Like it or not, you are judgmental. I’m judgmental. It’s human nature.
We’re constantly observing what’s around us and trying to make sense of it. That means being critical of our surroundings and the people in it. And probably being critical of ourselves.
It’s all well and good until a simple observation turns into a negative thought or a brash comment. From there, it can quickly devolve.
In some ways, I feel lucky. Body shaming hasn’t been an overwhelming struggle in my life (aside from when I was pregnant – that was obnoxious!), but I recently realized that none of us can fully avoid it.
And perhaps more frightening, body shaming starts way younger than you think.
Up until high school, I was always small for my age. I remember being the smallest person in my elementary school classes, year after year. I remember lying about my weight in 8th grade, secretly adding 10 pounds to my string bean frame when asked, because I was tired of being accused of having an eating disorder (something I thankfully did NOT have. I ate like a horse!). Sadly, those 10 pounds still put me lighter than my peers and the taunts continued. It doesn’t help when you later go on to study nutrition… and teach Pilates…
Fast forward to this past year, when I had my baby, and I’ve been inundated with judgmental comments about my son’s size. People seem to love to tell you if your kid is skinny or pudgy, “a shrimp” or a future basketball player, even though they have literally zero reference for their comments.
It hit me. Body shaming starts younger than you think. And it only gets worse as you get older.
In their defense, I know the majority of comments, at least when it comes to babies, are not meant to be critical. Most recently, I was flying to visit some friends. On our first flight, someone asked how old our son was. They guessed he was 9 months younger than he actually is. Oy!
On the second, another person said:
“Geez, what are you feeding this kid? He’s huge!”
What I find both hilarious and frustrating about this is that my son is actually average weight and only slightly taller than average for his age. I don’t take the comments personally because I understand the context. I know my son is healthy and I know most people are a really terrible gauge of what’s a healthy size for babies and young kids. (Hell, even I’m pretty bad at guessing kids’ ages.)
But what bugs me is that these types of comments are the exact thing that can set off maternal anxiety like crazy. For a mama with a slow-to-gain breastfed 3 month old, a simple “Oh, he’s brand new, isn’t he?” could be enough to make the mother question her milk supply (more than she already is, because that pretty much comes with the territory). Or a comment that your child is “too big” may make you worry that you’re over-feeding him or in some way “doing it wrong.”
When my son was a newborn, these types of comments would have really gotten under my skin. It took him a few extra days beyond the “normal” 2 weeks to regain the weight he lost after birth (By the way, all newborns lose up to 10% of their birth weight naturally in the first few days after birth. Most return to their birthweight by 2 weeks. Some, obviously, take a little longer).
Nonetheless, while I tried to focus on healing, soaking up cuddles, and figuring out breastfeeding, I had a lot of anxiety about his weight. Was my milk supply ok? Was he latching ok? Was I putting him to the breast often enough? Was there something I didn’t understand going on?
Everything was totally fine, but in the back of my mind, I couldn’t shake that maybe his (slower) rate of gaining weight wasn’t normal.
But the truth is: there is no normal.
There is no right size. There is no wrong size.
There is no right shape. There is no wrong shape.
If there were, we’d only have one size of jeans and only one size of shoes to buy.
When I attended a series of mama-baby yoga classes, it was super interesting to see firsthand how all the babies grew at different rates. Despite most of us exclusively breastfeeding, some babies were big, some were small. Some grew quickly, some didn’t. We were all doing the same thing, nursing on demand and such, and yet, in many ways, how quickly our babies’ gained weight was out of our control.
There would be no 5th percentile and no 99th percentile if there were never babies at the bottom and top of the growth charts.
This obsession with appearance and clothing size and growth charts is just a distraction from all the things we should be focusing on to stay healthy. All the energy we pour into worrying would be put to way better use going on a walk or cooking a meal from scratch.
Body shaming babies and young kids is somehow permissible in our society, but should it be?
We know it’s wrong to call an adult “big” to their face, but with kids? People do it all the time. They think it’s harmless, but I, for one, think it’s not.
So, I have one simple request for you.
Next time you see a baby (or child… or adult… or anyone, really) and feel the need to comment on their appearance, I want you to STOP and put yourself in the shoes of the person on the receiving end (or their guardian).
Instead of guessing their age, blurting out how small or giant you think they are, or really anything else, choose to say something neutral instead.
“What a cutie.”
“Well isn’t that a happy baby!”
“Someone certainly loves [fill in the blank wherever you are…].”
Anything like this is benign, positive, and – most importantly – not judgemental. You might be wondering why in the world is that baby “so small” or be curious about why that baby seems to be “busting out of his clothes”.
The world will be a much friendlier place if we keep body shaming thoughts to ourselves and let people (yes, even babies) just be who they are.
After talking this over with a bunch of other moms, I know I’m not alone in fielding body shaming comments aimed at my kid.
If you’ve been frustrated that body shaming comments start too young, tell me about it in the comments below. Share your own body shaming story – maybe from when you were a kid or perhaps a comment about your child.
Until next week,
PS – Help spread the message that body shaming is wrong at any age by sharing this blog post!
24 CommentsLeave a comment
What a great post!! I am a mom of 7 and I am the first to say how chunky my 5 month old is whennpeoe ask his age or whatever. My last two boys have been bigger at birth, 9.4 and 9.6, and I really struggle with insecurity that my diabeties wasn’t managed properly and that it was my fault, did I do damage….All that stuff. So I think I quickly say how chubby he is before anyone else can because I am uncertain and when other say he is huge it gets my anxiety going. Parenting is so tough and most people want to give their kids best start and do right things. So true to focus on saying nuetral stuff because we truly have no idea what someone may be going through and our comment could push them to make a bad decision, like quitting breastfeeding or not holding baby as much cause people say they are spoiled. Thanks again for a great post
Yes exactly. Before becoming a mom myself, I know I have said some of those “Oh he’s so tiny” or “He’s so big” comments. Now I know better and I choose something unrelated to their size/shape!! Thanks for sharing your story, Heidi.
Yes, yes, and more yes! As a mom of a baby boy who has always been below average in size -but a rockstar at reaching milestones and very healthy- I field comments on his behalf ALL the time. What people don’t know when they say flip comments is that I’m a first time mom who struggled with postpartum anxiety and depression and breastfeeding issues and even though I “know” he is thriving, the comments send a fresh wave of anxiety. I was actually told by two different people that it must be especially hard for me to have such a tiny baby since I’m a dietitian. OUCH! Anyway, great angle on body shaming that I think will resonate with many as it does with me.
It’s so, so easy to question yourself as a new mom! Sorry you’ve had to field so many of these types of questions. I found it especially hard in the early months when 100% of the “blame” (since I was exclusively breastfeeding) was on me for how big or small he was.
Thanks for this. I have no kids but felt like the fat kid most of my adolescence (even though photos show that not to be true, I just had two very thin sisters). There are so many ways our casual comments cause harm or trigger anxiety, so I’m happy to learn one more arena where I can be sure to neutralize my comments.
I think because I’m sensitive about weight issues, I never describe someone by their size or talk about other people’s weight. It amazes me how much focus people give to other people’s size/weight. Let’s all focus on the size of other people’s hearts!
YES. The fact that almost every adult I know can recall comments on their size/shape from childhood shows just how harmful they can be. Everything from their nose being too big, being too tall, too short, getting boobs too fast… it’s a never-ending list.
Also, people want YOU to keep having more children! That’s none of their business. My daughter was so beautiful that everyone wanted me to have “another one”. Shame on them!
So everybody – keep your opinions and “expert advice” to yourself!
Thank you Lily.
In addition, girls get the once over about “how they look” or what they are wearing.
100% agree, Holly!
Exactly what I was thinking, Holly. How my daughter gets fawned over if she wears a pretty dress or necklace! Although intentions are good, I just wish she was getting attention for something other than being ‘pretty’. I would love for someone to comment on how much fun she looks like she is having in her muck clothes, just once. Those really are her favourite things to wear.
I know of moms of smaller weight boys who have even received advice from their doctor on how to put weight on their child (despite the child thriving in all respects), while bigger girl children get comments like ‘what do you feed her’ and the like. It doesn’t take long for them to comprehend these comments themselves too.
So yes, Lily, I completely agree with your thoughts! Just don’t say it 🙂
Yes! ?? I was always told how pretty I am, and picked on for being so “skinny” growing up. “Shrimp” was the go to for me too.
So, now I’m a mama to a 3 yo 5th percentile boy, and 2 yo 5th percentile girl- I’m constantly fending off unintentional negative comments towards my kiddos. I know they (the kids) understand, so whenever a friend or foe comments, I immediately follow up with how smart they are, athletic, skills they’ve achieved… I want them both to know it’s not just about how you look.
And every night when I’m tucking them in, I make sure they know how smart, brave, kind, etc. they are. I don’t want them to feel limited bc of their looks.
Good for you, Courtney. That’s a great tactic to redirect comments on appearance to praise for their achievements.
I can definitely relate to everything you said here. It’s astounding how much these things come up, and where the focus is.
I almost feel like we need proper “small talk” lessons so we don’t make these faux pas. 😉
A modern version of charm school, perhaps?
With my first son I am 99.9% sure my GD was missed, and as a result I had Caleb, my beautiful 12lb 6oz son. Well, he was literally double the size of some of my friend’s babies and the comments were constant. It now turns out he has ASD (possibly as a result of the GD, who knows) and the comments on both his size and behaviour persist. Tough to deal with…
It IS tough. I wish people would take a step back and try to see it from the mom’s point of view before speaking. :/
Lily, I am 71 years old. I am finally understanding the damage I have inflicted on my self by shaming my own body. I remember not liking my shape from at least 10 years of age. I won a child’s beauty contest when I was about 5. I remember looking at that photograph and thinking I was fat because of my pudgy tummy. I don’t think any one made that comment to me. I believe the enemy of our soul uses body shaming against us as a means to destroy us. I think those thoughts are planted in our minds, perhaps before birth! Our deliverance comes through God’s love for us in Jesus His Son.
Thank you for your post on this matter. It is so important for us to only speak love…even to our self. God does not judge us in our humanness. He has judged our sinfulness and provided deliverance in His Son. He speaks LOVE TO US. THEN WE CAN SPEAK IN LOVE TOO.
Thank you again.
We’re often our toughest critics, right?
YES!!! Love this!! I’m a new mom and can relate to all of this!
My baby is 8 months. And one of her aunt called her as cockroach baby meaning she is too small but she is having normal weight.
I couldn’t control my anger and I blasted her.
Aw I’m so sorry she said that to you.
I have a friend and her aunt who compare her full term baby to my preterm baby’s size every single time I see them so a couple of times a month. It’s exhausting because I bust my butt breastfeeding and making sure I feed my daughter healthier/Whole Foods as much as I can and for them to say her daughter is double the size of mine makes me feel like I’m not doing my job as a mother right. Her daughter is 10 weeks younger which makes me feel worse. Our doctors are very happy with my daughters growth and she excels in all of her milestones. I wish they would comment on how happy and smart she is instead of her appearance. All babies are fed different, have different genetics and many other factors that go into why they grow differently. I usually just brush it off but it’s really getting to me. Did you just ignore people or did you tell them how it bothered you?
Yes!! This and the article on pregnant body spoke to me. I agree that I have probably said the generic big or little comments, but learning more and becoming a parent made me question why people say that?! Like i was likely following suit of culture and what other women say who were mothers.
Now, my son has been 99th for height and mostly 80s for 1st year. Weight went down to 50/60th percentile at 14-19 months. People have always said how big he is…he had frequent wt checks as a newborn to regain his wt. He appears healthy, but we have battled food averions from undiagnosed oral restrictions….I still nurse him 3- 5 times a night on demand to keep his weight from dipping more. People comment on how big he is and how he must not be suffering too much….meanwhile, we are doing daily therapy tactics and minimal sleep to keep him healthy. He would need tube feeding without my breastfeeding. Minimizes our struggles like they don’t believe us.
Since having a child and becoming more aware of body centered language before now, I say that babies look happy, healthy, strong instead.