Dear Care and Feeding,
My 6-month-old baby is quite large for his age (75th and 85th percentile weight and height, respectively). His father is 6’4”, so this is not unexpected. But people (strangers, friends, loved ones) are constantly commenting on his size. Well-intentioned friends make comments like, “Wow! Your baby is HUGE! My x-month-old baby looks tiny next to yours!” In the elevator, just now, someone asked how old he was, and, before I could answer, guessed that he must be 11 months old. When I said, “No, he’s just 6 months,” he spent the rest of the ride talking about how gigantic he is. Last week, my stepmother-in-law held him for the first time and said, “Wow, you’re heavy. How much do you weigh?” TO THE BABY! I immediately responded, “The perfect amount!” My in-laws are incredibly fatphobic and often make really hurtful and offensive remarks. I am especially sensitive to comments like these because I am fat and have been most of my life. I want to make sure the boundaries and expectations (don’t comment on my children’s size!) are clear, for strangers, friends, and family. Is there an easy and polite way to curb these comments?
—Stop Fat-Shaming My Baby
Dear Stop Fat-Shaming,
Fat-shaming is so prevalent and persistent, I’m not surprised that your baby is already subject to it—or that you are taking it so hard, when you’ve been subjected to it all your life. I think the way you responded to your stepmother-in-law was just right. When it comes to strangers, like the man in the elevator, I suppose you could say, politely, “Oh, well, babies come in all sizes,” but I wouldn’t be mad if you gave him a death stare and said, “These comments are making me very uncomfortable.”
I recommended this book recently, but it’s so helpful and informative I’m going to recommend it all over again. Aubrey Gordon’s “You Just Need to Lose Weight” and 19 Other Myths About Fat People is an essential read. Read it yourself, for moral support, a full treatment of facts and research about fatness, and ammunition for the war against fat-shaming. And buy a copy for your in-laws and tell them how important it is to you that they read it. (Maybe they will. You never know.)
I’m aware that some people would advise you to develop a thicker skin, or suggest that the people making comments about your baby’s size “don’t mean anything by it,” that talking about a baby’s weight is just the way people talk about babies. But the only appropriate thing to say about a baby’s appearance is, “What a beautiful baby!” (feel free to substitute “cute” or “adorable” or “perfect” or “delightful” or “fabulous”). And fat-shaming is no joke, whether it’s done consciously or not. Countering it may be exhausting—and I’m afraid there’s no way it’s going to be “easy”—but you’re fighting the good fight. Do it politely or do it brusquely, do it slyly (in response to, “What a gigantic baby!” say, “Oh yes, my baby is perfect, isn’t he?”) or directly (“What a strange thing to say about a baby!”), but do keep on doing it. Is it a drop in the bucket? Sure. But drop by drop is how the bucket gets filled.