This morning I walked into gan with my 5 year old daughter. She held my hand and skipped through the door still laughing from the silly song we had just sung. As we entered, three little children playing in a corner looked up, and one looked right at her and said, “Here is the fat girl.” I watched my beautiful little girl’s smile waver and turn downward as she absorbed this unprovoked insult. I wish I could say this was the first time, but all year she has come home telling me kids are calling her fat and it has broken my heart every time.
This summer, the first time it happened, my daughter came home from camp, lifted her shirt, pinched her adorable child-stomach and said, “Mommy, why am I fat? I want to be skinny!” I stared at her in shock and was at a loss of what to say. I couldn’t believe that those words came out of a 5 year old girl’s mouth. How to find the words in those few seconds to tell her that even at this young age people can be cruel? How to come up with the perfect thing to say that would make an impression at that pivotal moment?
I lifted my own shirt to expose my stomach and pinched myself as well and said “You see? Mommy has it too. Mommy is beautiful and you are beautiful.” Then I said what has become my mantra when this situation too frequently arises. “Hashem made everyone different. Some people are tall, some are short, some are brown haired some are blond but everyone was made just as perfectly as Hashem intended. And sometimes when someone feels sad about themselves or are hurting about something they want to make other people feel sad too and so they call them names. You need to look at them and tell them, I am beautiful just as Hashem made me, inside and out.”
Unfortunately, these children are only repeating what they hear at home, from their parents and siblings. In your casual conversations, you may have described your neighbor, someone you bumped into, your coworker or even yourself as “fat”. Know that your children have picked that up, carried it to school and thrown it at others.
Our children model what we say, what we do and how we talk. Therefore, we must teach our children that each person’s value is more than their exterior and that the word “fat” should be used as a noun, not an adjective. We must teach our children the power of words and how just one can imprint on another person and stay with them forever. We must teach our children that name calling and taunting is wrong and hurtful and they will only learn this if we model it at home.
Words are powerful; they can sting. They don’t disappear as easily as a scrape and long after a bruise has healed the memory of those words can still bring tears.
I know that I have taken these insults harder than my daughter has. I know that while she has been able to let them go I’ve cried knowing that people will only get crueler and the taunting will only get worse as kids get older. All I can do is shower her with all the love I feel for her and remind her every day of her self-worth. How she is sweet and considerate. How she is smart and funny and independent and kind. I only hope that it is enough to armor her for the future.
This morning at school as I hung her pink knapsack up on its hook I turned to her, fighting back tears to repeat the mantra that I have said one time too many. But my daughter turned to me first, smiled and said, “Don’t worry mommy, I know I am beautiful just as Hashem made me”, and went off to play.