Uuuuugh! Well we’re halfway through “Harass Kids About Their Weight Month” otherwise known as “Let’s Build Eating Disorders As Young As Possible Month” or “Childhood Obesity Awareness Month”. I’ve mentioned before how I feel about this. I can’t think of any adult or child in this country who is not aware that the dominant culture likes little kids to be thin. I don’t know of any kids who aren’t aware, by age five or six, that thinner is better. And this whole month seems designed to amp up the shame felt by larger kids and parents of larger kids to “11”.
This was brought home to me in a very visceral way today as I read a facebook post by a parent who had a negative reaction to being nominated for “The Childhood Obesity Challenge” on facebook. I have no idea how widespread this “challenge” is. Apparently a “friend” in this woman’s feed posted an apres workout “sweaty” (that’s a selfie where the folks are sweatin’ y’all) with the following text:
“Another sweaty for (fb friend)’s call to action for childhood obesity. Children learn from example. I will challenge some amazing parents I know to do the same. You all inspire me and make me better.”
Only problem, the parent with the negative reaction had been a fat kid. She understood the real challenges of being an obese kid in a fat-hating world. And her kid was also not as thin as some in society deemed acceptable. And her kid was facing health challenges that made exercise difficult. Yet there she was, nominated to post a picture of her sweating after a workout to prove to kids they shouldn’t be fat.
Yes, kids do learn by example. And if we want our kids to be healthy, here are a few options of things we could model:
1. Let’s choose not to judge by appearances. You don’t know what is happening in another person’s life by looking at them. You don’t know if they are healthy by looking at them. Let’s not make snap decisions about a person’s health or moral worth because of how they look.
2. Exercise can be fun! Let’s not ruin exercise by making it about arbitrarily changing our body size. Let’s make it about getting together and having a great time! Because sometimes moving our bodies feels awesome!
3. Exercise can be fun, but it’s not a moral obligation. And exercise is a whole lot easier for some people than for others. Let’s decide not to worry about how much exercise other people are doing. And let’s decide on exercise for ourselves based on our own bodies and how we feel.
4. Let’s not panic about our body size! People come in all shapes and sizes. There are greyhounds in this world and there are pit bulls. Everybody looks a little different than everybody else and that’s okay.
5. Let’s not boil down a very complex issue like childhood obesity into some silly facebook game, okay? Let’s choose to accept that body size is influenced by a wide variety of factors–both inside and outside of our control–and learn to love our bodies as they are. That way we won’t feel quite so much need to judge other people’s bodies, okay? (See point #1).
And if modeling points 1 through 5 doesn’t work, we could always model how to fake a sweaty. (A little blush, a little water spritzed on the face and hair and TA DAAAA instant sweaty!)
Or if you want to be more professional about it:
I can’t help but be frustrated by the whole notion of Childhood Obesity Awareness Month as it currently stands. It’s time for a Childhood Weight Stigma Awareness Month. During this month we could talk about how to help kids avoid eating disorders, we could talk about how bullying based on size is at record levels, and we could talk about how social media is pressuring kids and parents more than ever to have “perfect bodies” at all times. That’s a movement I could get behind.
Jeanette DePatie (AKA The Fat Chick)
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Excellent post. Why don’t we start a Childhood Weight Stigma Awareness Month? I know my kid needs it. Why can’t educators, doctors (who should know better), adults, and every other person on the planet accept that growth during adolescence is not linear. A kid gains some weight, gets chubby, grows, gets thin, repeat cycle. It all evens out in the end. And if we don’t mess with the cycle, the come out on the other side happy and healthy.
I’m here with a 15yo son with a borderline eating disorder, hiding his body in layers and layers of clothes and I don’t know why. I suspect it’s because health class over the years has been filled with diet talk and misinformation.
This stuff drives me MAD!