“Well, you certainly don’t forget to feed this one!”
This comment, and many like it, slide easily off our tongues when we see a baby of the more rotund variety. We can’t help it — it is actually ingrained in our DNA to find round babies with large eyes and curvy bodies cute. Evolutionarily speaking, our attraction to these features indicates health, intelligence, and more desirable features. Hence, when we now see a baby with “chubby cheeks” or “round little legs”, we just want to squeeze them — and sometimes, we forget to ask their parents if thats okay.
As the mother of a baby that has been referred to as “Buddha baby,” “robust”, “solid”, “so full of sweet little rolls”, I often find myself cringing when people — sometimes strangers- ask if they can squeeze my daughter’s legs, arms, or pinch her cheeks. Usually, they don’t even wait for me to answer, and I end up pulling my baby away from them while their hands are still around her thighs. This method is somewhat passable on the street, but when I run into neighbors in the elevator, I can’t exactly Iron-Man the stroller over my head to get her away.
What I actually want to do is slap their hands away and politely, but firmly say,
“are you out of your !*@*ing mind? No, you may not touch my beautiful, pure, healthy baby with your old, wrinkled, I-don’t-know-where-they’ve-been hands. She is not property that you can handle, she is a human being and deserves the respect and space that you would give any other person. Would you pinch a 5 year old without permission? A 13 year old? a 25 year old? Would you allow someone to pinch you? — No, so hands off my baby!”
If this isn’t enough, these touches are usually followed by some uninvited comment about her weight,
“My, my, my she’s a breastfed one, isn’t she?”
My daughter is 10 months old. She doesn’t yet understand that people are commenting about her round cheeks and squishable thighs. She doesn’t yet know that her food has calories, that we are all, constantly judged by our appearance, especially as women. She doesn’t know that when people comment about her weight, they are actually voicing their own insecurities about the word F-A-T. She doesn’t know what fat shaming is, or any kind of shaming.
No, she doesn’t know that the world is full of judgement and people who won’t respect her boundaries.
“But she’s just a baby,” you might say, “She doesn’t know what we’re saying!”
First of all, she is not “just” anything — she is a human being. She is a young girl that one day will grow up to be a woman in the world. She is also not “just” a baby, she is a being that was gifted for me to care for, nurture, and protect. She is a sacred miracle that deserves respect, safety, and security in her world. Part of that is not attaching labels to her borne out of insecurity.
“But I don’t mean anything by it, I just think she looks healthy!”
Great. So tell me she looks healthy. Don’t tell me she looks like Buddha.
My little girl is one of the happiest human beings I have ever encountered in my life — she is full of smiles and giggles, and already at 10 months old has a great sense of humor. She is adventurous, curious, bright, empathetic (if you fake-cry near her, she will put her hand on your arm or knee), and she can crawl you under the table. There is so much strength and energy in her little body that she can crawl the entirety of our apartment over and over and over without getting tired — and that’s at bedtime. I can’t tell you whether she’s athletic, limber, flexible, sporty — all I can tell you is that she loves to move and she’ll explore any space you put her in.
For all that she does, she needs energy in her body, and yes, my little baby loves to eat. In fact, while everyone was worrying me about breastfeeding woes, this little champ knew exactly what to do from the minute she was born. So yes, she is a breastfed one — she still loves to nurse, even though she eats (and loves) solid food. She has never had processed sugar, loves kale and spinach smoothie, but if I let her, she would eat an entire avocado and follow it with a whole bag of Bamba and three spoonfuls of peanut butter. All of that is true, and yes, it does make her a bigger baby-
This does not give you the right to comment about her weight. Whether you are a stranger, a friend, or a family member — this does not give you the right to comment about her weight.
One day my happy, smiling, self-loving little girl is going to look in the mirror and have a thought pass through her mind with the potential to cause real damage to her life — “I don’t like the way I look.” Whether we have a healthy self-image or not, this thought does pass through at least once in a lifetime. What happens after that thought is what determines whether it will have power to destroy a life, or no power at all.
Do you know what else my baby girl doesn’t know yet? She doesn’t know that her mother battled an eating disorder for more than a decade. She doesn’t know that food is a battle for her mother still to this day. She doesn’t know what it’s like to have people watch what you eat — not because they want to make sure you’re getting a good healthy meal, but because they’re afraid you might be hurting yourself.
She doesn’t know all of that yet. She will one day, we will probably talk about it when we talk about healthy body image and healthy weight. We will share honestly about how we feel, and I will invite her to explore the moment in which the thought, “I don’t like the way I look” first entered her mind. We will examine it, hold it, maybe cry with it, and we will hopefully, allow it to pass. We will do so on our terms, with mutual respect and openness.
I can’t tell you, at 10 months old, what my daughter does or does not understand about her body. I can’t tell you, at 10 months old, what words my daughter is registering about herself. I can’t tell you, at 10 months old, what any of these sounds, pinches, and giggles mean to her.
What I can tell you, is that you wouldn’t dare make these comments if she were 5, or 13, or 25. At the very least, not to her face. Nor, would you try and pinch any part of her body. You would respect her space, as a sentient being, and you would hold your tongue.
You wouldn’t want to be responsible for the moment a comment registered for her and triggered the thought, “I don’t like the way I look.”
I’m fully aware that this post comes out of my own sensitivity- comments about weight, food, and appearance register at a higher decibel for me. Even if they are just in the periphery. You might think that what I ask of you is perhaps even exaggerated, or too sensitive.
I don’t care.
My daughter deserves the right to love herself and her body at any age, and she deserves to have her physical space respected. As she becomes more aware of herself and her body, she will learn that she can give consent to being touched- this includes kisses from grandma and hugs from the neighbor. She will learn to offer a wave or a high five if she isn’t comfortable with an overly physical greeting.
She will learn to say no, and that’s mine, and can I have some kale, please?
Since she can’t yet speak for herself, I am speaking for her — loud and clear. Stop making comments about her weight. And stop touching her before I say it’s okay. I may say that it’s not okay.
And she’s incredibly cute, and she has the right to be cute just for her own self.
So check your discomfort — and deal with it.