I recently saw this Buff Baby dumbbell at Cracker Barrel. I was shocked at the blatant fatphobia and the impact this “joke gift” could have on young minds, and on anyone for whom body image is a struggle.
Essentially, this Buff Baby product is a dumbbell encouraging literal babies to work out. They feature a cute chubby baby as the logo design; implying that babies being chubby (as they SHOULD be) is inherently wrong.The takeaway is that babies are supposed to have a workout routine and be thin. Yes, apparently babies should be lifting weights.
While Buff Baby is supposed to be a gag , Fred and Cracker Barrel are treading into some murky, dangerous waters.If a consumer goes to buy this product for their baby, what is that parent saying as far as exercise culture goes? Diet culture? The media already makes young people hate the skin they are in, and sets unrealistic body standards for the average person. Now we’re shaming the sweet, healthy fecundity of infants? Where does this obsession with thinness and condemnation of fat end? Because, clearly, products like this are a part of where it starts.
Instead of shaping young minds to be addicted to dieting and working out to fit into the “perfect” body box, there are better ways to talk to children about their bodies. Last fall, Bold Editor-in-Chief Janet Conroy-Quirk interviewed Award-Winning Speaker and Educator, Dana Suchow in an article where she clearly discusses how to engage with young people about their bodies: “While our reaction may be to say, ‘You’re not fat. You’re beautiful!’, it shuts the conversation down”, Dana explains. Instead, she advises, we can try “… listening and asking questions about where the child has learned that a plus body is ‘bad.’ Or that eczema or acne, or being tall is ‘bad.’ This opens up so much.”
When children bring their body worries to us, Dana recommends asking permission to tell an age-appropriate story of one’s own to reassure the child that they’re not alone, and that everybody has insecurities. She adds that communication also helps in processing media, a huge factor in body image.
“Go through [social media sites] with a child and ask, ‘How does that make you feel?’ Try to find positivity.” For example, if a child likes makeup as an interest, research an influencer who does makeup tutorials in a body positive way.
This approach correlates to another point of Dana’s, about diversity in media. She explained that tolerance of size diversity (and diversity in general) has a lot to do with what we see.
“If we’re not exposed to what the world looks like other than what’s around us, it feels hard to accept.”
And what to do about bullying?
Dana offers, “What would you need to hear at that age? Would you need a hug?”
“Words hurt because we believe them”, Dana explains. “If someone said, “You have four arms!”, it wouldn’t hurt because it’s ridiculous. But the words “fat”, “ugly”, “bad” touch on parts of us that might think that.”
Dana emphasizes that a focus on empowerment helps combat bullying, stating, “You can’t fix it, but you can be there.”
It is important to recognize that Buff Baby, and products like it, are not intentionally trying to be harmful. But that’s the problem. We’ve decided as a society that the pursuit of thinness (and avoidance of fat) outweigh common sense and healthy discourse. The stakes are too high. This is not revolutionary or extreme. We must be mindful of the way we talk to our children. Words shape their young, innocent, insecure minds. In order to teach self love, we have to do the work and have these conversations early on, like Suchow suggests.
It feels strange to even write this piece, and also scary. It’s strange because it’s never comfortable to be the one to point out that a popular joke is toxic and offensive. And scary because there’s so much support around the mentality behind the joke. Products like Buff Baby are harmful. They have no place in a child’s life.
So maybe purchase that stuffed bunny you’ve had your eye on instead.