True story: down the street from us live a couple with two very lovely daughters. The girls' names really do start with A and B, so I’ll call them Girl A and Girl B.
The Dad is in great shape and not overweight in the slightest, but the Mom…oh my. She is a good 100 lbs overweight and maybe even more.
It comes down to the food they eat. Standing out in front of their house last summer, Mom came out and asked the kids if they wanted strawberries. Strawberries! Yummy!
She brought out a plate of strawberries that were coated in caramel and then dipped in chocolate and she served them with marshmallows on the side.
Good fucking god. Way to ruin a perfectly healthy snack.
Unfortunately, Girl A, who is 12 years old, is fat. It’s very sad, because she is just a beautiful girl, but her beauty is increasingly being erased by her fatness. Girl B is now starting to pack on the pounds, too. By the time they are teenagers, both those girls will be decidedly obese.
Girl A wears ladies clothing in size 10-12 now. She very kindly brought down a bag of size 6-8 ladies clothing that she had grown out of for my daughter to wear – lots of hoodies and yoga pants. But there's a snag: my daughter is still wearing children’s size 8, and there is no way she can wear Girl A’s clothing without duct tape and shoe laces tying it all on her.
But guess who can? ...
I didn’t think through what happened next, and I deeply regret it.
When Girl A came over and saw that not only was I wearing her too small clothes, but they were actually fairly roomy on me, she was devastated. Her face crumpled. It was really terrible.
I hurt her, most unintentionally – but more importantly, being fat is hurting her.
There is an entire social movement called Fat Acceptance that is trying to carve out space in the culture for fat bodies to be loved and admired, and for those bodies that just ARE fat, that’s a laudable goal.
But the insidious underside of Fat Acceptance is teaching girls (and boys, but to a lesser extent), that’s OK to be fat, all the while ignoring the fact that their hearts are breaking metaphorically when they look at their own bodies, and even physically in the long run.
Fat Acceptance teaches that feeling bad about being fat is a cultural problem, not an instinctive one. That the concept of an attractive body is entirely socially constructed, and that there are no biological imperatives that shape which bodies we find attractive and which ones we don’t.
It’s very akin to the idea that gender is socially constructed.
And both those notions are dead wrong. Both of those ideas steer young people, who are the most impressionable, down paths that lead to self-loathing and profound unhappiness.
Men have a very strong biologically based preference for a high hip to waist ratio in women. Even men born blind prefer a high ratio!
Women on the other hand have a very strong preference for men with strong facial bone structure and broad shoulders, especially when they are most fertile.
There is nothing socially constructed about those preferences! They just are.
And even very young women like Girl A know, deep down, that they are unattractive to ever increasing numbers of men and it just kills them.
There is nothing I can do to help Girl A, except never wear her clothes again, and you can be damn sure I never will.
But I can help my own children by teaching them how to eat. All the exercise in the world won’t help if you don’t know how to eat properly, and one of my principal jobs as a mother is to make sure my children are healthy.
Another true story: my parents-in-law are in town for several weeks, and last night, my MIL decided to serve the kids a really fun meal she had learned about from watching a television show. Now, in all fairness to my MIL, she thought the kids would really love it, and she is trying to reach out to me by serving what she considers really trashy food more in line with my social class.
Yes, she’s a giant fucking snob. That’s a whole other story.
Her heart was in the right place.
Okay, so she grated some cheese, chopped up some lettuce, fried some beef with packaged taco seasoning, opened a can of refried beans and a container of store bought guacamole and then gave the kids each a bag of crushed Doritos to use as some sort of base to load up with all the toppings. The idea is that you eat your “taco” (or whatever), directly out of the bag and hey, no dishes!
My kids were completely horrified! They’re polite enough not to say anything to Grandma’s face, but they looked at me in astonishment. My son, hilariously, pointed out the calories and salt and sugar count on the side of the package. Grandma was seriously annoyed.
Yes, I have taught my children how to read nutritional labels. I get them to compare the amount of sugar and salt in any given item to the total calorie count. A 28 g serving of Captain Crunch cereal has 18 g of sugar! It’s more than 50% sugar! That is why we don’t buy it.
And I have taught them to steer away from high-fructose corn syrup. They will read the labels on food products and see if it’s made with real sugar, because they know there isn’t much point in asking for foods loaded with HFCS.
Check out the Jezebel reaction to this mom who put her overweight seven year old on a diet and was subjected to heaps of scorn and even accusations of child abuse.
I can just imagine what they would have to say to my approach to kids and food.
You know, generally, I don’t have any rules or restrictions surrounding food. Don’t like dinner? Find something else to eat. I only have one rule: don’t have shit food in your house and your kids won’t eat it!
Listen to this mom whining and crying about how she is judged because her kid is fat. But she also admits that she keeps her house stocked with garbage.
At the end of the day, it is the responsibility of the ADULTS in the house to make sure their children are eating properly. But I guess when you pay someone else to take on the majority of the responsibility for raising the children you chose to have, it’s pretty easy to just throw your hands up and decide your fat kid is someone else’s problem.
But you know whose problem it really is? The child’s.
The fat kid is the one who has to pay the price for the parents (mostly moms) failure to take ownership of her child’s plate, set some boundaries and refuse to cave in to whining and pleading.
The debate about obesity is often framed in terms of “health” and while it is undeniable that being overweight comes with a whole host of nasty physical side effects, the real pain, especially for children, is to walk through the world knowing you are unattractive. That you are ugly. That people find you repulsive. That every additional pound you gain means one less person who will ever desire you.
Kids aren’t stupid. They can see the hypocrisy of adults trying to tell them weight is about health, when really it’s about love. When you let your child become fat, you are telling them, in a very real way, that you don’t love them. And that you don’t care if anyone else loves them either.
That’s inexcusable. My children could very well end up fat adults, but that will not be because they didn’t learn how to eat properly. It won’t be because I acted like being fat was cute. It won’t be because I taught them it’s all right to be fat. And it won’t be because I let them get fat when they were children and they don’t know any different.
If my kids are fat adults, it will be because they have made the choice to be. And fat is a choice. That’s the part of fat that needs acceptance.
If you don’t like being fat, it’s really very simple: make different choices.
It’s your body. And your choice. Eventually, your children will make their own choices, but for now, their bodies depend on your choices too.
Make good ones.