The Serious Business of Fat-Shaming Babies

The furor over the “I Hate My Thighs” baby onesie may seem absurd, but very real, and serious, weight issues are projected on to children early.

The Internet outrage machine has fixated its unblinking eye on baby onesies that say, “I Hate My Thighs.” Ms. Magazine senior editor Michelle Kort raised the alarm in a blog post, acknowledging that the onesies were clearly a joke “But really, there's something icky about projecting fat awareness on babies."

The manufacturer Wry Baby initially pulled the onesie off their site, but then changed their mind. They added the “I Hate My Thighs” onesie back, but added one that also said, “Love Me For My Legrolls.”

Team Wry Baby then threw down the gauntlet in the comments section of the Ms. Blog post, inviting everyone to weigh in with their wallet. “I Hate My Thighs” and “Love Me For My Legrolls” would both be available for purchase—whichever one sold less would be deleted from the site.

Wallet or not, everyone is weighing in. Critics say the onesie promotes body shaming. Critics of the critics say everyone needs to relax. The Today show did a segment—Matt Lauer was shocked people were offended.

My initial reaction was, how ridiculous, it’s a joke. Can’t anyone take a joke anymore? Get off my lawn.

And then, like a bolt of lightening from a feminist god, I remembered a childhood anecdote. Apparently, when I was 2 years old, my aunt looked at my chubby baby body and told my mom, “Oh, Kathy, how tragic. She has your thighs.”

Mom freaked out and then the joke became how overly sensitive she was. But she came by it honestly. Mom was the designated “fat girl” in her family. Looking at photos, she was completely healthy, but my aunts were wiry and thin.

Grandma tried to whittle Mom’s body into theirs, for her own good, because being skinny is somehow a virtue. She’d line them up, and point out my mom’s pudge vs my aunt’s bony hips.

When Mom walked into a room, her brother would singsong “Fatty, Fatty, two-by-four, can’t fit through the kitchen door,” and that was fine because maybe it would encourage her to lose weight.

When I was 5, I told Mom that I thought the softness around my belly was cute. She burst into hysterical tears in horror. We started dieting together, exercising together. Every time I wanted a cookie, I had to ride my bike to earn it.

Whenever I wore a bathing suit, she’d examine me and declare that my thighs were my problem area, just like her and I could defeat them if I worked hard enough. I would be better, she said, if I could just eat less and exercise more.

It’s still a whisper in the back of my mind when I look in the mirror. I have other, more rational thoughts that are louder and stronger—I am healthy and strong and I’m not ruining my day or my life over some flub, but that whisper is oddly pervasive.

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It feels like ancient wisdom, a truth passed down from generation to generation, from my mother’s mother to her to me, an inheritance that cannot be dismissed by my flimsy, learned empowerment.

My experience is not unusual. Eighty-one percent of 10-year-olds are worried about being fat. Fifty percent of teenage girls report that they try to control their weight with unhealthy behavior like fasting or purging or laxative abuse. On average, women spend 31 years of their lives on a diet.

Which brings me back to that baby onesie. All roads lead to the baby onesie. It is, in and of itself, a totally benign thing. It’s a joke! It’s cute! It brings to mind adorable chubby baby thighs and that is always a good thing!

But it exists in a world where we are taught that women’s bodies are open to review. Perhaps no one would ever be terrible enough to judge a baby’s body, but that body will be criticized viciously later in life.

If the outrage over this onesie was just a reaction to the onesie, yes, it would be outsized and overly sensitive, self-righteous and overly serious. But as an outcry against a tradition that encourages “self-improvement” through self-hatred, it is a fine response.

Little girls should hear a thousand shrieking Internet nags insisting that no one has a right to judge their thighs, not even as a joke. They should hear it over and over, until it becomes something engrained, until it feels like a truth passed down like ancient wisdom.

By the way, the “I Hate My Thighs” onesie is no longer available. In the great onesie death match, “Love Me For My Legrolls” emerged victorious.