Childrearing

Anonymous Mom: My Sister Fat Shames My Niece

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Anonymous Mom is a weekly column of motherhood confessions, indiscretions, and parental shortcomings selected by Mommyish editors. Under this unanimous byline, readers can share their own stories, secrets, and moments of weakness with complete anonymity.

Life isn’t always easy when you’re a tweenage girl. You’re just on the cusp of womanhood but still too young for most “womanly” things and just starting to hit puberty and feel awkward. The onslaught of beauty magazines and television shows aimed at girls this age certainly don’t help, and in my opinion the best possible thing a tween girl can have is guidance from her parents. Especially her mom, if she has one, who has been through all the pitfalls and lived to tell the tale.

This is why I am horrified when I hear my older sister Allison call my 10-year-old niece things like “fat ass” and “gordo.” It’s been going on for quite a while now, well before my niece hit her tweens and started gaining a bit of puberty weight. I often wonder if the weight she has gained is something unrelated or if it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy brought on by her mom’s insistence that she was heavy long before weight was ever an issue.  I was uncomfortable when my sister called her “fat thigh baby” when she was three, I was shocked and dismayed the first time she called her “Miss Piggy” at five and I’m still unnerved every time she says those things now.

What’s worse is that the verbal abuse is coupled with a complete lack of care for what my niece puts into her body. The irony of calling a child fat and then giving her fried food for almost every meal doesn’t seem to occur to my sister. I can’t even justify her words as coming from a place of genuine caring since she obviously doesn’t care if she’s a part of the problem. Not that her good intentions would make fat-shaming my niece okay. Bullying is bullying, no matter how you frame it.

I’ve tried to step in plenty of times to stop it. I’ve sat my sister down and tried to explain how talking to her daughter that way is unhealthy for her self-esteem. I’ve tried talking about my own weight and eating disorder issues and how negative talk affected me. I got nothing. It’s not so much that she’s mean or malicious. She simply thinks it’s funny and can’t fathom the harm since this is how our mother talked to us growing up.

My sister has also suffered from weight issues for most of her life. I wonder if part of her abuse stems from jealousy. Perhaps she’s jealous of the potential my niece has, with her entire life before her. Perhaps my sister wants a “partner in crime” so to speak — someone she can commiserate with about her weight issues. I honestly don’t know.

I have spoken often with my niece as well. About how she’s gorgeous no matter what size she is, but also about how to feel good about yourself and be healthy. Not to fit someone else’s idea of beauty, and not to fit into a certain dress size, but just to be healthy and active. The troubling thing is, as a baby and a little kid, my niece would eat anything and loved to eat vegetables and healthy foods. She would also dance anywhere and everywhere and had the type of confidence we all want our children to have. So it breaks my heart to see her shrink into a shell now and talk down about herself.

My niece never dances anymore. She can barely look at herself in the mirror. The confident, excited, happy little girl I used to know is gone, replaced by a timid, shy almost-teenager with downcast eyes and baggy clothes she wears to hide what she sees as a shameful body. It infuriates me.

It’s hard for me to even come around anymore, and I wouldn’t if it weren’t for my niece. I rarely bring my own daughters around though. I think I’ve managed to guide them and help keep their self-esteem intact this long, and I certainly don’t want my sister’s negative attitude to put a dent in that. They are happy with themselves and I want to keep it that way for as long as possible. They have the rest of their lives for people to put them down or objectify them, so I’m not going to let their own aunt do it now.

I hope I can find a way to get through to my sister and/or my niece before it’s too late. But I don’t see how given the way things are. I can only stick around, try to mediate the best I can and pray that things get better.

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(Photo:  Home and Heart)