Pink hair and the "chubby" insult

Six years ago my husband and I went to the ultrasound appointment where we would learn our baby’s gender. I was 20 weeks pregnant with my first child,

“I don’t care if it’s a boy or girl, as long as the baby is healthy,” I said, not for the first time, on the way there. I didn’t realize I was lying until we saw that we were having a girl.

I know that this is a controversial and awful statement. Hear me out.

The first picture of our little girl.

It wasn’t that I didn’t want a girl – most of me really did mean it when I said I don’t care about the gender. And now I can’t imagine life without this amazing kid and I am the better for her. But back then the idea of a girl seemed so much more difficult. I should have been thinking of the fun of dressing up, the inherent gentleness, the tendency toward cleanliness and fewer broken bones that comes with girls. Instead, the angst of my own teenage years (and, I’ll admit, the majority of my 20s) flashed to the foreground of my mind. Body image issues. Unworthy boyfriends. Mean girls. Break ups. Tears. Questionable fashion choices.

I took a deep breath and told myself to take it one day at a time. She was healthy. Plus, she hadn’t even been born yet! All of this was so far in the future that it was ridiculous to think about it. That would happen when she was a teenager!

(Tires screech. Needle scratches on a record.)

It happened last week. WHEN SHE WAS 5!!

We were at her boyfriend’s house. Yes, she refers to him as her boyfriend. No, she doesn’t mean it in any other way except that he’s a boy and he’s her friend. The kids were playing downstairs, parents were having a beer upstairs, and all was right in the world. Until my beautiful daughter stormed upstairs and sulked on the couch. Like a teenager.

“What’s wrong, Honey?” we asked.

“They’re being mean. They said I was chubby,” she said.

The two offenders, including my 3 year old, came into the room. When confronted, her boyfriend said, “yeah, I called her chubby.” And it was with venom and the knowledge and the intent of being hurtful.
Every adult was silent in the room for a beat. I was surprised that they all didn’t hear my heart break.

This was not supposed to happen at 5. This is not something kids this age should even know is a hurtful thing to say. And this is coming from a good kid. I know him and his parents. He’s raised to be respectful and kind. And it still happened. I had to remind myself that it was not okay to punch a 5 year-old in the pie hole.

We parents sprang to action after that, and I feel appropriate measures were taken. Boyfriend and Younger Brother were given a talking-to. Stella was given a pep-talk and hugs.

That words associated with weight have become insults thrown around by young children is one of those troubling things that I feel stymied by: this is how people are, they come in all shapes and sizes and we do not make fun of any of them. But if they open their eyes and ears as they move through the world around them, they see negative images and words about overweight people. Do as I say, not as the world around you does. How do I effectively combat this? Particularly when it comes to her own self-image?

Until we could talk on our own, I used the reassure and distract method. I told her that she wasn’t chubby and everyone made up by putting pink stripes in their hair.

As the kids were getting ready for bed that night, I asked my daughter if she was feeling okay after getting teased earlier.
“What?” she said, having already forgotten about the incident.
I should have known that my strong and strangely mature daughter would not let this be more than a blip of an incident in her big life. Still, now I was in a dilemma. Was it better to let it go? Or better to bring it up so that I can make sure it was properly, adequately addressed? I went with the latter.
“You know those are just words, right?” I asked. She nodded. “Sometimes people say things just to be mean and we have to remember that they are just words.”

“Why do they do that?”

“I don’t know, Honey,” I said. And then I had to ask, because I wanted to know if it was getting under her skin the way it was getting under mine, “do you think you’re chubby?”

“No,” she said, “I’m just right.”

“Yes, you are,” I agreed. “And I am. And daddy is.”

“But not Zachy. He’s too skinny,” she said. At least we’re part way there. We talked more about how unique each of us are, and that we all have things that make us special, and you know what? Sometimes people suck, too, when they’re mean.

Even though I can’t stop thinking of this a week later, I’m kind of glad it happened. Partly because we got both the first body image insult and the first questionable hairstyle out of the way in one evening. It also reminded me that we are both equipped to handle those angsty years that I dreaded as I saw my baby for the first time in that ultrasound. Even if they have already started. We just need to take them one day at a time. Pink hair and all.

Posted on January 4, 2012, in Family, kid stuff and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink. 7 Comments.

  1. Having had the chubby word thrown at me before, be careful of how it – as you say – gets under her skin. Particularly at that age.

  2. Amy, I loved this post. It is amazing how we feel our kids' hurts so much more keenly than our own. Went through a bit of it this week with Finn and his fear of getting teased in his new glasses. Keep writing!

  3. I think he's so cute in those glasses!! The challenge is getting them to see what you see. Love your writing, too. Always looking forward to your posts. 🙂

  4. A painfully charming story, Amy. Thank you for posting it.

  5. My daughter is seven and I am constantly amazed at how much younger things happen now a days. I was like you… I did not care about the gender, but secretly hoped for a boy since I thought it would be easier to have a boy first. My daughter is amazing and now I would not have wanted to have any other child but her… and I also realized that boys are just a different type of hard.
    I think your daughter sounds so wise. Thanks for sharing the story.

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