7 Ways to Raise a Sizeist Child

7 Ways to Raise a Sizeist Child

Dr. Robyn J.A. Silverman

We’ve all heard it before. Media is riddled with it. Janice Dickinson scoffs at it. Tyra Banks yells about it. Keira Knightly and Kate Winslet are sick of media’s hand in it. It’s sizeism.

We see it when people stop and stare.  Point.  Laugh and say; “He’s sooooo fat.” “She looks gross.” “She’s way too short!” “Have you seen her thighs?  Her muffin top? Her butt?” Prejudice comes in all forms. Sizeism is just as ugly at the rest of them…and just as transferable.

Think about the people in your life. The folks at work. School. Your home. Do you know anyone with a sizeist attitude? Any idea where it came from? We can’t only point the finger at the media. It’s time to take responsibility for our own actions and reactions as well.

Here are 7 ways that you can teach a child how to be a sizeist citizen of our already sizeist culture:

(1) Your physical reactions out you: Even babies and little children can feel the difference when a parent holds them closer around a person that makes them squeamish. Imagine that every time a parent is approached by a fat woman or man, s/he is rude, belittling or snooty but every time a parent is approached by a thin person s/he is positive, kind, and relaxed. You might think that a child won’t pick up on your body language—but next to you, your child can likely sense body changes in you fastest and easiest. The message is clear; “Fat people make my parents feel uncomfortable, therefore they must be bad.”

(2) Your choice of words outs you: Everything that you say when you are around your children is likely heard—even if you don’t think it is. That means that what you shout at the TV, the comments you make when leafing through a magazine, or what you whisper to a friend at lunch when a fat person walks by may just be embedded in a young child’s lexicon forever. I’ve heard it in my parent coaching groups—a child will repeat what you’ve said in the most inopportune times. One client shared with the group last week that her 4 year old son walked into Walmart and sound loud enough for at least 25 people to hear “Woah! You’re right, Mom. Everyone IS fat in here!”

(3) Your reactions towards them outs you: When your children say something rude, sizeist or snobbish, the way you react is worth a lot more than words can say. For example, a parent came to me and described the following: In her 5 year old daughter’s dance class a few weeks back, one of the other girls was demonstrating a skill when another little girls said; “fat people shouldn’t dance. They look like rollie pollies!” The teacher couldn’t help but laugh. Laughter in this type of situation is not only completely inappropriate, it only reinforces these statements and adds fuel to the fire.

(4) Your choices out you: This one may be subtle but it happens all the time. If you choose to allow certain children to do things due to their body shape and size while restricting others from doing the same things, you are brewing up stereotyping and sizeism. So, for example, one of my girls from my preteen coaching group, Sassy Sisterhood, said in group, “Whenever we need to move the chairs and desks around in class, my teacher only picks the boys. She says they’re bigger and stronger than the girls.” I’ve also seen it when teachers evenly separate the fatter boys or girls on gym teams in school. I’ve heard a teacher say that she does this so that everyone has the same amount of “dead weight.” Choices such as these, however subtle, speak volumes.

(5) The way you take responsibility outs you: Upon hearing children say sizeist remarks, you can either pretend you don’t hear it or choose to take responsibility or not. Denial is certainly a strong reaction. Many people believe that children can’t understand what’s really being said or done. However, even if they don’t process it in the same way as adults, they do indeed process it. Shrugging off responsibility for sizeism (or any other kind of prejudice) is not helpful. Yes, they might not have gotten it from you—but it still remains your responsibility—all of our responsibility– to teach them the right way to react to others, isn’t it?

(6) The way you accept yourself outs you: Do you look in the mirror and bash your “fat butt” [fat=bad] or swear at your “skinny” jeans that don’t fit anymore? Do you joke with your family over the holiday table about needing to lipo your “huge gut?” You are your children’s role models. Your children hear this—they see it—and they process it. When we don’t accept what makes us who we are, how can we expect our children to accept themselves? In this case, parents are teaching children to reject these features in themselves as well as in others.

(7) Who you surround them with outs you: You likely heard the advice “surround yourself with positive people.” When it comes to our children, they tend to absorb what they see and hair from those who are around them most of the time—it’s part of positive assimilation with a group. Therefore, when you surround your children with people who make statements laced with sizeism or act or react with prejudice motives, your children have a great chance of adopting similar prejudices. One girl, age 13, told me that her Mom’s best friend (recently single) always put down her “big thighs.” Now she couldn’t stop looking at her own—and comparing them with those of her friends’. She actually said to me, “Fat thighs means No Guys.” Where do you think she heard that one before?

As educators, parents, coaches, and mentors, it’s crucial that we admit when there’s a problem—and there is– and then work to take responsibility to deal with the pertinent issues. Watch your actions, your reactions, and your words. We need to stop generalizing based on appearance (or any other trait) because it takes away our ability to get to know people’s unique gifts on an individual basis. It causes our children to be narrow-minded. It causes children to hate—not only others—but parts of themselves as well.

Please comment below. Do you know anyone who has raised a sizeist child? How do you think they got that way? What warnings or tips do you have for parents?


13 Responses

  1. Wow. Great post and really great advice! I am not a parent, but I do now many parents who put themselves down or make negative body comments and then wonder why their daughters have low self-esteem and bad body image. The apple doesn’t fall too far from the tree.

  2. I agree…not a parent either but I am a teacher. I’ve actually had students who were able to tell the weight watcher points for various food items because they are constantly watching and learning this from their mothers. I not saying people shouldn’t diet but I just find it odd when a 7 yr old can tell me that a yogurt is 2 points.

  3. Hello Tiffabee and Angela-

    Thank you for your insightful comments.

    Yes, the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. It’s sad when children look at themselves through the eyes of the media or through their parents eyes who have been jaded by the media and strange societal standards.

    As adults, we all have a responsibility to watch our behavior and language around children. Inevitably, they are looking to us to show us what to do and how to think.

    And as teachers, we hold a very special place in the hearts and minds of children. When they look to teachers they think, “this person must be right– she is a teacher.”

    I think it’s strange as well that children can recount points and tell you the details of a diet plan. What happened to monkey bars and hopscotch? We’re clouding our children’s minds with silly, meaningless information! We all want people to take care of their health but children thinking about weight watchers is not likely an illustration of that…

    Thanks for your comments– come back soon-

    Dr. Robyn

  4. Hate to admit it, but I was RAISED a ‘sizeist’ child! It’s very hard to deconstruct and mitigate my own worldviews, when seen through the lens of ‘fat phobic’ parents…They never intended to do so, but ‘sizeism’ was always in play as an embedded correlation to ‘lack of self control’ —We see this often among healthy, fit people who snub based on size in a ‘show some restraint, bozo’ sort of disdain.

    I WILL say that awareness is everything, because once I had a child it was VERY obvious to me, and I actually voiced my concern about any verbal spars landing in her presence…they self-reined quite nicely, and never really realized they were doing it!

    It’s kind of like standing around someone making a racist joke, if you don’t speak up, you become complicit by default.

    That’s the way I feel about ensuring sizeism doesn’t leak onto the next generation…You have a voice and a choice to how you want to raise a child with a healthy, compassionate worldview.

  5. This is both comforting and humiliating! I am a ethnically mixed child who is half Brasilain and half white (aka boring)
    I noticed my white relatives always stared at my large breasts and curvy body always nonstop commenting or reminding me of how DIFFERENT i looked fron the rest of the WHITE buck tooth knock need flat chested immature other chidren my age
    I also noticed how my catholic x priest uncles snooty wife casually referred to me as a WHORE at age 12 and “Banned” me from playing with their children claiming I LOOKED TOO much like a whore!
    I Loved my cousins yet I felt Persecuted hated judged then I became discussted at grown men how they made ugly comments comparing me to their wives who theyd say :”look at Miranda shes only 12 yet she looks more womanly than my wife her aunt so and so..well my aunt “so and so” went to get plastic surgery on her supposedly “unacceptable breasts” because she wanted to be as large as ME..this I found very humiliating it made me sad it made me see how “worthless” Men are as life forms! and destroyed my trust and interest in wanting to marry or have children I felt “why” bother? they just drop you for some other feline! I never wanted to be humiliated like that…then my uncle divoriced my aunt claiming her “Breasts” were hard and fake now!..sadly I felt “Responsible”??
    I became very Religious to “Counter act?compensate for this uncomfortable reality…my exotic curvy body yet I feel at home on stage performing cuz while starring at my boobs people at least could see I can sing -dance and Act..to this day.I discovered a silent “denied” lied about truth! untill my present boy friend told me respectfully to go onto this web site..he sees me only late at night..cuz we both dont want people to humiliate him or me ie him cuz his career could be compromised..cuz people will think hes a “pervert” cuz hes with a lady who average white people would say “I look like a PORN STAR” yet..its only cuz I exorcise…eat right and respect my body yet our culture that is the average white MIND is so arrogant in claiming to have the “OWNERS MANUEL on “NORMAL” they so far as tried to make it a “Scientific” truth by saying at a certain age all healthy NORMAL people ie “THEMSELVES” have a blood pressure of 120/80 cuz THEY are the NORMAL CORRECT LOOKING RACE
    bah,,,truth I can say this cuz Im mixed I think the average white person is “UGLY” their skin looks like uncooked sausage after 25 they get a horrible atrophied body so easily that they MUST have plastic surgery or look like a melted snow man forever so they join a church where other ugly people go and join a force of finding bible verses that back up how ok it is to be as ugly as them
    they say people should love you for your heart not other things but thats after they had a life style of laughing at ME then they see me enter the church and suddenly Im “Mary Magdalene” Plzzzz
    its a Intelligent person who can enjoy the garden God created of colorful people..and love and adore the exotic interesting nuances of humanity! yet white race is toooooooooooooooooo Casual and they “Minimize” this BAD UGLY habit they have of expoising how unattractive they CAN BE! few I DISCOVERED DONT THINK THIS WAY! for example my boy friend is very adoring to me yet out of concern for the safety and security of his job I agree to only see him late at night or in another location where his “Pharisee friends” cant see him and I…plus in film Im always despite my many advanced colledge degrees and talents Im just the actress with big TITS AND ALL the audience wants to know is :”ARE MY TITS REAL?
    SO AFTER THOUSANDS OF PEOPLE ASKING MY THIS last week during a Hollywood show i thought for a minute I met a gentleman , some nice man helped me carry my costume bag by lifting it for me while breathlessly panting in my ear “are your BOOBS REAL haahahhhhahhhhahhhhg! or ARTIFICIAL” so I waited untill the other actors borded the same van then I shouted to the bus:”..guess what?”…. the only artifiscial thing in my life! is my family and Friends!
    so the entire bus load of actors were silent! FROZEN ! LIKE SOMEONE CUT OUT THEIR TOUNGES! for the first time I felt good like I finally found the magic word! shock them back even more! so thats how I fight back now! I repeat loudly what whispered with spit and slaiva in my ears! now Im happy to find a WORD that describes why my life has been so challenging…Ive lost jobs cuz of my figure been thrown out of CATHOLIC CHURCHES for being told I would seduce the priest and marry him! so LIFE is really not so sweet for blessed for ladies liie me.!
    .plus Men I discovered marry the non threatening EARTH MUFFIN SOCKER MOM TYPE while trying to make me their mistress…so my theroy on not admiring men much has proved true..I try to see them as a viable 2 legged homosapian yet I never met ONE Id care to keep as a permanent house Pet so thats it..Im happy cuz I love myself and Jesus yet I dont care to “bare” any mans kids cuz no man deserves me cuz I never met one I liked enough!
    to lower my STANDARDS for? Im very comfortable and happy as a heterosexual yet I feel so blessed cuz Im “cured{” of the hideous affliction of wanting acceptance now!
    I accept myself and laugh silently to myself as Im thanking God now that he made me so exotic yet Im vigilant in being cautious where I go cuz Im tired and “bored” of being around too many boring insecure non threatening Anglo people who are hung up cuz they dont look like me!..I only have 2 true white female friends who I adore as sisters who are not threatened by me! plus gay men are awesome to me..they are so protective and supportive of me and my career so I just wanted to share what its like not to be ugly and WHITE ! only half white!…to me its the inner soul I see cuz my Mom was white and she was awesome….I loved her heart I learned to see into the hearts..funny thing I REMEMBER my Moms eyes were so blue that Id say as a kid..”Mom where are YOU? cuz blue eyes are so fascinating I use to get lost looking in them yet my Dads eyes were so black that I never had trouble finding him in his eyes cuz I always saw my reflection back as a mirror yet in comparrison to my MOM I REMEMBER getting scared at blues eyes cuz I couldnt see my reflection back to regisiter for sure that my Mom was really behind her eyes..isnt that kind of weird? yet I learned to LOVE and appreciate all cultures.but white peopoe seem to only want to be around them selves? thats what ai never understoood? but Brasil is so mixed that no real anglo people exist so I hope USA finds a more humain way ! its most dominant in USA I lived in 30 different countries already and USA needs to get beyound the obsession of looking at only seeing outside
    Peace to us al amen!

    • I had to comment.
      1st is that the woman of 2009 is generally over weight. I have been around enough to see how much difference the poor diet makes.
      Poor diet and “fast food with HUGE proportions are to blame.
      I have been to other countries and know that the proliferation of the chains of so called fast food are turning the world fat!
      BMI is not a good measurement as it is purly weight. Weight can be heavy mass (muscle) The best is waist-hip ratio.
      Muffintop is poorly fitted clothes; as well as figure! Choosing the right size and the best fitting clothes goes a long way to looking good.
      Yes there are very jealous people out there. You are what you are! Having a great figure and looking good is wonderful!!

  6. […] gym, I was taken by something Taylor Swift said. Aside from her music that steers clear of racist, sizeist, bum-and grind that so much music seems to have today, it was nice to know that she embraces her […]

  7. miranda-
    you sound very immature. What’s with the racist comments in your post?

  8. There is no such thing as sizeist!!! This is the “Emperor’s new clothes” syndrome Trying to make up for reality!! There have been world wide studies of women’s bodies in cultures that had no media exposure The finding was that there is a preferred body image. It reflects HEALTH!!! 66% of Americans are over weight or obese!! The true test is waist/hip ratio not just weight per se.

  9. John it is not raciest but frustration. Beautiful “hot” women have their detractors too!! People use the word “real” to mean like them!! 66% of Americans are over weigh or obese!! Which means big health problems. That cannot be ignored.
    Some time jealousy and envy turns into violence i have had female friends who were well built assaulted by less endowed women in fits of envy!!!
    Using pseudo words to justify prejudice of those in good health with well maintained bodies is very wrong sending a message that ill health is ok.

  10. I’m a 14 year old girl, and because of the media I feel increasingly feel guilty about my body shape. I know that I shouldn’t be ashamed of my body and that I’m not fat but I can’t help but think that I am when I see stick-thin girls in magazines. I wish the media would stop all of this ‘toothpick-thin-is-beautiful’ rubbish.

    I have a friend who is a bit ‘sizeist’. If she sees someone who’s fat she says something along the lines of ‘ugh, she’s sooo fat. How does she walk?’ And even though she’s a skinny girl she says things like ‘Waah! I’ve gained SO much weight, I can’t fit into my skinny jeans anymore!’ I don’t know if it’s anything to do with how she was raised or not. I think it’s just her personality though, she’s always very critical of herself and others.

    I feel like all of the girls at my school are very self-conscious about their weight as well. Many naturally skinny people talk about how fat they are, and this makes the rest of us not-so-skinny girls feel quite down.

    I’m not a ‘sizeist’ at all and I think that was because of how I was raised. My mum wouldn’t even let me say words like ‘fat’ and ‘stupid’ when I was young and I think it made me very ‘non-sizeist’ and basically very uncritical. I do believe that parents can play a big role in ‘sizeism’.
    Hope this helped!

  11. […] I’ve hear it on The Tyra Show– and I hear it All The Time. And what’s worse, family members wind up passing body bullying on, generation after […]

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