“Mommy, you’re fat.”

My six-year-old daughter said this to me in the neutral way only children can do – no judgment, just observing what she saw.

And she was right, except for one thing.

I am not fat, but I have fat – and more than other people in our family.

As a feeding coach and an advocate of body respect, I’ve become acutely aware of the pervasiveness of the thin ideal which permeates our lives.

The cultural obsession with image and size is everywhere, and so are the destructive ramifications. Women and girls suffering from extreme low-self-image; the fixation on weight has resulted in dramatic increase in eating disorders, many which are not visible to the public.

Being healthy is confused with looking healthy, and this distortion leaves us at a loss of what to do when, despite our best effort, our bodies refuse to conform to the “right” image.

Yes I have fat, but it’s not who I am. I also have fingernails, but I am not my fingernails.

But the more I learn about the science behind health and size, the more I realize how this false paradigm causes us to suffer – physically, psychologically and spiritually.

I want to raise a daughter in this world with a new dialogue, one which reflects authentic ideals and arms her with the skills to think critically about the messages that surround her.

I didn’t reply to my daughter with any of the standard answers:

  • We don't call people fat.
  • That's not nice, that's nasty.
  • Don't ever call anyone that, it hurts their feelings.

Fat is just a description, like being tall or short or having blonde hair or thick eyelashes. The word should not be synonymous with lazy, unworthy, unlovable, unacceptable, unsuccessful and so much more. 

Yes I have fat, but it’s not who I am. I also have fingernails, but I am not my fingernails.

Through my journey towards body respect, I have transformed my understanding of how I define myself, my body and my worth.

Instead of yearning for my pre-motherhood body, I embrace this new body which has miraculously grown and birthed three healthy children. It means instead of obsessively trying to change it and get it back to what it was, I treat it with value and respect for what it is now. I feed it nutritiously and take it to the gym, and I let it rest when it’s exhausted because it houses my soul, and to fulfil my roles as mother, wife, human and friend, I need to feel energized and strong.

It means accepting that bodies change due to genetics, hormones, and various controllable and uncontrollable factors. It means being thankful that my arms can rock my baby to sleep and my legs can run with my son in the park. It means expressing gratitude every day to the Creator of the world that I have a body that is healthy and functioning. It means that my focus is on what my body can DO, not what it can LOOK like.

It means that I challenge the media which floods me with articles to “get your post-partum body back in three months” and products to “detox my liver and lose 20 pounds”. It means I purposely ignore the diet talk which comes up at every Shabbos meal, and I don’t judge people’s value based on their size. It means that I refuse to compliment people on weight loss because there is so much more to them than their appearance, and because many times weight loss is causes by mental illness, physical starvation or other negative life circumstances.

I am hopeful that my daughter will understand that while she has a body to use, respect and nurture, her body does not define her worth.

It means that when my children complain that I go to gym and leave them with the babysitter, I don’t say it’s because I need to be thin; I say I go so I can have energy and be a good mommy.

And it means that instead of being insulted when my daughter called me fat, I answered her:

Yes, mommy has fat on her body. All bodies have fat - some have more and some have less. Bodies also have muscles and skin and bones. And you know what, all bodies are different - like you have brown hair and your brother has red hair. And all bodies are good bodies, and should be looked after and respected.

Did you know that it's mostly our genes which decide what shape our bodies are? Like your cousin has tall genes?

Look what our amazing bodies can do... I am so grateful to have a healthy body.
The most important thing about us is not what we look like, but how kind and generous we are.

And one more thing, do you remember when Sarah at school said you had freckles and you felt sad – it’s not kind to talk about any parts of people’s bodies because it can hurt their feelings.” 

I am hopeful that my daughter will understand that while she has a body to use and respect and nurture, her body does not define her or her worth in this world.

And that who we really are in the world has nothing to do with what we look like and everything to do with how the world looks different because we are in it.