As a mother of girls, this is a subject that’s been on my mind for a long time. So I’m really pleased to be working with Chase on this sponsored post on the topic of body issues, since they’re strong supporters of the National Eating Disorders Association. I urge you to check out their website.
It was the 8:30 morning rush in my Brooklyn building, and we all crammed into our tiny elevator headed out for the day–the Wall Street guy heading to the 2 train, the woman in dark glasses walking the dog, two moms taking backpack-laden kids to school, and me and my girls.
“Good thing I’m skinny!” my six year-old joked loudly as we squeezed our way in. And I laughed. She is me. I’ve said things like “Good thing I didn’t have thirds on pancakes this morning!” in similar situations.
“Anyway,” she added, “you can’t be fat if you’re in ballet.”
The elevator got awkwardly quiet.
Eyebrows were raised, mental notes were taken, the Brooklyn parenting message boards were surely alerted by instant messenger.
I prayed for the pug to fart, just to break the tension.
“Uh, honey…”I said at a volume directed at the others in the elevator as much as toward Thalia, “we’re gonna have to discuss that one later.”
Knowing smiles. Sympathetic smiles. Embarrassed smiles. (That last one, mine.)
I asked Thalia as we headed toward the end of our block toward school where she heard that ballet dancers have to be skinny. She just shrugged and changed the subject.
(Note to self: Find way to interrogate group of first-graders next Thursday, 4PM. They’re the ones in the blue leotards.)
Is there a parent among us who doesn’t worry about this stuff? I am terrified about having one of those little girls you hear about through gossip or Jezebel posts on slow news days–the skinny 7 year old on a diet. The overweight seven year-old on a diet. I don’t want an eight year-old saving up for a nose job or a 9 year-old who complains about “her thighs.” I’ve read stories from friends, recovering from eating disorders just how early the awareness and the pain started within them.
I want my girls to feel good about themselves and who they are, however they look.
But if I’m truly honest, I don’t want them to be fat. There’s the health reasons, of course, but there are the social issues as well.
I grew up a skinny girl, best friends with a heavy girl. I remember the looks she got from strangers as early as third grade. The teasing comments. The whispers and the mocking. I’m sure in part we remained friends because I never shamed her–never really talked to her about her weight. That was her problem, not mine. And I loved her for who she was.
As for me, I was always thin. I suppose I was fortunate in that way; weight was never something I really thought about, at least until my freshman year in college when I realized I could no longer survive on Twix bars for lunch and Absolut shots for dinner without physical consequences. I think to some degree we lock onto some earlier version of ourselves, freezing it in time. So even today, there are times I feel like a size 2 trapped in a not-so-size-2 body. While I’m late to the game on this one compared with most, I see how weight can affect my moods, my self-worth.
And of course, it’s all conflated by the incredible national discussion around childhood obesity. Which is a good thing. However the lessons that stick I think are not about health. I think what kids are learning, earlier and earlier, at the most basic level, is that fat = bad.
So then does skinny at any expense = good?
That’s where I get worried.
For some reason I have no trouble talking to my daughters about race. About body parts, what to call them, and who does and does not get to touch them. About evolution. About baby-making. About religious differences and politics. About who to talk to on the street if you feel unsafe. Even about how fat people should not be judged for how they look. But when it comes to their own bodies as it relates to health and self-esteem, I sometimes feel at a loss.
I do know what not to say: I avoid saying, “oof, I’m feeling fat” in front of them. I never complain about my weight or the size of my butt (even on bad butt days, which is kind of like a bad hair day only you can’t hide it with a hat). And I’m careful how I respond when they talk about “Daddy’s fat belly”–a line they’re simply repeating from him.
So how do I talk about it with them?
How do you talk about bodies with your children?
And how do we keep a nation concerned with our children’s health from becoming a nation that encourages second graders to count the calories in their ice cream cones at the park?