Quit Body-Shaming my Baby, B*tch.
This post originally appeared on our old blog, Born to be a Bride.
Okay, I have to say it. I’m getting really sick of it and now we’ve reached the point where I (a kind, gentle-hearted, anti-violence person) am about to punch someone in the mouth the next time I hear it. “Oh my gosh, she’s huge!” or “What a chunky baby!” or my personal anti-favorite, “What are you feeding her?”
The other day, it was 90 degrees-plus and I had her in a breezy handmade crop top, little shorts, sandals, and a sun hat. We were lathered up in sunscreen and playing outside in the shade until that got old, so we high-tailed it to Target to run around in the AC and get some ice waters at Starbucks. Real scandalous stuff, right? Well, you’d think so! I no sooner entered the front door at Target than the tsk-tsk’s began. “That baby is so fat,” they whispered, grimacing. Or, “Why does she have her in that top? Disgusting!” Really?
Really, people? I’ve freaking well had enough. I happen to be the (fit, active, health-conscious) mother of an eighteen-month-old on the upward end of the height and weight scales. She is still breastfed (at night only) and was exclusively so until six months. Her diet is as healthy as a toddler’s can be, without turning her into the type of OCD freak her mother was throughout high school and college — about 80% organic, vitamin-rich fruits and vegetables, healthful proteins and chemical-free cheese mixed with 20% fun (a gluten-free cookie here, a French fry there). She drinks water all day long, like a champ.
My daughter is gorgeous. She is thriving. She runs around, twirls on demand, dances to the beat of every song and even when there’s no music. When we stroll around the neighborhood, she is out of the stroller, walking between it and me, “helping” to push. She climbs every flight of stairs she sees, carefully walks back down holding the railing, and goes up again as many times as the nearest adult will allow. She is healthy. She is active, she is perfect.
So why the hell am I constantly having to field comments about my baby’s weight? At eighteen-months-old, isn’t a hearty appetite and a love of activities just about right? Isn’t it enough that I’m keeping her alive, happy, and teaching her manners while showing her how to climb, jump, and peel a banana? Don’t I have enough chaos and stress going on in my own mind about screen time, work schedules, letters and numbers practice, and so on, to worry about your preconceived notions of what a toddler “should” look like?
Let me tell you something. As a girl in this complicated modern world, my daughter has plenty of years ahead of her when society and her own inner circle will make her question her body, doubt if she’s the “right” size, temper what she’s eating. It sickens and saddens me to say it, and I pray one day this won’t be true. But if she grows up anything like I did, it will come after her eventually. I will never forget being a size 00, sixteen-year-old print model and having a photographer tell me to “suck in” my non-existent “gut.” I wanted to pass out and die right there.
Almost ten years later, working as a publicist, NOT a model, I was told by a fashion-industry client that I’d “never make it in this town” unless I lost “at least 20 pounds.” At 5’7″, I weighed 130 pounds at the time. But more importantly, make it as what? I wasn’t trying to snake my way down the catwalk — I was checking people into a posh party in a cheap yet chic black outfit that fit me perfectly and following up with editors in the morning to make sure our event got press. What about that job required me to lose twenty pounds?
When I got pregnant, I was feeling fit and fabulous. Because I’m on the taller side and the baby measured small for the first few months (common in lupus patients, I’m told), I didn’t show for quite some time. I felt uncomfortable anyway, years of other people’s bullshit beauty standards pulsating in my head as I ate a piece of cheese and watched my belly balloon slightly under my blousey top. Everywhere I went, people who knew were constantly asking if something was wrong because I was so small. And the people who didn’t know? Well, I was convinced they all just thought I was fat. Fun times, being a woman in America!
At seven months pregnant, I popped and everyone around me went nuts. “You’re huge!” or “Your belly entered the room before you did!” was a chorus of pain pouring into my ears. A part of me wanted to pass out and die like in the old modeling days, but luckily I was living for someone else now so I sucked it up and kept going to yoga for health and happiness, while finally ditching my scale.
We’ve been in the same awful cycle with Willow since she was born. First “huge” at nearly nine pounds, then breastfed and slowing down in weight gain but perfectly healthy. At her six months appointment, she hadn’t gained since month four, but ate regularly and was monitored closely with actually zero health issues or signs of malnutrition. In 0-3 months clothing, I heard it all the time, “You need to fatten that baby up. She doesn’t look healthy.” Well she is, I wanted to scream, but instead I had my joke ready about producing low-fat breastmilk. That usually earned me at least a terse smile and the closing of the subject.
And now here we are. Eighteen-months-old and all caught up. Wearing size 12-18 or 18-24 months clothing with happy little baby squish poking out the bottom of her shorts and over the top of her pants waist. And I won’t even say it — I am not going to say, “As it should be!” or some other affirmation about how chunky babies are better anyway. Because none of it’s true. The only thing that’s true is that a child’s weight and health are the business solely of the parents and pediatrician, unless an opinion is sought elsewhere. My daughter looks amazing and is amazing, but that doesn’t mean that your skinny baby next door is any less cute, or less perfect, in my eyes.
Still though, I hear it all the time. “What are you feeding her?” as if she’s a prized pig being hauled off to market instead of a rambunctious toddler dancing around me in circles. It hurts my heart plenty that this little girl has to grow up in a world where so much emphasis is put on our appearance. But I certainly won’t tolerate while I’m still running the show. I probably won’t punch these critical commenters in the mouth, because I love my family and do not want to embarrass them with assault charges. But I swear, the next person who tells me my baby is too fat or “shouldn’t be” wearing something is getting mentally slapped silly.
Bottom line? Just like with my pregnancy, if you have something to say, keep it short and sweet. “Cute kid” works, as do “She’s beautiful!” or even better, “What a sweetheart.” I do not need you body-shaming my toddler before she even learns how to use a fork. After all, b*tch, you should be the one ashamed.