Yesterday my 7-year-old, Doodlebug, told me a boy on her bus was talking about the F-word. He used the phrase, not the actual word. She asked, “So, what’s the F-word? Tell me the word. I know it’s bad, but if you tell me what it is, I promise promise promise not to say it.” While I was considering the merits of brutal honesty, she interrupted and said something that bothered me more than a 7-year-old knowing the word fuck. “I think I know what the f-word is…is it fat?”
Now, you may chuckle at that, but I’ve been chewing on this ever since. In our house we talk plenty about taking care of ourselves—eating healthy foods, exercising daily, getting enough sleep. Aside from the last one (ugh) we don’t just talk, we consistently walk the walk.
From early on, Doodlebug has known fitness is a family priority—she has grown up riding in the jogging stroller, cheering at bike races and marathons, and spending lots of family time playing outdoors. Now that she’s older she understands there’s a little more to it and that Mama is much happier when she gets her run in. (Bless those endorphins!)
With that said, I make a point of not talking about exercise in terms of losing weight or looking a certain way—I tell her it makes me feel strong and clear-headed. (Totally true, by the way.) But if she thinks “fat” is a bad word and thin is the only acceptable shape, are the right messages soaking in? Um, no.
So how do I balance the message that it’s important to be healthy, but that people also come in all shapes and sizes? How to convey that yes, it’s important to take care of your physical self, but that inner beauty is what matters most.
How to say it all so that it’s heard?
Even with my best parenting efforts, it’s sometimes hard to know how all the info is really being processed. Recently she asked me if it was dangerous that her fingers got wrinkly after a long shower. “Because you know,” she explained, “I learned in P.E. that smoking causes wrinkly skin.”
Well yes, and death too. Forget wrinkles, let’s talk about lung cancer.
In fact, let's talk about it all. With apologies to Margaret Wise Brown, I’ll start here…
The important thing about smoking is that it can kill you.
And the important thing about your body is that you honor it.
And the important thing about the F-word is that you can't use it until you are old enough to use it wisely.