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.
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.”
Words. They matter. Choose them wisely.