At tutoring yesterday, my student was telling me about being bullied in class.
"Who's bullying you, buddy?" I asked him.
"The fat girl!" he replied.
As soon as the words left his lips, I covered his paper with my hands. I needed him to focus on my words because this next lesson was WAY more important than any math problem.
I explained to him that it's NEVER okay to comment on ANYONE'S body in a negative way. Even if that person is being a bully.
I told him that he could respond, "I don't like the way you're talking to me!" or "That's not nice!" but that he may NEVER, EVER call anyone fat.
Or too skinny. Or too tall, too short, etc... too DIFFERENT.
This is an important lesson for him because HE is different than most of his peers. His family is Indian and Islamic. Certainly, he does and will continue to encounter peers who don't understand his culture. People can be cruel. And that's not okay. But I needed to show him that he can do BETTER!
I asked him if he would ever call me the fat lady.
"No, because I respect you!" he insisted.
"That's good! And you need to show everyone that same respect, even if they aren't being respectful toward you. Because if you do call people names or comment on their appearance, it just makes you a bully too!" I explained.
"But what about when it's true?" he asked.
And I told him that it doesn't matter. I told him how words like that can really be hurtful. I was honest about my own experiences being called fat as a child and how that language cut me like a knife. I told him I can STILL remember who said those things to me and how much it hurt, even though I'm an adult. We talked about how that words like that make people hate their bodies and themselves, and we want to be people who BUILD others up instead of putting them down.
We talked about eating disorders and other consequences of the negative self-image that comes with hearing this negative talk about our bodies. We talked about how much it would hurt him if someone said those things about his mom or sisters.
I really think he heard me.
And I hope my words resonate with him for years to come.