“Oh she has a big belly,” I heard from my 3 year old as he watched a young woman playing the cello on t.v.
“Yes she does,” I responded without thinking twice. No, she wasn’t pregnant. No, most people wouldn’t say what I said. No, I didn’t feel mean after saying so. See, here is the thing in our family – describing things (especially from a young child’s perspective) is not the same as insulting things. When he said that, he in no way meant anything mean by it at all. He was actually quite enamored by her. I didn’t turn it into something rude because it wasn’t.
If we all want to stop judging others based on their appearances, shouldn’t we be able to talk about their appearance without any hint of malice or embarrassment or insult?
Why is it rude to describe someone by their weight but not rude to describe them by their height?
Why is it ok to tell someone’s hair color to another person but not their skin color?
Don’t you see that by creating these ideas in children’s minds of what they can’t talk about because it’s “rude” or “mean” we are actually creating the idea that those things are bad?
I believe the cure is as simple as talking about nose size as easily as we talk about eye color.
My son asks me about a big scar on my elbow and I tell him. I don’t get embarrassed. I don’t tell him that’s rude. I was told once that often the thing people with deformities or scars or differences want most in the world is for people to stop staring at them in stores and come talk to them instead, even if they ask “what happened” to make them that way. They want people to feel normal around them. How can children feel normal talking to people who look different if they are hushed every time they talk about them in the home?
Most kids I know, at least under 5 years old, don’t have any desire toward meanness. They don’t want to hurt others. They don’t mean any insult by their innocent questions. It is us teaching them that fat is bad when we don’t let them say it. It is us teaching racism when we quiet their questions about why someone’s skin is darker or lighter than theirs. We teach them to value or devalue attributes based on our reactions when they notice them. I’ve never heard a child hushed for saying someone is mean. Isn’t that a far greater insult than saying they have a big nose? It insults the core of the person – who they actually are! not just their outsides, but for some reason, we allow it. Adults almost feed off those insults. We feel bad for the child coming to us with this insult because they have to be around someone who is mean, rather than realizing that calling another mean isn’t so nice either. Where did we get so lost?
I’m not saying we go around pointing out so called “flaws” in others in public (or private for that matter) but I don’t jump on my kid every time he notices what someone looks like and tells me. I react no differently to him telling me the cellist has a big belly than when he tells me his little brother has small hands. In his mind there is no difference, and I for one, would like to keep it that way as long as possible.
So let’s stop teaching our children that they can’t say someone is brown or black or white or reddish. Our color doesn’t matter. Let us decide that “fat” isn’t bad. Because it isn’t. Let’s all relax and start treating these comments as they are – a child noticing, not a child insulting or belittling. That’s something adults do far better.