I had a completely different blog post in mind for today, but after the monumental meltdown in our home yesterday morning I just had to address this, and find out if anyone else has come across this in their own home. It’s a very real and disturbing issue that I never thought would affect kids so young, but it is, and that’s why I’m talking about it.
Mornings in Joburg have gotten chilly all of a sudden, getting the kids dressed for a 6.30am drop off at school they now need to have layers on. I started the kids winter shopping a few weeks ago, and bought Oli a new gilet (one of those sleeveless puffy jackets with a hood). He’s had one each winter for the last few years, they’re amazing and provide warmth without being so constrictive. I thought he’d gotten over the debacle of them last year, but clearly not.
Let me take you back to what went down last year. Dressing Oli before school one morning last winter, I handed him his green gilet to put on, only to be met with a flood of tears. He begged me between sobs not to wear it with a thousand excuses erupted as to why he didn’t want to wear his jacket to school. Flabbergasted as to why he was acting this way about an item of clothing, after getting him to calm down I eventually got it out of him as to why he didn’t want to wear it. The truth shocked me to the core. He didn’t want to wear it because another little girl had cried for an hour at school the day before because she didn’t want to put her puffy jacket on. Why? Because she was going to look FAT. This, coming from a four year old. Guys, this is not okay. This then became a huge issue and the kids cottoned onto this quickly, as kids do, and Oli wasn’t exempt.
Never in our home do we talk about ‘fat’ or bodily imperfections. I’m very careful that my kids are not subjected to this, or my own insecurities. Children are not fat. My children know how beautiful and special they are, I’m confident, and we reinforce this on a daily basis. They are fearfully and wonderfully made. It literally shattered my heart that I couldn’t protect my child from this situation. We live in a world where a four year old has to worry about his looks and being classed as ‘fat’. I’m quite sure that Oli didn’t even know what ‘fat’ was until this incident. Fast forward to yesterday morning and Oli’s face fell when he saw me pull his new jacket out of the cupboard. ‘Please, Mommy, no!’ he pleaded. I honestly though after I had spoken to him at length last year about it that it would be fine, but he’s still affected by it. The more worked up he got about it, the more I did too. At the fact that I couldn’t spare my child from this. That a year later he was still affected by this. That in that moment he had zero confidence in his beautiful self. I wanted to sob. I wanted to shout at him to get over it and the fact that it had zero relevance to him and his slender little frame. That he is five and this is not something a five year old, or any child for that matter should worry about. More than anything I wanted to be mad at the world and how cruel it can sometimes be. There was no point trying to reason with him in the five minutes I still had to dress myself and get out the door, but he did leave with his jacket on.
What made it worse was that Soph was there and the last thing I want is for her to pick up on his insecurities when she so proudly picks her jacket all the time. Three year olds pick up everything and the last I would ever want coming out of her mouth would be the word ‘fat’.
After fetching the kids at school yesterday, once Soph was happily distracted with some toys that had been delivered for her, I pulled Oli aside, saying we need to talk. I brought up the jacket. He promised me he had kept it on until the sun was shining before bundling it away into his locker. Explaining to a five year old about body positivity isn’t an easy thing, but I think it finally sank in. I asked him if the reason he didn’t want to wear his jacket was as a result of what happened at school last year, and no surprises there, he readily admitted it was. I told him how his Grandpa, Dad, Kiki and sister all had these warm puffy jackets and they all loved wearing them and I saw a glimmer of a smile. I told him how lucky he was to have such a cosy jacket to wear when there are children that have nothing to keep them warm. What surprised me most was what he did next. He went to the laundry basket, fetched his jacket and brought it to me. “Mommy, I’m so sorry I was so silly. I know I am amazing and that I’m lucky to have a cosy jacket”. My eyes literally welled up with hope that maybe my child was going to get past this, relatively unscathed.
Have you experienced anything like this with your children in one way or another? As a mother, there is nothing worse for me than seeing my child hurt and not being able to protect them. As parents it’s our duty to do this, but also to prepare them for the cruelty they’re unfortunately going to have to face at some point down the road, I just didn’t think it would be so soon, you know? I remember seeing a quote a few years ago that struck a chord, and has remained with me ever since – “Parents need to fill a child’s bucket of self-esteem so high that the rest of the world can’t poke enough holes to drain it dry.” – Alvin Price.