I'm going to bring up kind of a weird subject for this blog.
And I feel kind of weird for talking about it here,
Because it's a sensitive and personal issue
and I don't want to step on any toes.
But, well, I'm going to talk about it anyway, because
it's related to how I do my job.
First, here's something I know about myself:
Like a lot of people, I've have lifelong issues with weight
and body perception and all that fun stuff.
I'm not going to get into them because I'm not going to specifically discuss them
in this post, but it's important to know for context. My brain
sometimes does weird things when it comes to this topic.
So, I was recently reading the classic book The Very Hungry Caterpillar
to a group of kids during a class visit. I read this book to kids a lot
because they enjoy it and I have a cool felt board set to go with it
and everyone has a great time.
And I do legitimately like the story and the counting aspect and the ultimate progression for the little caterpillar. That is, I enjoy it all the way up until I get to the part after the caterpillar EATS THE WHOLE WORLD. You know the part.
"Now he wasn't hungry any more - and he wasn't a little caterpillar any more. He was a big, fat caterpillar."
This is my problem, and it's only just dawned on me this happens: I don;t say the word "fat" when I get to this part. I just...can't. Like, my mouth will literally not form the word. I invariably skip it and say "he was a biiiiiig caterpillar" or something like that. I'm sure I'm not fooling anyone. But there it is.
Because for me, "big" is the logical opposite of "little."
And "fat" carries with it a negative connotation.
Have you ever heard the words big and fat used together in a positive way?
Probably. But that's not where my brain goes.
This is what I think when I get to that part of the story: what if one of these sweet kids here in this room has been teased and called "fat" by his classmates? What if he or she has a parent who might be compulsive about healthy eating? What if he or she is one of the growing number of kids who has poor body image?
Yes, I have these thoughts AS I am reading the book.
I told you, my brain does weird things.
I'm not saying that Eric Carle meant any offense by
using the term "fat" for the caterpillar. It's a descriptive word. It's realistic. The book was written in a different time, before the childhood obesity epidemic and large soda bans and all that.
Besides, caterpillars don't typically have body shame issues, do they?
But kids today might.
I'm not saying "fat" is inherently a bad word (although it's certainly
been used that way since what seems like the dawn of time). Besides, we can't view the language of a classic picture book through a lens of societal context, can we?
Maybe we should.
Or maybe this is stupid. Maybe I am just thinking too much. I do that a lot. Maybe I am just projecting my own self-esteem issues onto that poor hungry insect. Maybe I've called myself "fat" too many times in my own life to hear something that's not negative.
So, lay it on me. Is my reaction hyper-sensitive? Is it overly-PC? Is it censorship? Would the word even register with kids in the way that I'm thinking? Am I doing any harm by NOT saying it? Is "big, fat caterpillar" just a silly phrase? I don't know.
Maybe I need body image therapy. Or maybe I just need to switch to a different book for class visits.
I do love that little caterpillar, though.