Dealing with fat shaming and its impacts on body image is a huge burden for women and young girls. Particularly in Black and Brown communities, these snippy comments from family members are the ones that can hurt the most.
Many of us are tasked with unpacking decades of generational trauma from our family units or those closest to us. Generational trauma is the idea that traumatic events can transfer to newer generations through DNA. Dealing with fat shaming leads many of us down the road to body image issues that we internalize and keep with us as we get older.
Coming from a Caribbean island, I definitely understand the difficulty of dealing with fat shaming. Even as a kid, I always felt self conscious about the way I looked since primary school. Young girls feel pressured to look much older than their age because of rampant sexualization. Young girls aren’t allowed to be and look young. Even the media we consumed as kids and media now often depicts an airbrushed version of childhood and adolescence. Teenagers don’t even play teenage roles on screen anymore. From hearing jabs made at your expense by family members to not seeing anyone like you on screen finding love and appreciation becomes even more difficult.
The question for this week: How do you deal with fat shaming and generational trauma?
From the Ask Your Good Sis Google form:
I’m tackling this question in two main parts: 1) How to help your niece and 2) how to help you deal with your own trauma.
Dad doesn’t always know best
First off: You need to speak with her father if possible. I’m not sure if he makes these jokes in jest or if he seriously thinks his daughter is ugly. Either way, this warrants a conversation. Our parents are the one place we should at least hear validation from and it saddens me so much to hear your niece thinking this way because of her dad. It could be 1) her dad is absolutely oblivious to the impacts of his words or 2) he believes them or doesn’t care.
I completely hear your predicament. Caribbean families, similar to Latinx families think the blunt jokes they make are just honest. They just view it as calling a spade a spade. BUT, just because you think something and it might be true, it doesn’t mean you have to say it. I also want to stress the point that fat does not equal ugly. Fat is just a state of being, a descriptor.
Hopefully, if you speak to her dad, he will understand the weight and gravity of his actions and stop. If that doesn’t happen, your niece needs to learn the very hard lesson that our parents’ opinions are not always right or valid. And that sucks. Trust me, I know. Especially as kids, we want to trust our parents. We want to believe that everything they say is the truth. It just sucks when their truth implicates something negative about our beings. I sincerely hope this is a situation where her dad can change his tune because if not, there’s going to be a bigger issue ahead to face.
Kids are mean
Dealing with fat shaming is hard enough on your own, let alone when it’s coming from your dad AND your peers. Where are the safe spaces?? And kids say THE worst things imaginable. I completely understand her being insecure about her hair. Hair is such a big thing for young girls but especially Brown girls. For me, I felt self conscious about the hair on my head and my legs. Both felt wrong and out of place. I literally begged my mom to shave before high school because I didn’t want people to call me sasquatch or something. I was also very foreign at the time so I was looking for ways to not call even more attention to myself.
Ultimately, it comes down to not giving a f***. This definitely becomes easier to do when you’re older though and I know it will take her some time to grow into that. We want to feel loved and accepted by our peers and our family members and it sucks that your niece doesn’t feel like that. I’m wondering if she at least has a good group of friends or a friend she can rely on? That definitely is another step. Even though I dealt and still deal with many insecurities and body image issues, I always had a group of friends who supported and loved me unconditionally. I never had to deal with bullying in primary school because my friends were there for me. I hope your niece can find that too. It just takes one person to make you feel less alone.
Gratitude and Self Love Exercises
Secondly, my therapist gave me this list of positive traits:
As girls, the world places so much emphasis on how we look. Have your niece try listing 10 traits she loves about herself. This could help teach her 1) that she is beautiful inside and out and 2) create a habit of positive self-thought. External support and validation helps, but I definitely want her to master self-love/validation. This will hopefully help increase her confidence and become a habitual form of thinking as she gets older.
Having her start a gratitude journal where she lists three things she is grateful for and three things she loves about herself every day can also help. My mom had me do that one time and while I was stubborn about it, I did find it helpful. I’m actually trying to start one again. These types of things help a lot with negative thoughts and self talk.
Let children look like children
I understand why your niece feels ugly. I felt ugly too when I was her age. Growing up is awkward: the acne, the HAIR, the lack of boobs (and then rapid spurt of boobs) and periods. There is so much going on. Keep reminding her that she looks exactly how she is supposed to look. She is 8 years old and there is absolutely nothing wrong with her body.
When I was her age, I wanted washboard abs🤦. The media makes us think something is wrong with us because we don’t look like Keira Knightly at 12. Her body is still growing and developing. Tell her be grateful for health and wellness. Help teach her to have a good relationship with her body. Even now that I’m exercising. I’m not motivated by the number on the scale, I’m motivated by how I feel on the inside. I want to feel better and be stronger. More importantly, I appreciate my body at every step of the process. When you hate yourself, you’re always going to hate yourself. Chasing perfection is useless because nothing is or ever will be perfect. You won’t ever love yourself when you think this way. Teach her to love her body at every stage.
Moreover, when she gets older, I guarantee she will look back on her childhood pictures and wish she was as cute as she is now. We all do that. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could just appreciate how cute we are then AND now? Beauty is more than skin deep and there are so many different types of beauty.
Diversify her media
Whether it’s books, television or movies, make sure she sees different types of beauty represented. I know right now we are all being shown this Kim Kardashian type of beauty with a ridiculously curated hourglass figure.
The reality is, this is fake. Chances are if you have a natural hourglass figure, you have rolls and that’s okay. I think rolls are the sexiest things actually. I love curvy women. The wonderful part about the female body is that there are so many different ways of being and different types of beauty. Maybe have her watch that That’s So Raven episode about body image (season 2, episode 8).
Movies like The Cheetah Girls and even Dumplin’ on Netflix could help. Also, Never Have I Ever on Netflix is dope. It might be a little mature for her at this age but there are so many things tackled in from sexuality to body image. It also had that scene where the main character asks her dad if she’s ugly and he tells her she’s the most beautiful girl in the world (my heart actually melted ngl). To be honest, that’s what your niece’s dad should be telling her.
Finding media with diverse casts and where fat girls are the center of a storyline or a love triangle can help so much because it shows her that she deserves that same love and treatment too. And she definitely does.
Creating a healthy relationship with food
Lastly, the most important part is ensuring that she doesn’t develop some form of eating disorder. For me, I turned to exercise to tackle my body image issues. I might’ve been obsessed with losing weight at some point but I never sacrificed food to do it, thankfully.
The worst possible thing that could happen is for your niece to develop issues with eating. That’s just another thing for her to deal with later on. Make sure she views food as fuel and sustenance, not something she has to restrict herself from. Teach her about eating in moderation and allowing herself to eat candy and ice cream if she feels like it, just not in excess. It’s all about being healthy on the inside and feeling good. Anything in excess is a problem. It’s all about balance.
This is also where our families are confusing. They’ll tell us we’re fat and then force us to eat more than we want to or they cook THE most unhealthy things. Oy. Dealing with our families is a minefield in itself sometimes.
Dealing with fat shaming in our families
Minority families can literally be the worst sometimes. They talk too much and they say the wrong things. I think they have a hard time figuring out the difference between valid criticism and unnecessary negativity. Sometimes I question if they ever will learn the difference.
They don’t understand that words hurt. When I was younger, I had buckteeth. My family always called me bugs bunny. This seems like an innocent nickname but, to 5 year old me, I thought that meant I couldn’t smile because something was wrong with my teeth. It meant I wasn’t pretty because I had crooked teeth. Little things like that can cause bigger effects. Before braces, I spent so much of my life subconscious about smiling, especially in pictures, so I tried to not do it.
I’m not sure if the teasing is just little jokes or if it’s more serious but in either case, it definitely leaves damaging effects. Sometimes our families just don’t get it. Then they question us when we go to therapy to unpack all the years of nonsense. Smh.
Why are we fat shaming 8 year olds?
To end off on this part, my whole thing is why we even are paying this much attention to a child’s weight. Tell your niece she is beautiful. Not only is she beautiful for her cute cheeks and her wonderful brown hair, she is beautiful because of the way she laughs, her compassion, her intelligence and so much more. Give her compliments outside of just the physical as well.
Also, if anything, if she isn’t already involved in a psyhical extracurricular activity, joining one might be a good idea. It could be dance, gymnastics, swimming, soccer, etc… Joining a team sport of some kind can give her a support system and also be a way to make sure she develops a good relationship to exercise and food. The end goal is making sure that she is healthy and health can look very different depending on the person.
Love yourself at every stage
For example, I love Lizzo for this exact reason. Everyone loves to comment on her health because of her weight but Lizzo exercises. It’s just that she exercises to feel good and maintain her body the way she likes it, not to get it how other people think it should look or would like it. I also think Lizzo is beautiful and she is such a good role model when it comes to self love and self acceptance. Also, like I said in my fitness influencer article @jaimmykoroma on Instagram is so dope. She exercises to feel good about herself and she loves the way she looks, curves and all. Being beautiful is so subjective. Everyone is beautiful to someone but you should always be beautiful to yourself.
As young girls, we definitely turn to the attention of boys for validation, but it’s important for your niece to learn that with or without sexual attention, she is still worthy of love and care, especially from herself.
It breaks my heart that she even has to deal with this from such a young age and I wholeheartedly relate. I still have body image issues that I confront on the daily. It definitely is a process. My goal though is for your niece to be able to limit how long that process takes her. I hope at this age she can learn to love herself in spite of the bullshit expectations that society and even her family are putting on her. If anything, tell her I think she’s a cutie pie because she probably is, inside and out.
Learning self love as an adult after dealing with fat shaming
I’m not sure if this will help because I also don’t know the intricacies of the family dynamics, but if you feel comfortable and think it would help, talking through these issues with your dad could help. You can directly tell him how his actions to you in the past have impacted your body image and self esteem. I’m suggesting this with a grain of salt because it really depends on if your father is even open enough to have that conversation. If you think he won’t listen/will gaslight you out of your feelings or you’ve tried in the past and it didn’t work, then definitely disregard that piece of advice.
I’m just suggesting it because so far in my memoir writing process, having certain conversations with my parents has been helpful for my healing and growth. BUT, there are many conversations I know won’t work with my parents so I don’t have them because I want to protect my peace. So on that end, it’s up to you to see if this can even help you heal.
Write yourself a love letter
This is cheesy but sit down and tell yourself all the things you love about yourself. Try to have a good balance between the physical and character traits. Beauty is more than just how you look. Write down how you’re feeling and try to understand your triggers. Doing this can help identify triggers in future situations and also give you a coping mechanism by remembering all the wonderful things you said about yourself in this letter.
I also love that you brought up your inner child. A BIG issue for me is definitely negative self talk. I’m very hard on myself and that hurts my inner child. A tactic I’m going to try is essentially speaking to myself as if I’m looking at my five year old self. That little girl in the picture at the beginning of this post. Think about your 5 year old self and talk to her the way you wish someone would’ve spoken to you.
When you say mean or negative things to and about yourself, you hurt her. You make her cry. When you let other people do it, the same thing happens. Defend her, love her and support her the way you should’ve been when you were that age. It sounds a little strange but the visual of 5 year old you can definitely help. Think about if you were to meet your 5 year old self in real life, would you tell her she was ugly and unlovable? No. So don’t do that to yourself now. You were cute then and you’re cute now.
Some days you might still feel like trash and that’s okay
It’s normal to be down in the dumps sometimes. Without a doubt I feel like trash at least three times a month because of my menstrual cycle. It happens. Let yourself cry. Be sad. But ultimately, you need to comfort yourself and know that the negative thoughts you’re constructing in your head are not reality. It’s hard.
“Wearapy” is Real
When you feel like this do things that make you feel cute or good about yourself. If you love doing good deeds, then do something nice for someone. If you want to play dress up, have a mini fashion show in your room. I am a firm believer in “wearapy.” Jeannie Mai talks about this on The Real a lot but essentially, it’s the idea that what you wear impacts how you feel which is true.
No one’s saying you have to dress for Fashion Week in Milan but rather, it’s all about dressing so you feel comfortable and powerful. In quarantine, I still made sure I had those days where I did my edges, put my lipgloss on and took pictures. Allow yourself to feel cute. It is a little different these days with COVID-19 but even so, whether it’s a mirror selfie in your room or you dancing in your favorite outfit, looking good on the outside can help you feel good on the inside.
Dealing with fat shaming while living with your parents
Living at home affects your mental health. Making your room into a safe space for you can help. Get a candle, a comfy blanket, a nice chair. Make your room your sanctuary. In spite of anything, at least let there be one place you can go in your house to just exist and feel comfort in yourself and the space.
In my room, changing from blinds to curtains had a HUGE impact on my mood. I am a person who is very much so influenced from natural light so the small change from a dark room with non functional blinds to curtains made it so much comfier for me. It also helped my migraines because I was able to limit my use of fluorescent light. At school, my lamp with its Relax LED bulb is definitely my life saver as well. The littlest things can have the biggest impact on your mood.
Confronting and dealing with fat shaming and generational trauma is hard. It’s okay if you stumble some days.
Dealing with fat shaming is difficult. Body image issues are honestly the worst. The least we can do for ourselves when dealing with fat shaming and physical insecurities is to give ourselves the grace that we wish other people would give us. Some days you fall back into old patterns. Other times you might give into the negativity. Instead of beating yourself up about that, recognize how far you came. You did that! In spite of everything, you’re here, still standing and still amazing.
Growing up is weird and messy. No matter how big we get, it never stop being strange. Your niece is going to be fine. Just give her that love you’ve always given her and teach her to give it to herself so it’ll be easier for her in the future. I hope that there can be change within the family and how they speak to her but if not, try doing some of the things I suggested like the gratitude journal.
I truly hope this helps. If anything, you can reach out to me for more advice. These things take time. Some days it might go really well and others you stumble. The important part is to get back up again. Recognize and Remember all the power you have and how wonderful you are, because you are. You are worthy of love, care and protection. Always.