Nothing pierces the heart of us mums more than the knowledge that our kids are hurting, or that they don’t see themselves in the same loving light we do.
So when mum Madeleine West’s five-year old daughter sobbed that she was “fat”, she was devastated.
“Sweetie, what’s wrong?” she asked her daughter worriedly, as the little girl stared at herself in the mirror and cried.
“I’m fat, mumma. Fat and chubby.”
“Sweetheart, why do you say that?”
“My friend at school told me. He was just joking, but he was joking in the bad way.”
“I took this to be her simple, heartfelt description of being teased,” Madeleine wrote on Kidspot. “As she went on to explain how some of her other friends had now started joining in on the name calling, I realised she was being bullied. My heart leapt from my chest to splatter on the floor.”
Madeleine of course was desperate to make her daughter feel better, and to reframe her thoughts around such name-calling in case it happened again.
“What do you think ‘fat’ means?”
“That I’m not good, not the good size. That I can’t do things, like play on the monkey bars and run fast.”
“From its dashed position on the floor, my heart now tore itself to ribbons,” she wrote. “Here, my glorious, fearless warrior daughter believed she was not even worthy of playground equipment!”
Madeleine turned her daughter to the mirror and asked her what she saw, and when she shrugged, she answered for her.
“I see two strong arms that give the best cuddles. I see two strong legs perfect for running, skipping, jumping. I see two bright eyes that always look for rainbows when it rains. I see two ears that listen, and I see a sweet little mouth, that sings and laughs, only says nice things about others, and that when it smiles, it makes the world a better place. You are our daughter, the most precious gift Mum and Dad could ever ask for, and you are the most perfect version of yourself in the whole wide world.”
“[Fat] is just a word. Like sausage, and pillow, and purple. By itself it doesn’t mean a thing, it all depends on how you say it. And if someone can’t say something in a nice way, well, they shouldn’t say anything at all.
“You know what? People come in all different shapes and sizes, different colours, we talk differently, dress differently, dance differently and even eat differently. That is what makes the world such an exciting place. Could you imagine how boring the world would be if we were all the same? If all your friends looked exactly alike, spoke the same, did the same things? You have my hair, Daddy’s chin, Nanny’s nose, and the same coloured eyes as your great-grandpa. That makes you so very special, and no-one else is quite like you. If your friend feels like he has to call you names, maybe he doesn’t feel very special, and he wishes he was as special as you. So perhaps you should try telling him that you don’t like that word he is using; it makes you feel bad. Maybe you could try telling him something you think is special about him, and that might make him feel special!”
“Like … that he is a good at drawing? Cos he draws very good dinosaurs!”
What a wonderful way to put it.
Madeleine West is an Aussie actor and writer. She has just published her first book, a parenting tome called Six Under Eight.