Stop Calling My Baby Girl ‘Fat’

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When I had my first child five years ago, I constantly endured comments about how “skinny” he was. Our pediatrician, however, assured us that he was fine. His rail-thin build was genetic. He was growing up rather than out. My husband and I were both really skinny as kids, so our boy was (and still is) tall and thin. Yet, the digs I constantly heard on the playground or at daycare or even among friends — “That can’t be normal! Are you sure he’s healthy?” “HA, he’s half the size of so and so who are the same age. How weird!” — really got to me. I was an anxious new mom and I took all the criticism to heart. Despite our pediatrician’s reassurance, I’d think: It’s my fault, because I didn’t breastfeed him long enough! I must have done something wrong when I was pregnant! OMG!

Instead of criticizing myself, I should have stopped to wonder why these other moms thought it was OK to pick on my kid. But, I was too busy blaming myself and secretly envying moms with “chubby” babies. Nobody ever called their babies too skinny! Of course, when I finally got to know some of those moms I learned that they had the opposite problem: People called their babies fat. One mom in my yoga class told me that her pediatrician gave her a lecture about childhood obesity when her baby was 4-months-old. What was she supposed to do? Refuse to feed him? And really, people called their babies fat?!

Now, five years later, I have a baby that people call “fat” and it cuts just as deep as when I heard that her brother was “too skinny.” My wonderful, sweet 20-month-old has a little belly and a modest middle ranking on the growth charts. The pediatrician has never even brought up her weight at all, except to tell us that she’s growing beautifully. She’s had an amazing appetite since birth, which our doctor has celebrated, right along with us. She breastfed like a champ for 14 months. She eats everything we put on her plate: blueberries, shrimp, yogurt, salmon, and pesto pasta are just some of her favorites. She loves food. She’s a great eater. She’s perfectly healthy. And she’s being picked on for something that shouldn’t even be an issue.

It started when my daughter was less than 8-months-old. We were in Florida, on our first vacation as a family of four. One afternoon, I was balancing my daughter on the edge of the pool while we watched her big brother perform tricks in the shallow end. We were all having so much fun. She was kicking her little legs in the water, splashing and laughing, as her brother performed tricks for us. Then, out of nowhere, another mom swimming nearby, called out, “Your baby is so fat!” I was so shocked I mumbled something about her being a totally normal size for her age. But all I could think was, DID THIS B*TCH IN THE POOL REALLY JUST CALL MY BABY FAT?! I was still processing it obsessing about it hours later. In fact, I spent the rest of our vacation making sure that we avoided that woman in the pool (and everywhere else on the grounds of our resort).

Another time, I was excitedly telling a family member about my girl’s incredible appetite — my husband is a food editor, so he especially loves that she’ll eat anything and everything, particularly since our son is a picky eater — and the person responded, “Well, we’re just going to call her chubby girl from now on.” This time I snapped. “Do not call my daughter chubby. In fact, do not comment on her weight at all. She is healthy and perfect.” Full disclosure: This family member’s body image issues deeply affected me growing up, and I refuse to let anyone hurt my daughter in the same way.

More recently, I was shopping with my girl when I started chatting with a mom I didn’t know. We realized our daughters were close in age. Suddenly she blurted out, “Your daughter has a chubby belly! Don’t worry, she’ll grow out of it. Mine did.” I was horrified. I couldn’t imagine what inspired this woman to say what she said. I looked over at my sweet, giggling girl and swallowed my rage. It wasn’t appropriate to get upset in front of her or the other mom’s daughter. I gave a terse, “My daughter is perfect, just the way she is. And, hey so is yours! I love the sweet dress she’s wearing.” Then I got the hell away from her before what I really wanted to say just happened to fly out of my mouth and smack her in the face.

I just don’t get it. When did it become OK for people to body shame babies? And yes, the fact that it’s only moms who have criticized my baby (to my face, at least) makes it all even worse. Don’t they, better than anyone, know the love we moms feel for our children? The protectiveness? How could they say anything to another mom that’s anything but loving and kind about her child? It’s absolutely beyond my understanding. And also, don’t they understand that we should be empowering our daughters and lifting them up, not saying words that could crush their self esteem? Babies should be celebrated, adored, and loved — not criticized.

So, to all of you people who think it’s cool to comment on a baby’s weight, just don’t. Especially if it’s my baby. My big kid is off limits, too. Because all those times I’ve kept my mouth shut when I’ve wanted to tell you what I really thought of you and your body shaming ways? Well, let’s just say I’m feeling a lot less polite lately.

© Heather Morgan Shott, as first published on Momtastic.

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