The other day I was waiting in line at Kaiser with my two little girls (4 and 5). I had noticed a rather large woman pass by and stand in line behind us. But I had soon forgot about it when Princess said, loud enough that everyone could hear her, “Mom, look at that lady, she’s really fat!” Embarrassed, I pretended I didn’t hear her the first couple of times she said it. I hoped she would drop it, but when she persisted, I said, “Don’t say that, it might hurt people’s feelings.” Then she insisted, “Mom, LOOK!!” to which I replied, “I don’t want to look, it’s not polite to stare at people.” I was horribly embarrassed and I can only imagine that the woman behind us was completely humiliated and/or angry. She was close enough to hear every word and of course Princess was not trying to use discretion.
But I feel like I handled that badly. Maybe I should have told her that it’s OK, people come in all shapes and sizes. That’s pretty much like what I told her when she asked me why Princess Tiana has brown skin. I just said that everyone has different colored skin, and that was the end of that. But I guess being so embarrassed made my brain freeze up.
Maybe I should prep my kids sometime with the explanation that calling people fat makes them sad. But how do you explain that to a child? To them “fat” is not an insult, but an objective description. Fat/skinny, tall/short, dark/light: it’s just a category, not a value judgement. Mentioning that the lady was fat, to her was just as matter-of-fact as asking about Tiana’s skin. She doesn’t think brown skin is bad, otherwise she never would have picked the Tiana doll out of all the other toys at Toys R Us. She was just curious about differences.
But the reality is that while brown people may not care wether or not they are brown, fat people usually don’t like being fat. So there IS a difference between asking about Tiana’s skin and asking (really loudly) about the “fat ” lady’s size. But how does one deal with that? What would YOU do in that situation? What HAVE you done? Please, share!