friend was somewhat overweight, but extremely happy and confident. This was the way it was as we entered high school. I was skinny, still, but softer and had yet to develop any sort of breasts or curves. I walked around like Gumby—too tall and made of Play-Doh—and started to hate my lanky, skinny, soft frame. Beck says, “As a fat kid, I was made very aware that my body was wrong. I got it from all angles, but the adults. The adults were the worst,” and I felt the same way about being underweight. In the back of my mind, the comments of my best friend’s family were always echoing in my head:
If you stood sideways and stuck your tongue out, you’d look like a zipper.
You’d blow away if a strong wind came by.
Or my favorite that I will never forget:
We’re gonna call you fathead because your body is so small, but your head is so big.
I could say that their taunting and teasing turned me into a raging anorexic, but it just delayed the growth of my confidence and comfort with my own body. When I finally went through puberty at fourteen, my breasts didn’t develop like the other girls, but my hips widened and my ass… would you believe me if I said it appeared overnight? I still have the stretchmarks to prove it.
It didn’t take therapy to fix me because my mother was my advocate and my best friend through it all. She constantly reassured me that they didn’t have any idea what they were talking about, and she asked me to look at them and see just how fat they were, but I wouldn’t do that. I wouldn’t reduce them to their size like they had done to me. And I don’t think they ever meant what they said to me in a hurtful way. I just think they were as averse to skinny as most of our society is to fat.
Whether skinny, fat, black, white, tall, or short, Beck’s article is not about weight, color, or size, but about influence.
She takes the disappointing situation she witnesses in the Target check-out aisle and relates it to her painful past as what she calls “a fat kid.”
As a skinny kid, it’s plain to see that adults still influenced my development and negative comments affected me in a negative way while my mother’s postivity saved me from living my life with self-hate and an unhealthy body image. Just as I echoed my parent’s cursing, children reflect their parents’ attitudes, and, as Beck rightly points out, if parents aren’t careful, they can really screw their children up.
Samantha Starr just graduated from college with a degree in English, meaning she is currently unemployed and/or working in the food service industry.