Bonus: How To Respond When A Kid Asks ‘Am I Fat?’ with Virgie Tovar
**UNRELEASED CONTENT ALERT**
CIHAS pod is on a season break until the new year. But I promised you some fun bonus pods in the meantime, so here goes. Some juicy, unreleased content right here!
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This week, we’re jumping back to my conversation with the fabulous Virgie Tovar from episode 8 (if you haven’t listened to that ‘sode yet, now’s your chance). This snippet didn’t appear in the OG episode, but Virgie shares some really helpful tips on her approach to how to respond to a kid who asks ‘am I fat?’. Virgie sets out seven steps you can take to help you handle this question in an age-appropriate way, and considers things like what if you don’t feel OK about your body, and how you can help the kiddo if they are being bullied about their weight. Spoiler - I might have convinced Virgie to join the ‘Stack. And she might have agreed to write a very cool, fat Christmas love story to share on CIHAS in December 👀 👀
Find out more about Virgie here.
Follow her work on Instagram here.
Follow Laura on Instagram here.
Here’s the transcript in full.
Laura: Hey, and welcome to a special bonus episode of Can I Have Another Snack? I'm Laura Thomas, an anti-diet registered nutritionist and author of the Can I Have Another Snack? Newsletter, so regular listeners will know that we are currently on a season break, and we'll be back with full episodes in January.
I did promise you all a few bonus tidbits from guests that appeared in season one. So today I'm sharing a snippet of conversation with Virgie Tovar who appeared in episode eight of the podcast. Go back and check out the full conversation if you haven't already. It was a really great episode. This snippet didn't appear in the original episode.
It's unreleased content where Virgie sets out her approach to how to respond to a kid who asks, am I fat? This is a question that I get asked so often that I wanted to create a dedicated resource that people could access without having to listen to a full hour long episode. It's also something that you might want to share with a co-parent, a spouse, or a partner, or even a grandparent, to help them navigate these conversations too.
Virgie sets out seven steps that you can take to help you handle this question in an age appropriate way. And she also considers things like, what if you don't feel okay about your body and how can you help the kiddo if they're being bullied about their weight? So we're gonna get to Virgie in just a second, but first a reminder that Can I Have Another Snack? podcast and newsletter are entirely listener and reader-supported. That means I depend on community, meaning you listening right now to support my work by becoming a paid subscriber. It's five pounds a month or 50 pounds for the year, and you get access to our exclusive community only threads on a Thursday, the full back archive of essays and posts and dear Laura columns where I answer your questions and some bonus audio content, as well as the free posts that go out to everyone. If you value what we do here, then please consider becoming a paid subscriber and helping make this work sustainable. You can also gift a subscription to a friend this holiday season, and we have included a gift certificate for you to print out or email to your friend who is anti-diet curious, or your mom who kind of gets it, but could do with some extra help, or your partner who absolutely does not get it and needs a kick up the ass.
So you'll find that linked in the show notes for this episode, at laurathomas.substack.com, and if for any reason you can't pay for a subscription right now, but you would find it helpful to have access to this content, then please email firstname.lastname@example.org with snacks in the subject line and we'll hook you up, no questions asked.
And thank you so much to those of you who are already paid subscribers who are helping to make this work sustainable. I really, really appreciate you backing me. All right. Let's get to my chat with Virgie where she is helping us navigate the question of how to respond to a kid who asks, am I fat?
Laura: So Virgie, something that you published on your newsletter recently that I really loved and would love to hear you maybe like talk us through it, because I thought it was such a helpful guide, was how to respond when a child asks, I guess their parent, or like it could be a spare-ent or a, you know, a family friend who, whomever you are in that child's life, what if they come to you with a question of, am I fat? And kind of thinking about our broader conversation of, of kind of respectful parenting and, and raising kids, you know, free from diet culture, free from body shame, how would you go about responding to that question?
Virgie: Yeah, I mean, I kind of walkthrough in the article seven steps, like step one. I really love that because it really helps people kind of visualise like what's happening. Right. I think, I think, you know, to begin with, before we even get into sort of the steps, the most important thing to understand is your job is fairly simple, right? Like the logistics of getting the job done, I'm gonna get into, but your job, if I can sum it up, is to basically, your whole goal is to convey that fat phobia is wrong. And so, you know, I think this is, there's sort of like a meta, like before we even kind of, right, like there's obviously the question, am I fat? It begs a response of yes or no. It begs a binary. But what I'm arguing is that we need to, when, when our, when a kid approaches us with that question, we need to actually be, you know, the adult in that moment by saying basically that this question is not the important question. The important question is, is seeing people through the lens of good body, bad body, is that something that we believe in? And the answer is no. So, you know, your job is simple basically to, to protect fat kids from fat phobia and from stigma and to teach kids of all sizes that fat phobia is wrong. And so just to kind of go through the steps really quickly,
First, recognise that changing narratives is really difficult. So in general, right, like you're being thrown a ball that is very, very complicated and fraught, and your job is to kind of hold, you know, your instinct is gonna be to throw the ball back as quickly as possible because it's uncomfortable. But what's important is to kind of have that moment where you're holding the ball and you're like, Okay, this is complicated. I'm feeling maybe afraid, maybe angry, maybe confused, but it's okay. Just have those feelings. You can responsibly navigate this conversation, even if you're still unresolved about your own body, you know? So I think, I think like to use a counterexample of something that's a little bit more culturally established, right? Like, you know, if a kid was asking you, um, if they're part of a marginalised group or not, with the understanding that that marginalised group is considered bad, Basically, how would you navigate it in, in another situation, right? Like if it was around race, if it was around class, if it was around ability or sexual orientation, right? Like, like think about, think about it in the context of that.
The second thing in the steps is don't reflexively say no. Um, this is kind of like where the issue gets, This is typically when this conversation can really get off the rails. So like, again, take the time to have the reaction. It's okay if you're thinking about it, it's okay if you need a minute to talk about it, that's totally normal. But I think the most important thing is a lot of our instincts because of how much fat-phobia there is in the culture, it's to reflexively say no. And in that no, we are saying no, nothing is wrong with you. Right? But, again, this, this like
Laura: the idea that fat is bad.
Virgie: Yeah, exactly. Exactly. So don't reflexively say no, and I, and I kind of, you know, in this part of the article I talk about how when I was a kid, my mother would sort of vacillate between telling me that my body was fine, whatever size it was, and telling me that I wasn't fat, which confirmed in my mind that being fat was a negative.
Virgie: And then the third thing in the steps is ask questions like, why do you ask, or what does that word mean to you? I think that like not only does this open up inquiry, it also is giving you information about whether or not your child is being bullied or they're witnessing emotional abuse. I don't love the word bullying, so I think that it just really doesn't get to the scale and the, and the impact of like what childhood emotional abuse happens, even between peers.
Um, but anyway. You can get information about whether or not your child is being targeted or this child is like experiencing or witnessing something that is bad for them. And I think also it can kind of get into their worldview, like, what is their context for this? So for example, the example I use in the articles, like, maybe a teenager is asking you this, and in fact you're all, you're really worried that this teenager is being bullied or whatever. But in fact, they maybe saw that word online. They saw fat activism on the, so on social media, and they're just really curious about it and whether or not they can identify with that word. And that's a whole other conversations. I think there is kind of like stay in the information gathering phase of this, of this conversation maybe longer than you, than you might sort of think you would be for, for a seemingly simple question.
The fourth step is,
Laura: Oh, can, can we, can we pause for a second? Sorry, Virgie. I wanna ask you, because there's something that's so important, I think, in kind of what you said in between steps three and four, in between steps three and four, you mentioned a couple of like just hard truths for grownups to kind of stick to when they're having these conversations and I think they're so helpful. So I'm just, I'm maybe just gonna run through them real quick if that's okay. So you say you don't need to be a medical professional or expert in this topic to share important talking points. Fat phobia is wrong. People who fat shame other people are doing something wrong, even if no one else says it's wrong. The second thing, fat bodies are a part of a normal and beautiful spectrum of body diversity. Three, it's unhealthy for a person to try and have a body that they don't have naturally. Lots of people become ill because they're trying to be thin. The next one, my love and acceptance are not conditional on your weight or size. A good friend's love and acceptance should not be conditional on your weight or size. And the last one, you have the right to stand up for your body and for fat bodies, even if no one else does. And I think even, you know, I think they're so helpful because even if you get lost in whatever, you know, other bits of the conversation, coming back to those like anchor points feels really, really important. So I just wanted to mention them and also I'll link to this, um, article in the show notes so that people can like, you know, refer back to it. So anyway, sorry to derail you there for a second, but I just, I thought that that was a really important point. Um, so yeah, we were up to number four.
Virgie: Yeah, I mean those talking points, I mean honestly, right? Like I totally, I think a lot of people feel like. Ill equipped to deal with conversations like this, and I'm just like, I mean, literally, even if all you do is repeat those talking points, um, it's enough.
Laura: Cuz so many people, people who are coming from the anti diet, you know, like if they've been in the anti diet space for a while, like they know that, oh no, human diversity is like just a fact of life. And all bodies are good bodies and deserve respect. You know, like just coming back to those like, you know, the, the most simplest distillation of like anti diet work. Like, just come back to those.
Virgie: Yeah. Yeah, I mean, again, going back to a counter example, I think like a lot of, you know, like I think a lot of people are sort of really eager, people who are sort of against, or not on the side of this conversation are really eager to throw around kind of basically the only data point that the medical establishment has, which is sort of, you know, from our research, you know, this belief that people in larger bodies just live lower quality or shorter lives. And I think what's useful to understand is like a counterpoint that's useful to know is in general, white people live longer than black people. So I mean, and, and we would never consider, you know, go like basically saying like, you probably should try to be a white person so that you can live longer and have better health outcomes, We would say, right like, Huh, that is a health disparity statistic. What's that about? Right? And when we kind of come down to it, a lot of it has to do with basically the ongoing experience of, of discrimination, right? But, but at the end of the day, right, like there's all kinds of differentiating health outcomes typically between majority group and targeted group. And it's, it's really only in this domain of, of fat phobia and weight where we really are asking the group that is experiencing abuse to acquiesce and assimilate to the bigotry rather than asking the group who is perpetuating the bigotry to change their behaviour. So I think it's like, really it's, it's just, anyway, it's like there's a lot there, but I just kind of think like, there's a lot to be said for, This is wrong. It's just wrong. Like, is it, it's immoral and we don't have to go past that point. There's not an argument after like it's, it's, it's dehumanising and immoral. Yeah, but you know, what about this statistic? I'm like, well, but it's just, I mean, there's no, you don't, there's no conversation after this is dehumanising and immoral. Um, do you know what I, like it, Like we could also optimise our health by like literally, you know, like the government distributing whatever, right? Like, and, and we probably could recognise that would be weird. Um, So all that to say like, I mean, I don't wanna get too in the weeds cause I'll just get, I'll just like start, start like saying things for hours. But all that to say like, you know, I think really just the, the key, the point is this is wrong, this is immoral and it's dehumanising. And that's kind of the end of the conversation, right? And for someone who's, Yeah butting, just knowing like, hey dude, like if you're not down with human rights and things being moral, like there's nothing else for us to talk about. We're probably not on the same page on a lot of things.
Laura: Yeah. Yeah, that's like, that's really as far as the conversation needs to go, but yes. Go. Um, we were on Number four I think.
Virgie: Number four. So talk about body shame and weight stigma in an age appropriate way. Right? This is just basically about kind of conveying what the talking points are saying, right? That like basically human diversity is a real thing. It's immoral to judge people or treat them badly based on their body size, period. And then, you know, depending on the age of the kid, you know, a teenager, you would have a slightly perhaps more sophisticated and detailed version of explaining that. And for a kid, you know, you can use reference points that are, um, relevant to, to them and age appropriate for them.
So the fifth thing is don't be afraid to be fat positive. I think, you know, I wanna say that specifically, right, if your child is naturally in a larger body, right? Like, and what, and what does it mean to be naturally in a larger body, essentially, whatever body size you have when you are not doing anything, when you're not manipulating anything, that is your natural body size.
So if you have a naturally larger body child, it's okay to not just convey neutrality right, I mean, obviously it's kind of, it's up, it's up to you to make this call, but I think, you know, one thing that was never in my life was that sense of like, yeah, and being fat is okay, being fat is rad actually. Right? And this is like, I mean for me, like everyone in my family, going back to my great grandparents was in a fat body. And I kind of wish that, like my parents had sat me down and been like, This is your great grandfather. You have the same body as he does. This is your great grandmother. You have the same, like, what an incredible legacy that we've had as, as a family. You know? Like that would've been so cool to have.
The sixth thing on the list is a firm unconditional worth regardless of body size. Again, I accept you no matter what your body size and people who love you and respect you will do the same.
And then seventh, practice how they might want to address fat shaming if it happens at school or elsewhere and follow up on step three. So if there is, if you discern in the conversation that they're experiencing emotional abuse or they're witnessing it, this might be a time to follow up on that, but you can help them literally, like creating a script. You all can work on it together, but, you can offer the open-ended question, "Considering that fat shaming is wrong, what do you wanna say to someone who is fat shaming you or another person?" And you can kind of work through scenarios like, kids are really good with imagination. Kids are really good with fictional, you know, working through fictional examples.
And, I kind of wanna say also, and this was not in the art- or maybe actually it was in the end, but like it's totally normal that the kid is gonna rebut you, right? They're like, Yeah, but no, but, but, right? What they're trying to do is they're trying to recalibrate what they're learning at school, which is basically, or wherever they're learning in society, um, outside of the home. So they're trying to align their authority figure, which is their peers with you, who's another, another authority figure who are giving them potentially conflicting messages. So what's important is don't see the rebutting as a sense that you have to double down and explain more and explain better and have research. It's not necessarily an invitation to do that. It's simply a, a way in which they're already play acting. Like if I hear this and they're like, Yeah, but, right? It's like, it's you, you have an important opportunity to basically double down and like not deter from your talking points, even as you're getting sort of an onslaught of rebuttals. So it, just stay calm and just sort of expect rebuttal and be like, Yeah, well, so these talking points, we're gonna go right back here. You can ask me as many questions as you want. We're gonna go right back to this is immoral and dehumanizing, and body diversity is natural. So like, you're not getting anything else from me. You could ask me a hundred times. You can ask me a thousand times. And this is great modelling for them. So, um, that's, that's kind of like the, the walkthrough of that.
Laura: Yeah. I love that you talked about the conflict that kids can experience, like between what they're hearing from peers and maybe even teachers and these other people outside of the home versus that message that you are, that you're sending and you're really standing your ground and saying like, No, this, this is what I believe in.
And, and I think that there's something, you know, opinions kind of out there, as it were, are gonna waiver and change, but if you have kind of courage in your convictions, there's something like very deeply reassuring about that. I think especially for younger children. And then, you know, for older kids then, you know, they're, they're free, all kids are free to make up their, their minds about things. But if they have it modelled that you are like steadfast in that conviction, then I think they're, you know, they're really gonna hopefully reflect on that and kind of take that message on board versus if you're just like, wavering all over the place.
Virgie: Yes, absolutely a hundred percent.
So that was my conversation with Virgie Tovar. To learn more about Virgie, to get the transcript of this conversation or to sign up for the Can I Have Another Snack? newsletter head to laurathomas.substack.com. And if you've enjoyed this conversation or other conversations that we've had in season one, then please rate and review in iTunes and please share these episodes with your friends.
Can I Have Another Snack? is hosted by me, Laura Thomas, edited by Joeli Kelly, our funky artwork is by Caitlin Preyser. And the music is by Jason Barkhouse. Fiona Bray keeps me on track and makes sure these episodes get out on time.
Keep your eyes peeled for another bonus podcast with Katie Greenall all about appetite and navigating a complicated relationship with food. It's a really, really interesting conversation, and this time it will be just for subscribers. So that's coming up in a couple of weeks. Make sure you're subscribed to get that when it lands.
Talk to you all then. Bye.