‘Kitni dubli hain’ [‘She is so skinny’] the Aunty said as soon as she saw my daughter. We had met a couple of minutes ago and introductions over, I pointed out my child to her in the playground when she said this. At that remark, something happened inside me. I think my blood pressure shot up a wee bit and my tear glands threatened to empty out. I wondered why she could not see that my child was happily playing in the playground with her friends. I wasn’t expecting her to compliment her on her attributes at all but hearing this was unexpected. Okay, my daughter is slender….so what? But since this was an Aunty, my mother’s age, I let the moment pass. But that comment lingered at the back of my mind. It does so even now a few years down the line. In fact it makes my blood boil.
This is not a solitary isolated comment. We have faced many such lines over the years.
‘Has your daughter always been like this?’ said by a ‘friend’
‘Does she not eat anything?’ said admonishingly to me by so many older women at parties and social occasions. I think they really wanted to say ‘ Do you not know how to cook and feed your child?’
‘You are so thin’….directed straight at her in the playground by other children.
‘She is sooo weak’ ….cannot remember who said this.
‘Your daughter needs to put on weight’ said by a new friend.
‘You really need to show your daughter to a doctor’, said by our estate agent.
To the comment made by a ‘friend’ I just squirmed uncomfortably, almost apologetically. Yes, I am a bad mother, who has not produced a perfect child.
To the remarks made by the Aunties, I began to doubt myself. I felt I need to spend more time in the kitchen and less surfing the internet.
I questioned my ability to cook. Perhaps, I should add ‘ghee’[ clarified butter] to all my child’s food as they advised freely. Maybe I should stop giving her fancy stuff like avocados as the health magazines suggest. I should have just stuck to traditional methods of weight gain instead of letting all this ‘western’ knowledge influence me. Oh and was I giving her enough sugar? No? My protests about sugar wrecking the teeth were brushed aside as another ‘western’ piece of knowledge. No wonder my child was ‘thin’! ‘Look at So-and-So’s child’.
‘So HEALTHY!’ Well, actually it so happens that So-and-So’s child is a little more than obese, but it is so offensive to say to someone ‘Your child is fat’. You just say ‘Your child is sooo HEALTHY!. ‘TOUCH WOOD’
Of course it is quite alright to say ‘Your child is thin!’
To the persons who say ‘She is so weak’ and start lecturing me of Chyawanprash, fortified milk powders and other vitamin supplements which are a must in a child’s diet, I seriously start questioning my parenting skills. I know I add enough vegetables, fruit in the family diet, but perhaps I am wrong and off the mark. I know I include proteins and carbohydrates in our food, but maybe it’s not adequate. Perhaps I should go out and buy those supplements as they say. Possibly I need a crash course in nutrition and health.
In the beginning, one takes such comments, remarks, ‘helpful advice’ in ones stride. What can one do?
Alright, my child is slim. She is slender. She may appear underweight. To many ignoramus people, ‘thin’ equates with ‘weak’.
I can understand people are concerned. I can appreciate how persons who don’t even know the name of my child would want to impart valuable advice on nutrition and weight gain for her. I realize some people like chubby, roly poly kids and want my child to be one; hence the helpful, unsolicited advice.
But, what I am trying to fathom is how people can so blatantly make a statement on my child’s physical appearance, sometimes right in front of her.
What I cannot understand is why these people who know nothing about my child’s medical history can ask this question?
What I cannot comprehend is why people cannot find anything else to comment on ? I can understand that some people might find it hard to compliment other people’s children. That is fine. But why a comment of this nature? Why something as personal as a comment on a person’s appearance?
Too many times I have been tempted to say something back. Yes, “hell hath no fury like a mother provoked!”
To the friend who said my child needs to gain weight, I wanted to say
“Well, darling, you need to lose weight’. Instead, I had to make do with a dirty look that threatened that I would defriend her if she said that again.
To the guy who said my child needs to see a doctor, I actually lost my self-control and blurted out ‘Are you a paediatrician? Then how do you know she needs medical help?
To the aunties who insist I should force-feed my child so she gets nice and healthy, I can only sigh in resignation. Although I must say I have tried that too.
To the unkind playground kids who think nothing of calling their playmate ‘thin’ or whatever, I have no words. I am speechless. I give up.
I know I cannot stop the world from making unkind, unsavoury, unsolicited, unwarranted remarks. Yes, occasionally, if quick and witty enough, I can give back a reply that puts them on the defensive. For example, an adult says to me ‘your child is so thin’, I say, ‘Yes, she is. And there are lots of other aspects to her personality too’. I would really love to tell them how good she is at sports.[ Well, some clever people have even replied back saying ‘Oh she is so thin, that makes her flexible that is why she can run fast and gymnastics is a piece of cake’. Right! That’s a new theory!] But then why should I have to explain why my slim child can be healthy too. Why should I waste my breath telling them that being slim and slender may be genetic too. Why should I spend my time explaining my child’s medical history to someone who doesn’t care to know?
Would they understand that there are children who are fussy about food and my cooking skill [or lack of it] has nothing to do with it?
The only person who can really tell me whether my child is underweight or not is a doctor- after careful weighing, comparing weight to height, age and other factors. Again, a doctor whose advice one has sought out professionally, not someone you meet socially who is freely dishing out unsolicited medical advice. Only someone who genuinely cares about your child has the right to dole out advice about how her/his health can be improved. They may not be medically qualified but they have your best interests at heart and it is up to you whether you want to take the advice or not.
Every child is different and special in their own way. Children come in different shapes, sizes and with different abilities. To point out a physical or mental characteristic in a child or anyone else is certainly not a way of extending your help and ‘sympathy’ for that person.
Until the world learns this, I can only educate my own child to be proud of how she is and accept herself for the way she looks. I can teach her to ignore people who make such comments but somewhere along the line, to use witty rejoinders to give back in good measure. But never am I going to teach her to use the same sort of line on another person that teases and bullies, mocks and ridicules or hurts and provokes.
As for myself, it is hard to restrain, to ignore, to forget, to forgive and it is an ongoing journey…………but there are times when I just want to scream ‘STOP CALLING MY CHILD THIN’