April 28, 2012

Weight and Daughters

I'm distressed because this evening Elizabeth mentioned that she hoped she wasn't going to gain any weight. Context: she outgrew all her pajamas and pants all of a sudden, and she's been extra hungry, so I mentioned that she must be having a growth spurt. She wanted to know what that was, so I told her that children often seem to grow all of a sudden, in bursts. That's when she said she hoped she wouldn't gain any weight.

You are going to have to take my word for it that I don't say negative or positive things about weight where she can hear me. I don't lament the way I look in my clothes. I don't mention gaining or losing weight. I don't verbally admire thin people. I don't call certain pants my "fat pants," or wonder aloud if I look fat/thin in what I'm wearing. I don't talk about foods being fattening, or having a lot of calories, or having fewer calories. I use the word "healthy" to describe health states ("I'm so glad we're all healthy again after that long winter of strep!"), not as a synonym/euphemism for eating less food, eating lower-calorie food, losing weight, or being thin. I don't mention diets, or restricting eating for purposes of weight loss/not-gain, or not eating something because "I shouldn't" or because "it'd go right to my hips." I don't have friends or relatives who come over and do these things. She watches PBS---no teen-girl-type shows.

I exist as a plump person. I don't mention being a plump person, or anything about being a plump person, or anything about what size I am or what size I'd prefer to be. EVER. It's not that I say it only to Paul or to a friend when I hope we're not being overheard, and then perhaps if this were a book we could illustrate this statement with a little sketch of the impressionable young girl listening unnoticed at a doorway; no, I am telling you that I NEVER MENTION IT AT ALL IN ANY CONTEXT WHEN I AM WITHIN A MILE OF HER.

Nevertheless, she is six years old, and she is so far below the average weight for her height that the pediatrician mentions it at each visit, and she doesn't want to gain weight. She's mentioned this a few times recently, but I've ignored it because I didn't want to draw a lot of attention to it---or more truthfully, because I didn't know what to say. This time I asked soooooo casually if the other girls at school talk about gaining weight. She said no. I asked if anyone else had mentioned it. She said no. I asked why she said she didn't want to gain weight, and she laughed nervously and said, well, she meant she didn't want to gain TOO MUCH weight.

I didn't pursue it any further. There isn't any point. It's not as if it's possible to rear a daughter who doesn't understand that this society expects her to be thin. I'd been hoping, though, for a longer time before she understood it.


StephLove said...

Ouch. I say that as a plump person with a tiny 6-year-old daughter who is highly alert to social expectations.

At the same time the writer is me is admiring the power and cadence of your final sentence.

HereWeGoAJen said...

This is something I am so worried about. I am not someone who worries about my weight. But I've already had to yell at my mom and my sister for complaining about being fat right in front of Elizabeth. And when I told my mom not to talk about being fat in front of Elizabeth, she just reworded her statement not to include the word fat. I just feel like no matter how well I do at being a good body image role model, I just can't win with it coming from everywhere else. AAAAHHH!

leenie said...

oh god. yes, this would totally TOTALLY freak me out. i say this as a 29 year old with no kids, who has grown so so thankful over the years that i had a mother who never ever ever talked weight or size or fat or calories. i didn't even really know that stuff existed until i was like 16 or 17. it's crazy, and i don't think any kid has a chance at that these days.

i think you're doing all you can-- asking questions about her feelings about it, while also not putting a good/bad construct around it. good luck!

Lauren @ Hobo Mama said...

Aw. I can see where that's a sad and losing battle — though, maybe, just maybe, your own self-confidence and self-acceptance will win in the end. I worry about this with my son as well, who's 4 and adorably pudgy. I know eventually, he'll realize other people don't think it's adorable, and that makes me sad.

kate said...

Oh this kills me. I feel like it's inevitable, no matter what I do.

Christina said...

This drives me bonkers and partially why I hope to have a son before tackling huge things like this with a daughter.
My cousin is 14 and the tiniest little stick you could imagine and she is aware of calories and mindful of them when eating.
My 5 year old god daughter called me "fat" during her last visit. I wear like a size 8-10.

Not a fan of how society is raising girls to think their bodies SHOULD be.

Mrs. Irritation said...

Gah, already at 6? Is it inevitable? This fills me with worry and despair.

Shoeaddict said...

This scares THE SHIT outta me.

Amy said...

Devastating. Also feeling your power as a writer. I've been reading your blog for years, enjoying the various pleasures of it, but that final paragraph drew tears. I also have a daughter.


Dana said...

I have so many things to say in support of your concerns and the overall topic, I don't even know where to start. Body and weight consciousness is starting earlier and earlier and becoming more pervasive than we can imagine.

As @Lauren said - I worry about girls and boys at this point because the same pressures that have been around for girls for eons are now at the forefront for boys and they too are (often) suffering in silence.

And as @HereWeGoAJen said - they hear it in so many places it's hard to combat it especially because kids are so insightful and can see how people respond to those who are "pretty" and "thin" and...

I'm going to be writing a lot about this over at Words to Sweat by in the coming months because it plagues me. Part of my efforts will be an ongoing blog series called "Faces of Itness" so that people of all ages can see that having "it" and being healthy and beautiful can be defined in SO many ways.

Rebecca is fabulous said...

I am totally there. We strive to emphasize healthy over skinny, but as a plus size woman with a skinny six year old, i wonder if our is all in vain when my daughter passes up dessert because she is afraid the sugar will make her fat. We talk about how people of every size are beautiful, and emphasize her brains and kindness and personality as much as her beauty....but will we win over the media assaults at every turn?

This was so poignant. Thanks for sharing this.

Bibliomama said...

Eve was about the same age when she came out with something similar. And I'm similarly careful about not saying anything about my weight when she's around (I try not to talk about it much at all - it is what it is, and talking about it doesn't really accomplish anything anyway). My daughter isn't skinny, or fat - I think she's perfect, and at this point she seems to think so too, but I know it won't last. My mother wasn't as careful about not giving me body image issues, so at least we're doing that.

alice said...

Oooh, man. That sucks. Especially with all of the 'fight childhood obesity' claptrap going on, I'm not surprised at 6-year olds getting this message, but it's deeply depressing nonetheless.

I'm heartened by the work that I see people doing with Health At Every Size, pointing out that beauty and health aren't restricted to a particular number, etc., but it can feel like a Sisyphean task given our culture.

But I know that I still remember the (very few) people who spoke up against diet culture when I was a kid. Staying away from the bad stuff (diet talk, weight-related shame, etc.) is definitely good, but I think that repeating the counter-messages will eventually have some impact. But seeing how society's sickness around this impacts your kid will always be awful.

Cayt said...

We pick up messages from society around us, no matter how careful our caregivers are. I don't even remember how old I was when I understood that girls were meant to be tiny and thin and dainty. I would avoid telling my mother that my shoes were too small because having little feet was a way of being dainty and small. I was well established in disordered eating by the age of ten. As someone who's suffered disordered eating and come out the other side, I don't know what to tell you. Do you talk about food as fuel? Like the fact that people who don't get enough to eat don't have enough energy to think or play or do well in school? I don't know. I'm not sure there is much that you can be doing differently. I wonder if maybe someone's made a comment about how skinny she is and that's got her thinking about weight, or if it's linked to the idea of getting bigger/older in general, perhaps. Whatever the catalyst is, we live in a messed up society that's telling us messed up things, and it's impossible to avoid absorbing some of them.

vanessa said...

ugh, that's awful. we are such a fucked up society around weight.

It souinds like you are doing everything right, but you seem like the kind of person who likes to read things, and therefore I strongly suggest grabbing a copy of Ellyn Slatter's Secrets to Feeding a Healthy Family. It's really fantastic. Also check out the Fat Nutritionist. And maybe make an effort to find fat role models?

(seriously, though. That sucks. I sort of want to hug Elizabeth now).

Jody said...

I'm sorry. My daughter started talking about how "her thighs got fat when she sat down" at about that age. It's probably a developmental stage of increased awareness of the surrounding world and its values.

I am gingerly going to make a comparison with racism, which is to say, you don't have to hear racist comments or see racism in action to know the racist assumptions of this society. And if the good choice is to talk about racism, even when kids don't bring it up, maybe the good choice for fat-discrimination is to talk about it a lot more than we do, too.

I like having neither of those conversations. "Did you ever notice that 99% of the real and animated girls on your TV shows are super-thin? What do you think about that?" Gah.

LiciaLee said...

I'm currently reading "Cinderella Ate my Daughter" (excellent book) and one of the statistics she listed was that half of 3-5 year olds worry about their weight. I was FLOORED. I have a 21 month old daughter. But how on earth do 3-5 year olds worry about gaining weight??? I wish I had some helpful advice, but I really don't. Good luck.

Sarah said...

It's a well established fact among those who know me that my thighs are always the spot where fat accumulates if I put on weight, and the spot I most loathe seeing in a bathing suit. I try to keep my own issues my own, and I also try not talk about food except in terms of fuel for one's body, i.e. "Let's eat some eggs with our donut so we don't have a sugar crash- we need some protein too." But not, "We can't just eat donuts or we'll get fat!" Yet I already heard Addy talking to herself in the bath the other day, noticing how her legs "squish out" when she sits down and "get fat." And maybe it meant nothing, and she was just innocently observing. But it gave me a pang, thinking I have somehow already passed on my fat leg stress to her!

the Joneses said...

Wonderful post.

As a mom of a plump boy (my 9 yo son is the same body type of all those "dumb fat kids" on TV), I've tried extra-hard to avoid that type of conversation. What you've written on the subject over the past few years have been very instrumental in helping me, formerly an effortlessly-thin person, now a plump person, to realize how wrong the thin = beautiful mindset is. Here's hoping we can communicate this to our kids.

-- SJ

Karen L said...

I hadn't thought of it that way, but Jody's totally right. We have to fight fat hatred actively rather than trying to be weight-blind.

I made this comment over at Mom-101's post, Our bodies, our daughters, ourselves:

Like another commenter, I don’t know how to handle the comments about appearance and eating. I think I need to drop the politeness.

It seems like 4 out of 5 people who are trying to break the ice with my almost 3-y.o. daughter will make 3 comments about her appearance (including attire). This has been happening since she looked old enough to speak in response. This simply doesn’t happen to my son. The most maddening thing is that this also happens with her grandparents (my MIL and FIL) who each see her twice a week. And whenever we are eating together, they watch every single bite she takes. but not my son. And they comment repeatedly during and after the meal about whether she’s eating/eaten the correct amount of the correct type of food. but not my son. And they wonder why she refuses to eat.

And when we have gatherings at their house, every woman in that generation will comment on my weight. in front of the kids. And my weight is incredibly unremarkable. I wear a size 12. Save pregnancy, I’ve been the same weight +/- 5 lb for the 15 years they’ve known me. And yet they have *nothing else* to say to me? There is nothing about me that is more interesting than my size? And there is nothing more interesting about my daughter than how she looks?

*gritted teeth* *fighting urge to punch someone*

Veronica M. D. said...

Oh dear. This is definitely scary and disheartening, to know that a mother has "done it right" and her daughter is still thinking these things. It's horrible. My oldest is only (almost) two, and it irks me when there are words we have specifically never said in front of her and her grandparents say the word once, and, would you look at that! Now she says it all the time. It's horrible to think life is going to be like that. She will hear something once, and BAM, it's there forever.

I would say good luck, but it appears you have it under control and a few conversations might settle both your minds in terms of her feelings about her weight.

Nicole said...

We were going on vacation to Hawaii. A few weeks before I was adjusting my super skinny 7 year old son's pants, and I said something about him being skinny. He said "That's good, right? I want to be skinny for the beach. Right, Mom?" The worst thing is, he probably heard me say that, about myself.

I've had to make some massive changes about the things I say about my own body. I am complacent because I have sons, but it's so important for me to still remember that they are impressionable about body image too. A hard lesson.

Swistle said...

And, it occurs to me, many of our sons will date and marry women. The way we talk about such things can influence what they think is right for them to consider important in their future girlfriends/wives.

Anonymous said...

I think the comparisons to racism are right on. I grew up with a mother who NEVER talked about her own weight (and I truly believe she never talked about it at all, not that she just didn't talk about it with us kids), stressed the importance of being healthy, NEVER in a million years implied that I weighed too much or too little, praised me for my intelligence and kindness while still telling me I was beautiful. I remember learning about calories in 10th grade - I had no idea what they were before! She did everything right. But I knew she struggled with her weight (how did I know? I'm not sure. Maybe just because of the fact that we NEVER talked about it, and she was quite overweight), and I never ever heard my father call her beautiful. So weight was the elephant in the room. I was a skinny kid, a normal adolescent, and still ended up with an eating disorder. Of course, there was a lot more going on, and who knows if it would have been different if we talked openly about weight and society's issues with it, but I don't think that would have hurt.

To say that dealing with this issue with my daughter terrifies me is an understatement. I will say that although I am obese now, I still think I'm beautiful and a good person, I know my mom played/plays a big part in that.

I guess I just can't accept that it's so hopeless. It's too much for me. So I have to hope that even if my daughter will understand society's expectations sooner rather than later, I also hope she understands why they're wrong. Or At Least, understands that our family and friends think the expectations are wrong.

Misty said...

My son started saying such things at about that age. Know where it was coming from? His first grade teacher constantly talking about her weight and dieting, etc. There was a time where I had to argue with him about eating and reason with him that simply eating dinner wouldn't make him fat.

I didn't expect to have to deal with such things with a boy-child or at such an early age, but there you have it.

Sometimes the world is beautiful and sometimes it royally sucks.

Jenny said...

My parents recently adopted two kids, ages 10 and 11, kids who have been in our lives since they were babies. My mom has struggled her whole life with her weight (and gave me real issues with mine, but that's another story). For quite a while she was constantly on my new sister's case about her weight: only have half a sandwich; don't eat those chips; no, you're not fat, but you don't want to get fat; your brother (who is thin) can have ice cream but you can't. I told Mom outright to stop it, but she wouldn't. Quoted the doctor as saying that "if she did gain weight she might be over the norm."

Then my sister got sick with a rare illness and lost quite a bit of weight. And my mom started trying to encourage her to eat. And was surprised that she wouldn't, and "didn't want to gain weight." My mom seemed genuinely surprised and alarmed. Gee, where did she get that from. I literally cried with frustration.

Sorry, that was a vent. I am doing the best I can with my daughter (and my son), but it comes from everywhere, everywhere, everywhere.

Tracey - Just Another Mommy Blog said...

I don't really know what to say when my daughter mentions her weight. She's tall and average weight for her height, but she has let it slip once or twice that she doesn't want a "fat belly". I TRY to be nonchalant about weight, and reinforce that it's her HEALTH that matters, not her size. She is, at age 6, willing to agree with me. But I know that one day, someone will say something that will stick and she will wonder; Am I fat?

Slim said...

Talk about. Everyone, PLEASE, talk about it. It's not going to fix anything to set an example of someone who doesn't equate weight with health or food and exercise habits of virtue. You really need to unpack it so kids can see what total bullshit the ZOMG Teh Obesity Epidemic is. Weight, race, gender, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status -- it's all out there, and your kid is going to absorb it.

Kids definitely pick up messages you don't want them to get and can't trace. My middle child once, because he was angry with me, tried to hurt my feelings by saying, "You're fat, Mom." My oldest said, "No, she's not" (I wasn't thrilled about that, because I am, at least by some definitions, and so what?), and then said, "But anyway, even if she is, that's not important. There's nothing bad about being fat or good about being thin."

I can guarantee the oldest learned it from me, because he isn't going to hear that most places.

Talk about it. Argue against the stereotypes if they don't match your values.

/rant over (for now)

G said...

My daughter started saying similar things about that age and it came from the anti-obesity campaign they were running in the school.

At the time, we were desperately trying to increase her calorie intake because she had stopped growing and -- at age 6 -- was the size of an average 4 year old.

So, I talk about it. I talk a lot about what "moderation" means and that "too much" and "too little" of any type of food or exercise is different for every person. And at one point, her doctor laughed and told her that she could double her weight and still not be "fat".

Jen in MI said...

Ah, yes. My daughter mentioned something about having "big thighs" when she was about that age. Then things stopped for a while. Recently I had her at the Dr. (she is now 10) and she had lost weight since her last visit. Later we talked and she said "I thought that less weight was better." She initially denied that anyone talks about it at school, but later she did tell me that people do.
I worry a lot about this, having been very anorexic myself. We talked about health and needing fuel for our bodies and her Dr also talked to her a little. She is also in Girls on the Run and they talked about healthy eating. She seems to have gotten it for now. She is very active and knows her body needs energy. It's so hard, though.

clueless but hopeful mama said...

Oh this makes my heart hurt.

Your girl, my girls, OUR girls, deserve to love and appreciate their bodies and it seems like an impossible task in our society today.

I have yet to hear these comments from my 6 year old, but I'm sure they are coming at some point. We've talked a little bit, mostly when it comes up in books or movies, how we overvalue stereotypical superficial beauty. She seems open and unconcerned.

But next year she starts public school. Where all my fear lie.

Could I protect her by homeschooling her? Keeping her on a short leash and screening her friends? I don't think so, but it does cross my mind as tempting when I think about these things.

Dr. Maureen said...

This just makes me want to cry. I don't even know what to say.

Joanne said...

My oldest daughter is four and she is still young enough, or naive enough or whatever that she makes me feel her 'full belly' after she's eaten. We always say 'mmmmm! You feel full, good eating!' or something like that, like GO BELLY!

I have two younger than she and I am glad to read this post and I am glad to know that no matter how vigilant you are, rotten old society can creep in. So I say fine, we know that society expects these girls to be thin, and that boys are supposed to expect girls to be thin, but we can also say that is complete and total bullshit. I always say to my kids that what you look like makes up like .00003 percent of who you are, and that's how much attention we'll pay to it. We have bigger fish to fry, I figure.

People are so, so crazy. My six month old is kind of a chubster, which I always appreciate in a baby. But I sometimes think about a friend of mine, who had a woman tell her that maybe she should get her infant daughter DIET FORMULA because she was so fat. She was a NEWBORN. There's no way of stopping such idiocy so I think we have to get in on the other side of it and recognize that it exists and that it's just not reality and has nothing to do with what people are.

Mary said...

I remember when my daughter was in second grade, and she asked me if she was "chunky." That is not a word I use, ever, and like you, I am careful not to discuss my weight around her. She couldn't tell me who taught her that word, but it just kills me that these tiny girls are already getting the message that they're not okay.

Tess said...

Aww, man. It IS tempting to feel hopeless on the matter. Still, though, I persevere with The Policy, because I really feel that while exposure is inevitable, it's UNIQUELY DAMAGING coming from parents. So.

Melissa R. said...

My parents made comments to me beginning around age 10 and I was NOT overweight in the slightest. It's sad that I can remember everything they've said to me that was weight-related. Luckily I've gotten over the damage that caused me.
I have 3 daughters (15, 19. 21) and made it a huge point to never discuss negative things about fat and our bodies. Perhaps I should have at least brought it up, I don't know. None of them talk negatively about themselves. My oldest gained about 30 lbs in college after being average weight for her height and I've never heard her talk badly about herself. My other 2 daughters are also average weight for their height as well. I try to model good behaviors. Do I think I did it right? Not all the time, no, but I know that at least I did this part of parenting a hell of a lot better than my parents.

Jen said...

As I was reading this I was thinking about how happy I was to have a boy and then you mentioned in the comments that my boy might eventually have girlfriends (actually, his best little friend at school is a girl right now).

This is just so so hard. Because as a young girl, I myself had issues with food even though I was teeny tiny. I'm not sure why either (other than the usual society blaming points of magazines, television, people's comments or behaviors toward my plump mom). Which is entirely not helpful, I know, but it seems like you are approaching it the right way.

Maggie said...

A year or so ago when my son was 8, he made several comments about how he was skinny and liked it and such. I was unpleasantly surprised. I don't talk about my weight because I grew up with a mother who was constantly on a diet, talking about her weight, unhappy with her weight etc - she still is to this day and she's 67. I've banned talk about that by her or my other relatives around my kids, but still this gets through in school or camp or sports or I have no idea where. It's depressing that this attitude about weight has seeped into the culture to such an extent that all kids seem to feel it at some level. I worry.

Jenny said...

I actually also worry about constantly telling our kids to be HEALTHY and it's your HEALTH that matters, not your weight. I might be oversensitive to this because my husband has Crohn's disease, but so much of our health is not under our control. What if you flunk the genetic lottery? Of course, I want my kids (and my husband) to be healthy, but I will love them and advocate for them and want them to have every right in society (including health care) and be loved and admired even if they are really unhealthy.

This is probably a tangent, sorry.

Swistle said...

Jenny- I feel the same way about it. That's what points out to me that in many contexts, "health" and "healthy" are used only as socially-acceptable euphemisms for thinness and weight loss.

Slim said...

Jenny -- I don't think it's a tangent. We take pains to talk about being as healthy as possible, but like many (most?) people, we have friends and family who have health issues, and it's not their fault (or not entirely their fault).

I don't think it's much different than talking about other situations in which people are where they are because of the dual forces of chance and action (IQ + applying yourself, athletic/musical/artistic abilities + practice, metabolism + activity & food preferences, and so on).

And then there's how much obligation you have to make an effort, regardless of the results.

I don't know, maybe it is different.

Anonymous said...

I'm a small person - always have been and probably always will be. My pediatrician also kept a close eye on it and people were always commenting about how! tiny! I was. The thing is, I liked it. Not being small *instead* of being large, but the fact that I felt like it was something special about me that people noticed. Not saying that made it healthy, and my parents certainly NEVER encouraged that sort of thinking but that's why I liked being small. Maybe Elizabeth feels a bit special when it gets mentioned? You could ask her pediatrician not to discuss stats in front of her so she isn't aware of how she measures up.

A different complicating factor in my family is that my husband struggles with his weight and will often make offhand self-deprecating comments about being fat. While I personally think it's ok to talk about feeding our bodies healthy foods and why we avoid too much junk food, I have yet to find a way to broach my discomfort around those comments with him.

And finally, we've been reading Berenstain Bears books lately and read the one about Too Much Junk Food (at daughter's request). In it, Papa Bear bends over and his pants rip. A couple days after we read it my daughter, who will be THREE in a couple of weeks, said to me that her "bottom was too big." It's terrifying how she took that story and automatically applied it to herself...

Karen P said...

Possibly she is aware of the very well-meaning campaign against childhood obesity (meant to be a health, not body image issue). There has been a lot of publicity about this and it may be discussed in the schools.

So maybe she just needs a guideline on what TOO MUCH means for someone her age and size.

Tina G said...

I agree with Slim. Open up- talk about different body types- talk about the societal expectations, talk about how the medical community is pusghing it so they WILL be hearing and seeing it eventually. Talk about what healthy eating is- and isn't. My daughter is 9 and is actually both 50% for height and weight and is just fine but she knows what she hears and she worries about all of it. I have to tell her that she is not fat and will not become fat from eating an ice cream cone because that is what messages are out there now. Sigh.

Lucy said...

Ugh. This is such a touchy, horrible subject to broach. I grew up with a mom who constantly verbally chastised me for my weight and hers. She had me on every fad diet that came out in the 80's and 90's. I therefore take the same approach you do in not talking about, using the word, "Healthy eating or healthy lifestyle", etc. I have a bit of the opposite problem with my 12 year old daughter. She is a big girl...not overweight...but a little chunky due to hormones and growing. She seems to have no concept at all about her fuller figure which I like to a point...yet I don't like that I can't seem to get her to make healthy choices without bringing it up and talking about it if that makes sense. I don't want her to think she's overweight by me bringing it up constantly and watching what she eats, yet she gravitates to junk food constantly and I worry about that. It is hard to walk the fine line with this. I feel constantly torn in this area. Good to know others are in the same boat!

Beth said...

When I was little-second or third grade (I am 30 now)-we had a sample of Carnation instant breakfast that had come from somewhere or another. It wasn't the type of thing we ever had in the house, so it wasn't familiar to me. My mom mixed it up for me and let me drink it, and I remember saying "I feel skinnier already" when I was done. I thought my mom was going to keel over on the spot. I don't have a single memory of my mom (very averaged sized and never, ever overweight) mentioning being fat or staying thin or anything like that, so even back then the idea had been planted in my mind somehow.

I really appreciate all of the comments on this thread. As my girls (3, 1, newborn) get older, I will be sure to talk about the value of all people regardless of size. So many good points.

Kami said...

My daughter is 6 and in Kindergarten, before school she knew nothing about weight, NOTHING. Now she has a girl ask her almost daily "how she stays so skinny"...totally pisses me off. My daughter has no clue how to even answer this, infact neither do I. My answer is God made us all differently?! No clue if that's the right thing, I just really wish this girl would stop. Not something I want to be an issue, ever.

Melissa R. said...

Interesting about the "healthy" comments--my dad said the same to me but I *knew* he didn't mean healthy, he meant skinny! It was just another way of telling me I was too heavy -- "but I want you to be HEALTHY!"--umm ok. got it.

And another "healthy" thought--my husband has done everything right health-wise, his entire life and at 55 was diagnosed with cancer. Everyone was astounded! Not him! He's the healthiest guy around (eats meticulously healthy, exercises, doesn't smoke, gets enough sleep, has hobbies that lower work stress...) so yeah...that was a rude awakening.

alexandra said...

It's impossible to predict what will or won't happen, but I will say this: BE CAREFUL.

I started thinking I was chubby at age 6. I wasn't one of those stick skinny kids, but I was slim~ definitely not chubby. I think one of the things that might have started and/or exacerbated it was that my 4-year-old brother would squeeze my thighs and call them chubby. So if you have other children, be mindful of interactions such as this. But all throughout my childhood, I remember making comments to my mom about how I wish I had thinner legs, etc. She never made a big deal of it (which I think is a better approach than getting all panicked in front of the kid), and just told me to learn to make the best of what I have, and that a lot of grown-ups think having a more womanly figure is more sexy than being stick-thin.

By age 8 or 9 I was scrutinizing my body in the mirror, I was skipping meals in middle school, and in high school I was anorexic, bulimic, taking diet pills and addicted to laxatives. My parents were in denial the whole time until my senior year, when a guidance counselor contacted them because my german teacher, math teacher, and cheerleading coach had individually contacted her with concerns about my health. I was horribly malnourished and underweight by the time I was put in therapy. I did recover, but it got worse before it got better, and several years later I was still suffering from various ailments caused by the damage I had done.

So, I'm just telling you to keep an eye on the situation. It may just be a phase. Maybe if she is persistent, you can start to educate her about nutrition and let her know that it's okay to eat everything in moderation (even junk food). Just set a healthy example, and hopefully she will follow.

Love your blog, and best of luck!

Anonymous said...

My 5.5 year old son said the same thing to me the other day. I think it is the age. He has suddenly become interested in "being strong" and healthy and wants to know which foods are good for him and which are not. He is equating being healthy with being skinny, and we have been working with him to understand that is not the only measure of health.

He is quite skinny, and seems concerned about staying that way. No one in our family is at all overweight, we really don't talk about weight at all as it isn't an issue either my husband or I care about, he pretty much only watches PBS shows, and he doesn't attend school yet, so I don't think it is coming from peer pressure, or us, or society. I think he has just noticed that people are different sizes and he has made the correlation that food affects your weight.

We have been dealing with it by stressing which foods are really good to eat and essential to staying healthy and strong, as opposed to focusing on concepts like eating less or which foods are "bad." The positive side of this has been that he has been really willing to try new fruits and vegetables and I think he has actually been eating more.

Bethany Haid said...

I really do respect you for being so neutral on a hard topic. I have had so many issues as a result of non-neutral environments. I am now 30 and out of therapy, but never out of the struggle to equate healthy with health as you mentioned, and food with nourishment, not punishment or pleasure.

I'd like to emphasize that perhaps you talk to your pediatrician about the way he talks to your daughter. Maybe via phone or email before the next appt. I think children equate percentages or their growth curve with other numbers they hear - like test scores or something. She'll figure it out pretty soon.

I am sorry you have to parent in this tough situation because its not fun. BUT I am happy that its YOU parenting in this hard situation since you are the best parent for your child.

Also, modeling self appreciation including physical beauty, that can be a good thing. You like your hair, your smooth palms, whatever - somehow appreciating that you like your body for more than JUST its function might be a nice thing - like you like that it is functional for you and that you have permission to like yourself no matter how others look.

Thanks also for that baby name advice recently for Baby Samuel.

d e v a n said...

Ah, man. I'm so hoping to avoid this sort of thing for so much longer. :(
I try very hard not to do the things you mentioned too, even though I know it won't be enough.

Paige said...

Being aware of the comments I make about my weight around my (future, as of yet unborn) children is something I have already given a lot of thought to. My mom has been on a diet for as long as I can remember, and as a result, I have too. I recently used my tax return to hire a personal trainer. He asked me about my diet and I told him how I often skip lunch simply because I'm so busy (which is true.) He has really been hounding me lately about making sure I get enough nutrients and calories in the day, especially since I'm lifting weights for an hour each morning now. It's been so refreshing and a shock somewhat to think about food in a new way other than how many calories and grams of fat it contains. Unfortunately I think this day in age, your daughter is going to pick up on society's expectations no matter what you do at home, but I admire what you're doing and wish you the best of luck :)

Gina said...

My daughter has also made a few borderline comments like that and it scares me. And - like you - I try to avoid talking about weight at all. I grew up skinny, but with a mother who called me fat and it was a living hell. I refuse to let my daughter feel bad about herself like that (and she's not even remotely fat)

I had a blog post recently about a sticker I saw at the scholastic book fair that "humorously" used a take on a common weight worry (does this make me look fat?) by applying it to a different situation and it bothered the hell out of me. I contacted scholastic and they are discontinuing it, which is great. but our girls STILL get bombarded by this crap from every direction.

Anonymous said...

This makes me so sad. I have three daughters and one has a eating disorder and is anorexic. One out of three women will become anorexic and or have an eating disorder. It is the most difficult thing I have ever experienced and it makes my heart hurt every single day. I worry about her constantly. Hug your kids a little tighter and try and be as positive as you can. I know society blames me and my husband. As I do also, we are her parents. We should of been able to prevent it. Sometimes, there just isn't anything you can do.

Farrell said...

I believe you.

I also do my best to avoid making any comments about my weight or body. If I do go on a diet/health kick, I make it very clear to my 7-year old that I am just trying to eat healthier, be healthier, get more active, so that I can live a long and healthy life. I don't bring weight into it and I don't use the word "diet".

I will tell you that as a teenager, I spent many an hour looking through Glamour, Seventeen, etc. and they made me feel like the ugliest girl in the world (I'm not going to be as pretty or as thin as models; not many of us are). In fact, if I look at those types of magazines today, they STILL make me feel ugly and fat (I don't have a personal trainer or personal chef, I'm sorry to say). I would like to say that I will forbid my daughter to read such magazines but I do not think that's realistic. All you have to do is wait in the checkout line at the grocery store and the headlines scream at you "Be sexier!" "Get a flat tummy in no time!" "Jeans that make you look thin!" ETC. Women are especially bombarded with it.

I think it is important to teach children about nutrition (and for my pathologically picky eater, I'm trying to do so in the hopes that she'll eat MORE, not less) but we do need to do it in a health-centered way, instead of a beauty or thin-centered way.

It's a hard road.

Sarah said...

I agree with people who have said that we need to TALK about it with our kids. I probably don't do it enough.

I grew up with my mother saying things like "Am I as fat as that woman over there?" or, while jiggling her belly, "Look at this fat belly!!" or "You are SO SKINNY. I wish I looked like YOU." (I was 13 at the time....)

It was pretty horrible. I made a vow to never talk about my weight or looks in front of my kids, and I feel that I have pretty much kept to that (although it is difficult to avoid feeling bad about my looks when my mom denigrated her own while growing up and now I look just like her...).

But it's just not enough for me to NOT talk about it - society talks about it ALL THE TIME. The only way for me to combat it is to actively fight back.

So we talk about photoshop. I remind them that no pictures we see are realistic. We talk about beauty in terms of whole people, not what they look like on the outside at that particular moment. We talk about how certain foods are intrinsically BAD for you. Sugar is a hot topic in our household b/c my husband is type 1 diabetic. We have to keep it in the house for him in case he goes hypo, so there is no room for extremes in our eating habits.

My nine year old told me once that she "used to think" she didn't look pretty. When she was 6, she told me her legs were "too big."

Since we started home schooling our kids, that kind of talk has ceased. She now feels entirely confident and happy about herself. (as she should!!) We talk extensively about puberty and how it will start changing her body (how many of us freaked out when we suddenly had hips?) and what she can expect. She doesn't have a daily dose of comparison and shaming that happens at school.

I think sheltering our kids from these messages is a good thing. I know that I can't keep society's sickness away from my kids forever (my five year old once mentioned that a certain item of clothing made her look too big), but giving them a few more years to lay a foundation of self worth has to be a good thing. I am determined that my girls will grow up with more positive messages than I experienced. I can't really control how they incorporate that into their own psyche, unfortunately.

Kelsey said...

This hasn't really come up for us yet, but I am on high alert about it... mostly because I have a history of issues w/ my weight and/or how I feel about myself and I so intensely DON'T want to pass them along to my daughter or son.

But it seems the only way to keep them from it completely would be to homeschool and consume no media whatsoever... unlikely.