Fat Girl Complex

Magic mirror-1I went to a really small grade school in Hubertus, Wisconsin. I had about 14 kids in my kindergarten class and slightly more when I graduated in eighth grade. The upside of going to a small school in a small town is that I really got to know everyone. The teacher turnover was really low, too, so there was a lot of consistency with who we saw day after day. I have really fond memories of my old teachers - all of them. And I could probably say the same about the students, too...well, with the exception of two people.
One person was a girl named Rebecca, but everyone called her Becca. She started in third grade and left in seventh grade. All the other girls in our class looked nice, and dressed nice, but Becca was the first person in my class that wore clothes that were exclusively brand name. It's true that we were all coming to the age when we started paying more attention to what we wore, but I hold Becca personally responsible for ushering materialism into our class too soon. I also hold Becca personally responsible for my aversion to anything related to the Guess clothing brand. Guess jeans. Guess jackets. Guess t-shirts. Guess. Guess. Guess. Fortunately for Guess, my aversion to the brand has not discourage the masses from keeping the brand alive and strong to this day. While Becca may have created a warped sense of fashion conformity in my adolescent mind, she did not make me feel fat. No, that honor went to person #2: Nicole.

Nicole was a girl who was a year older than me. She was there when I started school in kindergarten and stayed until she graduated. I'm sure if I bumped into her on the street today, everything would be peachy keen, but as it stands right now, she is the only person that went out of her way to be mean to me at just about every opportunity. It all goes back to when I was in second grade and she was in third. I was out playing at recess and she called me over and asked to to come talk to her. I was surprised as she was never really anything more than a brat to me, making snide comments. I wasn't alone. She targeted a lot of younger kids, but I still tried to walk a fairly wide line around her when possible. As I walked closer to her, I could see a couple of her friends were watching in equal surprise. There I stood...about one foot in front of her. "Do you want to play, Traci?" she asked. "Ok!" I replied, not knowing what to expect. I thought maybe she turned a new leaf. Before I knew what was happening, she grabbed both of my wrists, turned my around quickly and pushed me to the ground. I had no way to break my fall and fell pretty hard. Her friends that stood nearby came over and helped pick me up as they admonished her. I stood up, turned around and walked away.

For the next several years, I had the pleasure of seeing Nicole day after day. Other than being a snotty girl, I can't really recall anything she said or did that was as messed up as the second grade incident until her eighth grade year. For some reason, she always gave me a hard time about my jeans. While I thought they fit me perfectly fine, she wasn't really satisfied with how they looked on my 12-year-old figure. "Nice jeans, Traci. Could they get any tighter?" "Those jeans don't fit you! You're too big." "Those jeans are too tight on you. You look fat." I never really said anything to her in response. I just rolled my eyes and walked away, or maybe gave her a "Ugh, whateverrrrr," or an "Ugh, I'm so sure."

When the eighth graders graduated from school, each student "willed" something down to the seventh graders. It was usually a positive quality, like "I will John my ability to play basketball so he can continue to play well next year," or "I will Susan my sense of humor so she can make students laugh." I'm can't remember how names were chosen for who will what to who, but guess who had my name? That's right, Nicole. Fantastic.

As I sat in the audience watching the eighth graders take the stage to will their "quality" to next year's class, Nicole walked up to the podium. This is what she said: "I will Traci all of my baggie jeans, because the her jeans are too tight and she really needs to loosen them up." As everyone laughed, I smiled and tried to laugh, but I was pretty hurt. When all of my other classmates were willed these nice or funny qualities, Nicole got one last shot at me. How the teachers ever allowed this, I will never understand. I didn't said anything to her about it, and no one ever said a word to me about the comment. I'm sure I talked with close friends about it, but that was the extent of it.

Enough of the sob story. That was over 25 years ago. Nicole graduated and left our school district. She never went to high school and I never saw her again. She was a witch of a kid. I haven't forgotten Nicole, and actually think it's important to remember her. She reminds me how I felt, and how I never want my kids to feel. This may sound odd, but I want to be in touch with that emotion so I can relate to my two young girls, should the time come. I'm sure my kids will say things that are none-too-nice at some point, and I'm sure they'll be on the receiving end of less-than-kind comments.

When I was a girl, super models, like Cindy Crawford, were icons. In my late teens and early 20s, waif models were glossing the pages of magazines everywhere. The thinner the better. Today, even though models might not stand six foot and 100 pounds, they're still extremely thin, and extremely photoshopped. I knew the day would come when I'd have to deal with how my girls feel about their bodies, but I had an early wake up call this morning.

My oldest daughter, who is 7, came into my bedroom after putting on a dress. "Does this make me look fat?" Oh my gosh! My husband and I just looked at each other. "You look really healthy, honey," is all I said. I don't use the "F" word in this house unless I'm talking about coconut oil or Omega 3s. After she made the comment, she didn't seem hung up on how she looked, and changed the subject right away. I can only assume it may have been a parroted comment she picked up someplace else. I could overanalyze things, but I think that might drive me crazy. Between the Disney Channel, school, movies and other conversations she hears - both kids and adults, there is no doubt she's heard someone ask "does this make me look fat?"

With what I do for a living, we focus a lot on health. I discourage diets and encourage clean eating...that's all a person really needs. I exercise often and have lots of equipment in our house that the kids monkey around on. At this age, I think it's important for them to have fun with activity and not much more. That said, food and body constantly come up. I'm always writing about it or talking about the different ways that food and exercise can benefit our bodies.

Doing the best I can to ensure my daughters have a firm grasp of health and a healthy body by eating right is incredibly important to me. I hope that I'm laying some decent groundwork. A few things I my kids hear me say often include:

  • "That has way too much sugar in it."
  • "You're growing so much, and outgrew your [fill in an piece of clothing that got too small]"
  • "Eating this will help give your body energy to help you run faster."
  • "This food is really good for your brain and will help you think better."
  • "A healthy diet has lots of vitamins and minerals in it that your body needs, and not a lot of other ingredients."

Sure, you could probably apply those comments to a lot of foods, but my kids are young, and unless I'm talking about a specific food like broccoli ("Did you know that broccoli has calcium in it, which is good for your bones?"), it doesn't get much deeper.

When it comes to things I will never, ever, ever say to my kids:

  • "You'll get fat if you eat that."
  • "You need to go on a diet."
  • "You can eat doesn't have any calories."
  • "Drink this diet soda."
  • and of course, "Those jeans are too tight on you. You look fat."

I have no doubt I'll say the wrong thing every now and then, and I'm sure I've done it plenty already outside of the context of food. All parents want to do the best for their kids, but it can be mighty intimidating when you get a glimpse of things to come at such a young age. I have no idea what I'll say when the topic of boys and dating comes up. I only got the "where do babies come from" question from my four-year-old yesterday. Wish me luck!

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Traci is a nationally recognized health and fitness expert who has been featured on The TODAY Show and Dr. Oz. Traci is available for corporate speaking events and wellness coaching, as well as private training. Contact Traci here.


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