What’s that word for big and beautiful?

One day my baby stood in front of a mirror, frowned, and said, “I am a fat little boy.”

“You’re not fat!  You’re chubby!”  I responded, instantly projecting my own body image issues on my adorable three year old.

Through narrowed eyes, he looked at me, daring me to disagree, “That just means I’m the cute kind of fat.”

I scooped him up, gave him a dozen kisses on that sweet spot of his neck that always made him laugh and said, “Emphasis on the cute.”

I told him that he was the perfect size, exactly the size God made him to be, and he was healthy and handsome and, most important, loved.  He outgrew the chubbiness, but not the cuteness.

Nearly twenty years later, chubby is still our family word for “the cute kind of fat.”

I wish society had a word for that concept, too, the idea that a person, or a feature, could be larger than average and attractive at the same time.  Neither skinny nor its opposite fat convey beauty, but thin does.  We have no companion for thin, no word that denotes a larger vision of health and beauty.

Over the past couple days, I’ve seen this Dove campaign about beauty posted dozens of times.  If you haven’t seen it, take a look.

The emphasis here isn’t on weight, but listen to the words the women use to describe themselves.  “My mom told me I had a big jaw.”  “A fat, rounder face.”  “A pretty big forehead.”

Unless we’re talking about breasts, big is always a negative.  We don’t want big chins, noses, foreheads, arms, or feet.  Okay, big eyes – we want big eyes, like a Disney princess.  Big eyes, big breasts, everything else small, that’s our ideal.  That sounds like pornographic anime doesn’t it?

Ew.  I wish I hadn’t thought of that.

Anyway.

Words matter.  Casual remarks can sting for years, and they don’t have to be directed at us.  A childhood spent hearing negative remarks about fat people doesn’t generally result in someone who feels beautiful if she puts on a few extra pounds.

The words used to describe us become the way we define ourselves.

I didn’t grow up with words like chubby, or assurances that I was the perfect size.  I was called sturdy.  Amazonian.  Big.

Big.  Mostly, I was big.  Was I?

I was tall.  Very tall compared to my mother’s family, men and boys included.  I was also taller than my older brother for most of our childhood, which delighted neither of us.

I wanted to be small.  Petite girls were cute in a way I knew I never could be.  I was big; big and cute don’t go together.

Big is the ugly stepsister cutting off her own toes to cram her foot into a tiny glass slipper.  Petite dances all night with the prince and lives happily ever after.

I’m an adult now.  I want to think I’m past all that.  I carefully choose words for my daughter, knowing they’ll replay in her head for years to come.

When she tells me she hates being short, I point out how much easier it is for her to find clothes and shoes that fit, how much closer she is to the average woman’s height, how perfectly proportioned, how beautiful and healthy she is, exactly the size God created her to be.

I tell her that every woman I know wishes she were different in some way, even the most beautiful women in the world.  I tell her I always wished I wasn’t so tall (I’m careful to say tall, not big).

My husband walks by and grins, “But then I wouldn’t have noticed you.”

My prince.

Words.  They matter.  Choose them wisely.

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32 thoughts on “What’s that word for big and beautiful?

  1. You’re so absolutely right. I grew up being told I was fat–and yes, I was a bit overweight. But even when I lost weight, I couldn’t lose the feeling of fat…it stays with you all your life. The words we use with our children can get imprinted there forever–so make sure they’re good ones.
    Karen

    • Adulthood can be one long exercise in retraining our brains, can’t it? I hope I’ve given my children less negative messages to overcome, but I’m really not sure.

  2. This was fabulous. I was thinking of posting something along similar lines.

    I have a fraternal twin who was always – and probably still is – referred to as “the fat one”. I was “the skinny one”. She has struggled with her weight her. Entire. Life. And I have watched this and felt so guilty because I’ve never had to worry about what I ate.

    And just the other day, in the process of explaining to my four year old candy obsessed son (no, LITERALLY – obsessed) the ill effects of candy and why we should eat it in moderation, in a moment of frustration I caught myself saying, “You’re going to grow up to be a fat kid.” *Cringe*. If I could have turned back the clock. I hated myself for saying that and immediately stammered out something to try and drown it out. And for just the reason you say: What we tell our kids – they are so impressionable.

    • It is hard not to say those negatives that have been ingrained in us – really hard! I feel for your sister. It’s impossible not to compare yourself to your siblings, even in the best circumstances, and having it pointed out over and over again must have been painful.

  3. I’m “the smart one” and my sister is “the pretty one”. I don’t think anyone meant for us to internalize that she couldn’t be smart or that I couldn’t be pretty, but we did anyway.

    • Of course you did! Children always do. I don’t know if that type of blatant labeling is less common now than it was when we were children, but it seems like everyone our age grew up with a one dimensional label.

      • I can really relate to this. My sister was the “smart” one and the “pretty” one which always left me wondering which one I was exactly.

        To my sister I was the “nice” one that did what she was told and never got in trouble.

        As adults, we still struggle with these ideas about who we are or who we are supposed to be. Even though, these ideas aren’t even true about us. I am not always nice, my sister gets tired of trying so hard to be pretty (at least I imagine she does) and yet, to our family we will always fall under these categories.

  4. I’m six foot tall/big and hated it growing up. Now I love it, but during my teens I felt geeky, awkward and yes, ugly. Words do matter! Thanks for linking up at NanaHood.com and for this great post!

  5. I grew up believing I was big, fat, ugly. I wasn’t. But as an adult I have become morbidly obese and while I know that some of it is biology and genetics … I wonder how much is the voices in my head that still echo 54 years later.

    That was a powerful video! I had a similar experience at BlissDom. I was having a caricature drawn and he began with my eyes. I was watching a screen as he drew on his iPad and I remarked on the fact that he had drawn me with happy eyes. He told me that he only draws what he sees and I almost cried. I have battled depression and anxiety so long that I define myself as depressed, sad, broken … but that wasn’t what others saw. I was wowed!

  6. What a great post! I had a little bit of an inferiority complex due to being a little chubby when I was a child. Please come by and share this @ my Blog Party to Show Off! I’d love my readers to see it 🙂 Thanks again for this!

    Jessica
    The Wondering Brain

  7. I try to think about what I say to my daughter. I also try to think about how I describe other people or comment on their appearance. When I was a kid my dad told me not to eat so much bread, unless I wanted to have fat thighs. I was such a skinny kid. I am sure he had no idea I skipped lunch and breakfast most days, mostly because I was too much in a hurry to eat breakfast and too lazy to make my lunch before school. The idea that having fat thighs was a bad thing really stuck with me for a long time.

  8. I love this and the conversation that it has started. Growing up, I felt like it was clear that I was the smart one and my sister was the pretty one. I was on the honor roll, she was the head cheerleader. She was homecoming queen, I was …. a nerd? But as an adult I can see that she was every bit as smart as I was, and even though it gives me a stomachache to even type the words, I am pretty too. Labels suck.

  9. Oh and I meant to say, too, I agree that young girls can’t separate ‘big’ from ‘big and fat’. I was very tall, but not even close to fat. But I felt fat all through school because I wasn’t tiny and petite like a girly girl. It’s like my mind only had two categories, and since I wasn’t tiny I must have been fat. I hope kids now are hearing it from enough places that they understand.

  10. I really try to not use the ‘f’ word in my house. I grew up ‘chunky’ and that even made me feel badly about myself. However if someone had told me smoking would make me ‘fat’, my 18 yr old brain would’ve quickly stopped that habit! Luckily I’ve been smoke free for over 2 years. I had eating issues growing up and even now sometimes will eat my feelings. Now that I have a daughter I don’t want her to have a unhealthy relationship with food, feelings, or body image.

    • I think having a daughter makes a difference for many of us. It’s a wake up call that we need to change our thinking so we don’t pass it along. Congratulations on quitting smoking!!!

  11. Hi Ginger Kay, I’m linking up from Kate’s and LOVE this post! My daughter (now 21) is perfectly beautiful. Tall, athletic, blonde curly hair. I’ve always told her she was beautiful and God created her perfectly for His purpose, but she still compared herself to her waif-ish friends. Ugghhh how I hate that our culture does that to us!

    • Comparison truly does rob us of joy, and I think every culture has its ideal of beauty. I don’t know how we can counteract that, as women and as parents, other than emphasizing that God made us, and therefore we are beautiful.

  12. I like zoftig, myself. Weighing 7lbs 6oz when I was born, only gaining less than half a pound a year it pretty good, I think.

  13. You are so right about those words sticking with you the rest of your life. It is so important to replace them with how God sees me, …In my 6th decade of life, and I still have to do that!

  14. Pingback: Does society want us healthy or just beautiful? | A Faded Ginger

  15. Pingback: What's that word for big and beautiful? - Generation Fabulous

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