Not really feminism but why is it OK...

(70 Posts)
drspouse Tue 11-Oct-16 11:39:41

For my 4 year old to say "that man's really tall!" and indeed "that man's really black" but not "that man's really fat!".

Is it all society? Or is there a case for it being health related? Is there a good way to handle this? I thought it would be better here than on a board where people would say "how rude" and "you shouldn't mention skin colour, it's shameful". Also, I'm kind of interested in unpacking this philosophically!

My DS seems to be at this sort of stage plus he is also that sort of child - very outspoken.
We were in a cafe last week and a very very large man came in, he appeared to be with a carer and at the minimum had difficulty walking (I am not sure if the carer was also helping him with e.g. choices/communication).

DS said "That man's very fat!" and I said "yes, he is, but he probably doesn't want you shouting about it" and I proceeded to ask him not to stare, because he was. "But I'm not staring I'm just looking a lot!" (I'm not sure he knows what "stare" means to be fair).

Today on the bus he pointed out an extremely tall man ("That man's very tall!" Yes, he is, isn't he?) and a very very dark skinned man

"That man's got a black head!" Well I think he's got black legs and arms too. "I've got white legs and arms haven't I Mummy? and DD's got brown legs and arms?" Yes, that's right, you're White and DD is (ethnicity) (they are adopted and different ethnicities. We do talk about ethnicity and who is Black and who is White but this man was much darker than even the West African children in his nursery class, let alone DD or the mixed and Asian children in his Reception class). There is no way we can have skin colour as an unmentionable in our family - rather the opposite, we want to talk about it.

He hasn't asked me WHY the people in question are fat/tall/black but I suppose I could have explained (the fat man may not be very well/the tall man had a tall mummy and/or daddy/ the black man ditto).

Would this be different if someone was pathologically tall e.g. with a "syndrome"? Would we find it more awkward to mention then?

Shallishanti Tue 11-Oct-16 13:30:32

I guess the difference is that being tall/black is at worst neutral and likely something the person is proud of, whereas being fat is more likely something the person is embarassed about, hence it's forseeable that a loud comment on fatness will be hurtful. A loud comment on tallness/blackness more likely to be met with a smile.
Maybe be a bit more direct with your DS about why 'he probably doesn't want you shouting about it'- eg 'shh DS he might hear you and then be upset'- also at 4 yo, you could always promise to talk about it later.

Shallishanti Tue 11-Oct-16 13:36:08

you just reminded me that when ds1 was a similar age we saw a friend from nursery in the park- friend was very dark Black African, and was with a similar man and girls- we had only ever met the friend's mum till then. After I said, I bet that must be X's daddy and sisters. DS said, why- how can you know that? Bearing in mind we live in an overwhelmingly white area, so the family were very distinctive. DS had not thought they looked particularly similar to each other and had not noticed that family members tended to resemble each other either.

Aderyn2016 Tue 11-Oct-16 13:38:12

Agree that tall and black are neutral descriptions, but fat comes loaded with negative judgement. Fat people are blamed for being fat and seen as defective in some way and as a drain on resources.

ScaredFuture99 Tue 11-Oct-16 13:41:25

I think one of the difference is that you can't change being tall, small, black or whatever but being big is something you have (some) control over.

It is right that a comment about being tall can be met with a smile but what about a comment about being small (dwarf), or having a limp etc... A lot of people would feel embarrassed about that too.

I think it has more to do with the fact people shape (too big or too thin) as well as many disabilities are things that are seen as 'not that good' and therefore shameful and not to talk about and point out.
Being tall , skin colour etc... Aren't shameful so can be mentioned.

Ohdearducks Tue 11-Oct-16 13:44:58

I'm very fat and would probably laugh if a child pointed it out but many would find it uncomfortable/embarrassing because fat people are judged and looked down upon and many of us are fat shamed in public, I wouldn't take it that way from a child but it could trigger laughs/sniggers from others which someone could find offensive.

drspouse Tue 11-Oct-16 13:57:58

you can't change being tall, small, black or whatever but being big is something you have (some) control over.

That's a good point. But also agree about some unchangeable (e.g. disability) things not being seen as fair game for comment. Some people who are very big may not want to change it, or may want to live in a society where others don't push you to change it, also (which might be slightly different).

Maybe it is down to our perceptions of what we think people would want to change? So in the past white society might have thought (and some still do) that someone would not want to be Black, hence reluctance to mention it? And some may also think that being a dwarf would be undesirable hence you shouldn't mention it? Whereas of course two parents who have dwarfism may prefer both to have dwarfism themselves and to have a child with dwarfism.

shalli I am not sure it has occurred yet to either DS or any of his friends that DD looks to many people less like us than he does (in point of fact, neither of them share features to any great extent with us, but he has the same hair colour as I do, thanks to my very talented hairdresser, meaning that people comment on our similarity hmm ), or that in general children do look like his parents. One of his class mates is mixed and has two white parents and I am coming round to asking whether he also is adopted (rather than a blended family) but I don't think it would occur to DS in any way that this might be an indication.

mycatstares Tue 11-Oct-16 14:01:40

It's actually not ok to comment that someone's really tall or really black, its quite rude and can be offensive.

drspouse Tue 11-Oct-16 14:12:19

Why do you say that mycat?

drspouse Tue 11-Oct-16 14:13:06

(Out of interest do you fall into any of the categories we have mentioned?)

ErrolTheDragon Tue 11-Oct-16 14:28:22

Perhaps one reason you thought to post this on feminism is because it might be akin to women's appearance being commented on by strangers?

Its obviously not the same when its the innocent observation of a child but as adults we know (or should know) that such comments - whether positive, negative or neutral - should be avoided.

BertrandRussell Tue 11-Oct-16 14:32:57

It's bad manners to comment - particularly to comment loudly- on anyone's physical appearance. Doesn't matter if it's positive or negative.

And 4 is certainly old enough to start learning that.

LassWiTheDelicateAir Tue 11-Oct-16 14:34:58

I'm none of them. I think it is extremely rude to comment on any of them or to allow a child to comment.

Tall people can be very self conscious.

Unless you have been transported in a time machine to a very remote and isolated rural community pre Second World war with no access to radio or television I can't see any excuse for a child to comment on some one being black.

SomeDyke Tue 11-Oct-16 14:36:59

Fat white woman here! I don't usually have a problem with small kids asking stuff, they just see something/someone different/noticable/interesting and ask. Like the small child on a bus who said 'Mummy, why does that lady have no hair?'

What really counts is what the parent/carer says. If you shush a child, then you are saying that whatever it is they have asked about is shameful/secret/not to be talked about (which of course just makes it more interesting!). So, in the hair case, Mummy just said ' Because she probably likes it that way' (good answer!). In the fat case, I suggest saying 'People are all different shapes and sizes aren't they?' might be appropriate. If a child commented on skin colour, then a comment that people have various skin colours. If you shush a child who comments that someone is really black, then I think you would be indicating that being too black is something shameful. I think you really need to say something neutral and inclusive in these situations, which just points out the wide range of human diversity. And shushing is about the worst thing you can do, in my opinion, to a normal, innocent childlike request for information!

LassWiTheDelicateAir Tue 11-Oct-16 14:38:03

And to be clear I can imagine a 4 year old in 1900 on a remote Scottish island making such a comment out of genuine surprise as they may never have seen a black person. Why a 4 year old now would is beyond me.

OutDamnedWind Tue 11-Oct-16 14:39:50

I would tend to agree with Bertrand, that it is generally impolite to talk about people's appearances, especially if there is a chance they might hear. I have a friend who is utterly sick of comments about her height (from everyone, not just four year olds!). She obviously wouldn't be upset by your DS, as a child, but in general finds comments about her height tiresome at best.

KickAssAngel Tue 11-Oct-16 14:48:12

I agree with SomeDyke.

I also think that children should be taught that loud verbal comments about others can be upsetting. I live in the US, but still have a UK accent. When I go places where people don't know me, I constantly get comments. If I'm having a day of going around shops getting lots of stuff done, I can have 10 different comments about my accent. It isn't people being rude, they're often complimentary, but I don't want to have 10 reminders about being different, and being an immigrant. Can you imagine how it would feel if people didn't learn to keep quiet about outward appearance? Imagine someone saying "oh look, that lady dyes her hair" about you several times a day. How would you & DD feel if you heard "That mummy isn't the same color as her daughter" 10 times in a row?

It's important to discuss difference, but children also need to learn about sometimes thinking something, and saving the comment for later, rather than saying it out loud.

So I'd think that none of the comments, said so loudly that the person can hear/know that they're being talked about, is OK. Somewhere around school starting age I'd hope that children learn to filter it out, although it's obviously a work in progress for them.

ScaredFuture99 Tue 11-Oct-16 14:48:16

Lass the OP's case is different. IT's about being surprised, it's because talking about skin colour/hermitage is essential in their family, therefore something that comes in conversation often is naturally talked about.

I really like Dyke answers.

drspouse Tue 11-Oct-16 15:02:08

Why a 4 year old now would is beyond me. The man in question was much darker than anyone he knows - he knows plenty of people with skin darker than him already. Rather like he would point out someone with blue hair, and then when he's seen 4 or 5 of them he wouldn't bother any more, but might point out someone with green hair if he hasn't seen that before.

I do tend to agree with Kick that it can get boring to be commented on, having lived somewhere where I was the only person with my skin colour, and somewhere (different place) where my accent was unusual. Children commenting on my skin colour - tedious the 75th time, but not offensive. Adults commenting on my skin colour - irritating, but I've found also a bit laughable to educated adults, who never do it - when this happened when I was living overseas, the educated adults would treat those who did this as rather like the local yokel pointing at planes.
Educated adults commenting on my accent - hmm, that's not really original. Children actually very rarely comment on accent.

Children also never comment on DD and I not being the same colour - probably because they know lots of families where this is the case and/or don't know you are supposed to be. It's adults who do that (though not so much for me because I'm lighter - more for the people I know who are darker than their DC, see recent thread about being mistaken for a nanny).

I think Dyke has great points. In the case of the tall man and the black man, we just moved on the conversation. In the case of the very big man, I did point out that he may not have wanted it brought attention to, especially since that was the case where he was continuing to pay close attention that may well have been unwanted. I don't think it's going to be easy to persuade him to introduce a filter but that doesn't mean we can't try!

LassWiTheDelicateAir Tue 11-Oct-16 16:57:28

Lass the OP's case is different. IT's about being surprised, it's because talking about skin colour/hermitage is essential in their family, therefore something that comes in conversation often is naturally talked about.

No it is not different. Taking about differences in a family context does not excuse "ooh look at that black/tall/short person"

LassWiTheDelicateAir Tue 11-Oct-16 17:01:25

Rather like he would point out someone with blue hair, and then when he's seen 4 or 5 of them he wouldn't bother any more, but might point out someone with green hair if he hasn't seen that before.

I think a 4 year old is old enough to be told to stop pointing out other people's differences. Has he seen a Thalidomide victim yet? Or does he have to see 4 or 5 of them before he stops commenting?

Owllady Tue 11-Oct-16 17:07:32

I know kids do comment but you have to tell them to stop doing it really. I think a 4 year old is old enough to understand someone may be unwell if they are not in fine physique and have a carer with them.

SomeDyke Tue 11-Oct-16 17:24:25

"I think a 4 year old is old enough to be told to stop pointing out other people's differences. Has he seen a Thalidomide victim yet?"
I think you're wrong. Young kids ask in all innocence, and I think it is very, very important what answer they get! If a kid asks about a thalidomide victim, or someone with any other visible condition, if they are shushed and told not to ask, then we'll be where we were twenty-odd years ago, when you didn't talk about disabled people, it was seen but not seen, such a shame, hidden. It's the difference between people with prostheses (after the Paralympics and all that!), who want to display and decorate them, as opposed to the old days when all the focus was on hiding and camouflage.

I think what is healthiest for kids (and for the rest of us), is that when they see something/someone they are innocently interested in, they can ask and be told the truth. Shushing them just says, X is something we don't talk about in public, it just prepares for hiding and shame. I think this is true whether we are talking about disabilities, or about, for instance, gay people being visibly affectionate. Shush just says to me, straight away, kid this is something shameful and you shouldn't talk about it and pretend you haven't noticed......................Actually, I think that is probably why I react so strongly, the seen but not talked about, don't ask, don't tell aspect when it comes to gay people. Couched as politeness, but actually grossly shame-inducing.

Lessthanaballpark Tue 11-Oct-16 17:26:06

I would say tall is OK but not black or fat TBH, the reason being that at some point in our history both those things have been viewed negatively and have more power to hurt feelings.

When we live in a society where black, fat, etc are just descriptors with no judgey baggage attached then it will be a different story.

LassWiTheDelicateAir Tue 11-Oct-16 17:26:40

I agree Owllady I found the opening question quite odd

Why is it Ok for my 4 year old to say "that man's really tall!" and indeed "that man's really black" but not "that man's really fat!".

As I dont think any of them are OK.

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