Friday, February 02, 2007

From the Annals of the Absurd

I don't know, maybe I'm making too much out of it, but...

Recently my 4-year-old daughter has expressed some unhappiness about going to her kindergarten. Why? Apparently a couple of kids at the kindergarten, on two different occasions, have told her that they they didn't want to play with her because she's "fat" (futotte iru, in Japanese). Both my wife and I had strong reactions to this. Unfortunately, they were very different reactions...

Now, before I continue I should probably point out a couple of things. Firstly, the Japanese are typically quite slim, especially compared to Westerners. That does not mean, however, that there are no "fat" or "chubby" people in Japan. There are plenty. Secondly, the Japanese are more keenly aware and less tolerant of "difference". (People will debate this point, but frankly they don't know what they're talking about.)

Regarding my daughter, yes, by Japanese standards she is quite big--she towers over her playmates and nobody (not even me!) would call her "slim". I've got no problem saying that my daughter is a little on the "chubby" side, but where I come from she looks perfectly "normal" and only an anorexic psycho would look at her and see a "fat" person. So, on top of being a "half-baby", my daughter is also bigger and taller than other kids (she's bigger and taller than most first- and second-graders here). Since she's been born I've been preparing myself to deal with problems related to "race" and "ethnicity". This "fat" thing is another can o' worms altogether...

My wife, being Japanese, thinks my daughter should start dieting and getting more exercise and the problem will go away. (To be fair, this is Japan we're living in, so I can't just dismiss my wife's views simply because they go against my gut feelings.) I, of course, don't think my daughter has a problem at all. The "problem" is with Japanese attitudes and perceptions, and I don't like the idea of forcing her into some action just to conform with other people's ideas about what is "normal" or "acceptable". She's a sweet, beautiful, healthy little girl. Why mess with that?


  1. Since San Antonio has previously been named the fattest city in the fattest country in the world, I think I know fat when I see it, and she certainly doesn't look fat to me.

    Maybe those brats just use "fat" as an all purpose insult. Anyone who crosses my 3 yr old is denounced by her as "stinky" lately.

  2. You might be right about that, Emarie. Still kinda mean, though.

  3. This is a tough one. I'm totally onside with you - your daughter is normal and not fat by any rational scale. BUT you are in Japan and she's going to stand out from the average (not necessarily a bad thing). Sensible diet and exercise I could support but nothing that makes her anorexic. How tough is she? Sounds like she's going to have to be tough as nails to survive growing up in japan.

  4. Hopefully she won't have to be too "tough" to get by here. Right now I'm treating it as an isolated incident (she doesn't seem to have any problems with the vast majority of kids she meets). I've watched her from a distance and she's really kind, gentle, and generous playing with other kids. That should take one a long way anywhere. If not, there's always karate lessons!!

  5. Salamaat,
    Kids can be cruel, and they'll pick on anything to ostracize each other. I really really wouldn't start putting ideas about being fat, dieting or exercizing into her little innocent 4 year old brain. She'll prolly go through a self-hating-wanting-to-lose weight stage around teen years...why hurry that up?

    If your wife does do anything, tell her not to be explicit about it. I am just really concerned because kids younger and younger are getting pulled into the whole eating disorder madness...

  6. the usual stuff: I know how you feel, having been trully overweight most of my life. My motto, they mess around with me, I go to get some scalps. I think you should encourage her to defend herself if attacked by those mean monsters, since I agree with 'maliha' she'll have time to worry about that later. Believe me: ignoring the problem doesn't make it dissapear.

  7. Kids can be cruel at that age, but usually grow out of it quite quickly as long as they're well brought-up; likewise a bit of puppy fat (which is absolutely normal at 4) will quickly vanish with normal diet / exercise.

    As to your wife's input; I'm with Mahila 100%. Any sense inculcated into your daughter that she's somehow "wrong" or "unusual" and needs to change could lead to a lifetime of miserable lack of confidence in her body-image, so tread very carefully.

    If it carries on down the line, you may need to do a bit more to protect her at school. Controversial though it may sound, if your daughter is being bullied (physically or psychologically), she needs to be sure of the support of the teachers - which might mean her telling a few tales / you going down to the school to address the issue with the teachers directly. The squeaky wheel gets the oil, as they say.

  8. Maliha: Yes, I agree. It's only a couple of mean kids, and really, she'll have her teen years to obsess about her weight! No need to start now...

    Usual Stuff: I hope it never comes to that but, yes, if it does I hope she can take care of herself.

    Shit: I agree with all of you about the weight thing. Bullying in the Japanese school system seems to be a big problem these days (elementary school-aged kids committing suicide, no less), with the main culprit being a system that wants to pretend it doesn't exist. The Japanese are great at talking about problems, not so great actually doing something...