The last in a series on body image and kids and life and stuff.
So after all that unpacking and introspection, what are we left with? What are we as parents supposed to do? We are reminded constantly of the obesity epidemic in this country, the causes of which are beyond any one individual’s control. But we want to prevent our kids from being victims. And knowledge is power, right? If their weights are creeping up the percentile chart, they need to know about it, right? What are we supposed to tell them to inoculate them from weight and body image misery?
It sounds astonishing, but it’s true. Stop talking about weight and diet and appearance AT ALL. A 2016 guideline from the American Academy of Pediatrics is clear on this point–your conversations with your kids in regards to their relationship with food and exercise and the body that they have? Should not be about their weights. Shockingly, even well-meaning attempts to comment on a child’s weight can increase their risk of both obesity AND disordered eating! I’d love it if schools stopped sending home those stupid weight report cards. They’ve never been shown to do any good. And definitely don’t tease about weight. Even if a lighthearted comment innocently comes from a place of love? It very well may echo through a kid’s life until they are writing about Special K commercials when they are 40.
Talk about what your kids’ bodies ARE able to do, what they’d like them to be able to do, and make a plan to get there. Not a plan to get to a certain size or a certain appearance. Eat nourishing meals as a family. Short of a true medical indication, don’t prescribe separate diets for separate people in the house. Everyone should share in the rewards of nutritional sanity. Fill your house with a healthy media environment. Include images of people of all sorts succeeding at life.
And physician, heal thyself. Speak kindly of your own body. Think kindly of your own body. Nourish your body. Move around in ways that bring you joy rather than punish you. Work on your anxiety. Go to therapy. Buy cute clothes for the size that you are. Dare to look at an image of a fat person as something other than a before. Fight the patriarchy.
And what if, despite all of your best efforts, you find yourself in the car with your nine year old, who is bewailing the misery of her fat body and subsequent worthlessness? It stinks. It stinks that you can’t shield these precious beings from the slings and arrows of reality. It is hard to quell the natural fight or flight reaction to such a situation. I wanted both to run away in order to protect myself. I also wanted to literally stomp those words out of existence with all the rage my maternal instinct could muster.
Here’s what I’ve learned is the right thing to do. I had it about half right that evening. I’ll be even better the next time, because there surely will be a next time. You sit with them as they work through this spasm of grief. You act as a sink for their pain, letting it drain away so that their scars may not run deep. You don’t try to correct their assertions, no matter how ugly or ridiculous they are. Correcting them would make the child wrong, in addition to whatever insults they are already piling on themselves. Sit there and let them work through it. It will kill you a little bit. It will make them a little bit stronger. A.K.A., being a parent.
Afterward, you double your resolve to fight the patriarchy in your little world. You share your thoughts with others to remind us all that most experiences are universal, and that shame withers in the light of day.
And finally, you find a better word. It really stinks that seemingly every word for “fat” is, well, heavy with negative connotations. Fat, obese, chunky, plump, rubenesque, stout, heavy. They all practically reek of judgment. I’m not nearly mentally strong enough to shoulder any of these adjectives, let alone blithely suggest them to my daughter.
Guess who gave me a better word? My poor mother who trudged through these entries even though it was hard. We officially call dibs on Zaftig. Please don’t tell me that it has any bad connotations, because as of now, I’m a little bit enamored.