The moment I had been preparing for and dreading in equal measure for five years and eight months finally arrived with little fanfare: with a bowl full of chocolate ice cream in front of him (his daily after school snack), my son put a spoonful in his mouth, looked at me and said, "Will ice cream make me fat?"
I paused to take a deep breath, give myself a moment to process the conversation ahead and figure out the best answer. I wanted to know where he learned that but I knew the blame game wouldn't solve anything. As a family that celebrates body diversity--and with my husband and I not on the conventionally thin side of the body size continuum--I was wondering when questions and conversations about fat would start. Turns out, they start in kindergarten. And I wanted to learn more about what my son was thinking and feeling about this.
What do you think fat is?" I asked him.
"If you're fat, it takes your body longer to heal," he responded.
"Hmm that's an interesting idea," I say. "Fat is how our bodies store energy. If a person's body doesn't have enough fat, it will take them longer to heal. Your body needs fat to help you run, play, learn and grow."
He ponders this for a minute. My husband walks by. He lifts his shirt and says, "Look, this is fat." My son giggles.
"Did you know that everyone has fat?" I ask. "All bodies have different amounts of fat."
"Even I have fat?" he asks.
"Yup, you have fat too."
"But is ice cream healthy?" he wonders aloud.
"All food has nutrients and vitamins and minerals. If you listen to your body, it will tell you what it needs. Sometimes you need more energy and some protein. Ice cream is great for that. Other times, you might want something fresh and crisp. That's when you pick cucumbers or carrots. All foods are good. There are no bad foods."
"Sometimes I do want a cucumber!" he says. He keeps eating his ice cream.
As parents, we can't control all the messages our children receive about food and their bodies. When I had kids, I vowed to end the cycle of body shaming, weight stigma and the grip of diet culture in my own family.
My children have grown up loving my belly fat. They know where and how I grew them. My children have never heard me talk negatively about my body or myself. They acknowledge the beauty in themselves. My children see me care for my body through nutrition and movement because it feels good, not because I want to make myself smaller. They choose a variety of different foods every day without any morals attached to their choices and they play for hours.
The world will try to squeeze my son and my daughter into a cage that is far too small to contain their beauty, sensitivity, dreams, and wildness. But every single day, in the haven of our home, I will remind them: they are free, they are loved and they are worthy of taking up space, being heard and being seen as their full, authentic selves.