Next up in our #miniSHEs series is a guest blog by Young&BosSHE COO/CCEO Emily Kilduff. Emily, like many miniSHEs, grew up hating her body and questioning her self-worth because of intense, oppressive societal norms surrounding body image. She’s struggled with disordered eating and eating disorders for as long as she can remember and began repairing her relationship with her body when she was 25. Now, at 29, she’s learned to accept and love her body (although some days she loves it more than others). “Before You Ask If She’s Fat” is a call to disrupt the status quo by focusing questions of children’s “health” on physical, emotional, and mental safety rather than how they look.
Before You Ask If She’s Fat
You may have a teen or a tween or even a toddler, and you may worry that she’s fat, or she’s becoming fat. You yourself probably worried about being fat or becoming fat at least once by the age of 10 (I know I did). Maybe you had an eating disorder. Maybe you had disordered eating. Maybe you had anxiety around food and exercise. Maybe you refused to take your cover-up off at the beach or wore sweaters all summer. Maybe you were simply thankful you didn’t have an eating disorder or disordered eating or anxiety around food and exercise. Maybe you still have and do all of the above. Maybe you’re simply worried about your child’s future, and how society might treat and abuse her if she’s more than 20lbs heavier than the charts say she should be.
Before you ask if she’s fat, before you put her physical body over her emotional and mental well-being, before you mark her forever with the fears you yourself have carried around since you were her age, ask her:
Does she knows she’s safe? Loved unconditionally? Talented, remarkable, and unique?
Does she recognize her strengths and her weaknesses, and know that whatever she’s good at–whether it’s sports or music or art or doing hair or organizing or driving tractors– is just as valuable as anything else? Does she know that you need a job that pays money to survive, but you also need creative and intellectual outlets and a life outside of work? Ask her:
Does she feel like she can come to you with a problem, any problem, and you’ll treat her with kindness? Does she feel safe at school and at home and out in public? Does she understand consent, and that she gets to set her own boundaries around her body and her life (even and especially with close friends and family members)?
Does she know that no person gets to make her feel small, stupid, worthless, or like a burden?
Does she understand that her race, gender, and sexuality don’t define her as a person? Does she understand that she’s more than her BMI or a jean size? Does she know the difference between healthy–cholesterol and heart rate and genetic implications and mental clarity–and “healthy”? Does she know how to care for her body, and understand what it means to treat herself with respect and love? Does she know that love is more than sex, and sex is more than just the physical, and that she gets to control the who/how/where/when? Ask her:
Does she knows the difference between right and wrong, and does she know how to be strong in the face of peer pressure?
Would she say something to you or a friend or a teacher if something bad was happening, or about to happen? Does she know at least one adult person–even if it isn’t you–that she can go to for advice and comfort? Does she have the language she needs to tell you about her body and all that will happen in and around it for the rest of her life?
If you’ve asked all of these questions, and gotten all of the answers, and your child is happy and safe and emotionally healthy, then you can feel free to ask yourself: why do you believe “fat” is the worst thing a person can be?
Looking for reads on #miniSHEs and body image? This blog post from A Mighty Girl features 25 books to teach body positivity to kids ages 1 and up. Plus, ICYMI: Check out others in our #miniSHEs series Holding Hands In The Dark, Dear Little One, & Courtney Jones and Madison.