Recently my 3-year-old son looked at me lovingly and said, “Mommy, you’re fat!”
A not-so-subtle reminder that we should be ashamed of our bodies, but that we can fix it with their product.
I’m an average-sized, curvy woman and I love my body the way it is. Fat is not a bad word, however, I have to admit, my self-esteem took a temporary hit with this one.
He certainly didn’t learn that language from our family so I was left wondering where he came up with it. I realized that while we were watching TV, weight loss commercials were catching his attention and putting these terrible ideas about mommy’s body in his mind.
While my husband and I were busy making sure our son didn’t see TV shows or commercials glorifying violence and guns, there was something else just as sinister seeping into his very impressionable brain. We are concerned that these negative media messages will distort his view of women.
If our son constantly sees ads with women talking about wanting to lose weight, then he’ll learn to constantly focus on and criticize their bodies.
It’s hard enough for me to see these commercials and try to ignore them, but my son has yet to learn about the effects these negative media messages have on all of us.
He doesn’t know that advertisers are playing with our self-esteem in order to get us to buy their products. He doesn’t know that they’ll say anything to get us to hand over our money.
According to advertisers for weight loss products, no body is good enough the way it is.
He doesn’t realize there’s a difference between real women and those who have been edited to appear to be “perfect”. He doesn’t know about the lengths that women are pressured to go to in order to fit the “ideal” beauty standards.
If I do nothing, the negative media messages will teach him to value women’s appearances instead of their intelligence, their size instead of their humor, how well they fit society’s beauty standards instead of the goodness in their hearts.
If I do nothing, he might objectify women and think nothing of the violence that is committed against them. If I do nothing, he might tell other women that they’re fat.
I wasn’t planning on having a conversation with him about these things until he was older. His fourth birthday is approaching and I’ve already seen how media messages and social pressures have changed his view of the world. If I don’t get ahead of them, then it will be a lot harder to change any negative perceptions of women he may have developed down the road.
My husband and I want our sons to value women and their bodies as they are naturally, and to treat them with respect and not objectify them. The next time a weight loss commercial comes on, we’ll have that much needed conversation or turn the channel.
Gretchen Edwards-Bodmer is a curvy grrrl from Virginia with a Master’s degree in Humanities and Women’s Studies. You can find her musings about raising two boys in this crazy world at www.grrrlwithboys.blogspot.com and follow her on Twitter @GrrrlWithBoys
Thanks for writing this, Gretchen. These ads are, quite simply, another form of violence committed against women. I can only hope that more and more parents begin to realize this and to make their disapproval known in as many ways as possible – starting with teaching their kids as you are doing. Kudos.
Thank you Kerry! I think empowering children with the ability to analyze media, especially these days, is critical to combating sexism and violence against women in all forms.
I TOTALLY AGREE!! People seem to think too that a child so young wouldn’t pick up on such things, but they do. It’s good that you noticed it before it got out of hand. Kudos to you for what you’re doing. I only hope more people realise this like you did.
He may not have any negative connotations with the word fat. My 4 year old says it quite happily about her own tummy after she’s eaten something and sticks her tummy out. So at this point i just smile, say mmmmm are you nice and full? and don’t draw any attention to it. when i perceive it to have changed I’ll address it then. However i don’t have a television and i avoid as much woman-hating advertising as is possible. i am a bit fat,but who gave the word fat such horrendous meaning? it’s a tough one. My advice would be to turn off the telly for a start.
Thank you! Kids are like sponges, they really do absorb everything and will repeat it back to you. I also had to talk to my mom and sister who commented that it looked like I was losing weight in front of him. I don’t focus on a number or actively try to lose weight and I didn’t want him to think that is something he should be noticing or looking for. I know it’s hard for people to make the shift to not thinking about their own weight or that of others and commenting on it, but so far my mom and sister have cut out that talk, at least in front of me and my little fellas.
I’m not sure when or how the word “fat” became a negative expression. Voluptuous bodies used to be valued and seen as beautiful. The Venus of Willendorf statuette, women in Renaissance paintings and more recently Marilyn Monroe are examples of curvy women who were admired. I think my strategy from here on out will be to try to avoid him seeing the negative messages about women’s bodies and continue to mixed in positive messages from our family and the media (when I find some) about our value outside of our appearance. And yes, that includes turning off the TV. 🙂