Shame, Value, and Skinniness

 

 

People make fun of my middle child for her size.

 

No, she’s not overweight. No, she’s not of Amazon height. No, she’s not the shortest kid in school.

 

She’s just… well, skinny.

 

 

(See? I’ve always fed her. Even when she stole my food when I was 7 months pregnant. ;) )

 

It comes from other kids sometimes:

“C’s SO skinny– look, you can see her VEINS!”

“It looks like her pants are going to fall off!”

“*snicker*– look, her underwear is hanging out!”

 

It comes from adults in different ways:

“Do you FEED her?”

“Is she always going to be kind of sickly, you know, ’cause of being so early?”

“She’s just so BONY. Is she okay?”

 

I could rattle off an easy half-dozen reasons why this precious little girl is built the way she is– fine-boned, thin-skinned, fragile, and slight. I could defend her appetite (which is excellent) and the array of foods she eats (which is vast.) I could confirm that, yes, I give her whole milk. And, yes, I know she’s very thin.

 

But I get sick of all that.

 

The thing is, I shouldn’t have to be defending her skinniness. Honestly, it shouldn’t even be a thing.

 

I think some people see that in my face. They watch a veil drop over my gaze and they know– this is not the right approach. We shouldn’t be criticizing this child’s weight (or lack thereof.)

 

And, usually, someone in the crowd will backtrack. They’ll smile widely, and say something like:

 

“She’ll have the last laugh– all the girls are going to be jealous of her in another 5, 10 years.”

“Boys LOVE tiny girls.”

“She’ll be so grateful for not having baby fat to lose.”

 

I usually smile weakly back. I say something inane like, “Well, I always figure at least she’s the small one and her brother’s the crazy-tall one– I think it’s probably easier for them this way.”

 

I wish I didn’t do that. I wish that weren’t my response. It’s not really honest.

 

Because, the truth is, it shouldn’t be okay to say those things, either.

 

I know that people’s hearts are in the right place when they make those remarks– they’re trying to be positive and encouraging and focus on the “good.”

 

But the reality is that anytime we’re attaching worth to a child’s size– whether positive or negative– we are failing them.

 

The fact that C. is remarkably slim isn’t something for which she should be shamed or criticized.

 

It also isn’t something to be celebrated.

 

It just is.

 

She is a funny, spunky, artsy, clumsy, sweet little girl– the traits that make her unique abound. There will be those who want to be her friend and those who do not. That’s all good.

 

But her value? Is not in her size.

 

It never will be.

 

And I hope we’re strong enough to help her find the confidence and awareness to be sure of that.

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7 comments to Shame, Value, and Skinniness

  • Amy

    Guilty. When I first meet a child, or don’t know a child well, I will likely comment on a physical trait. Not to attach value, but simply to make conversation. An observation, I suppose.

    I wonder now if I shouldn’t declare “big, beautiful eyes” or ornery grin. Does that offend? Ugh! I hate being afraid of saying the wrong thing. But without knowing the person, that’s all I have…

    • I don’t really think it’s a bad thing to remark on physical beauty. I think the issue is when we declare a certain body type or size to be “ideal” or “substandard.” Does that make sense?

  • Susan

    C is your preemie, right? My one pounder is still incredibly skinny as a 13 year old. I’ve given up worrying about what he eats. It’s just a fact he’s skinny. He’s also smart, funny, athletic and considerate. “Skinny” does not define him. If I had to use one word to define my son, I would say “survivor.”

  • I get the bug-eyes often when people learn that David is 3. He is just very, very short. He’s no longer thin as a rail, but just short. And oh, how I don’t want that to define him! He’s such an amazing kid in so many other ways. And yet, yes, I have my words I say when people comment on it. Ugh.

  • This was me growing up until college. I was soooo self conscious about being skinny. I HATED it. Sadly, nowadays people probably would have praised my size in high school but at the time I just wore baggy clothes and tried to ignore all the comments. But I never saw myself as pretty. And it isn’t like you can complain about being too skinny. THAT does not go over well.

  • Mary

    I have 6 kids, the 2nd one was born on due date, but did not grow during the 2 months prior. I was “threatened” that if she wasn’t born by that evening labor would be induced because my midwife was worried about her. Growing up she made her own curve under the bottom of the growth chart, but she followed the chart. Now, at 24, she is still just shy of 5 feet, but a wonderful young women-she is “fun sized”.

    One of her younger brothers was born 5 weeks early, stayed in the hospital for a week before he came home. He is currently my tallest child, and we expect he will stay that way. He is taller than his older 3 brothers, his older sister, and younger sister (as well as both parents). Tall and slim (like his grandfather). my youngest girl will soon pass up her sister in height, but that is ok.

    We talked to the kids for years telling them of their differences in size and why it was ok, i.e. 3 of their 4 grandparents were shorter than their mother(me), and the her father was 1 ft taller than her. They get their height and build from their ancestors.

    They are also all smart in their own way, academic or otherwise. One has autism, which means testing him is not easy, but while standard tests can’t tell us much, observation and interaction tell us a lot. He has learned as much from his younger siblings as from his older ones.

    Commenting on something distinguished or different about a child should not be an source of embarrassment. Maybe the child is malnourished, or has a medical problem that needs to be dealt with. I have a cousin who has a child who is “skinny”. I asked about it once and was told that the doctors couldn’t find anything wrong. Later she broke a bone and something was found out, but nothing that couldn’t be dealt with.

    As a school bus driver I look at my bus kids and see many differences, but if they look basically healthy I don’t worry about them. I look for anything that would signal a problem at home or at school. There isn’t a lot I can do, but they know I care, and I know that can mean a lot to a child.

    Tell your daughter that if the other kids (or adults) say something that hurts, Just say “aren’t I lucky to look just like ME, and aren’t you lucky to look just like YOU!”

    My kids know they are fine just the way they are-they only get in trouble when they get lazy or disobedient, and that is not often.

    I love your stories, but only have time to read in a bunch.

  • […] remember this? I stand by it. It’s all totally […]

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