I am sad to say that September is Childhood Obesity Awareness Month. I cannot see the need for this particular marker. I don’t know a single adult who isn’t aware that there are fat children in the world. And the vast majority of them are wringing their hands and worrying about what we should do about it. Schools are still sending kids home with BMI report cards despite significant evidence that this practice is not only not helpful but is often actively harmful. And most doctors still tell parents to put kids on a diet when kids vary even slightly from the statistical norms.
And it’s not as if kids are unaware of “the childhood obesity crisis”. Hospitalizations for eating disorders are up 119 percent among children under 12 years of age. 80 percent of all 10-year-olds are afraid of being fat and 42 percent of all 1st through third grade girls want to be thinner. Just who is it that remains unaware of a societal desire for kids to be thin? The whole thing is so deeply depressing I didn’t know how I was going to write about it. That is until I came across an article somebody posted to Fit Fatties yesterday about a dance teacher working to change the language she uses to talk to kids about their bodies.
Worried about how her words as a dance teacher were affecting the body image of the girls taking ballet lessons, dance teacher Amanda Trusty took several weeks off to work on the language she used in her classes. Trusty noted that many of the traditional commands from dance class like “tuck in” or “suck in your belly” or “pull in the butt” were not only imprecise, but tended to confirm a societal notion that kids bodies should be smaller and tummies and tushes should disappear.
In her article Amanda says,
I realize now where all my insecurities started. They started in first position at age seven at the barre.
And now here I am, 20 years later, catching myself doing the same things to my own seven year old students.
Oh, but I refuse. Nuh-uh. No way. I’m a body love advocate. How can I tell my ballerinas to suck it in and tuck it under, knowing how much that shaped my childhood?
So Amanda consciously and thoughtfully worked to change the language with her students. The new language was not only more imaginative and precise, but also managed to remove body judgement from the equation. Now rather than telling them to tuck the butt under, she asks the students to imagine they have beautiful tail feathers. And she asks the students to send their tail feathers down rather than out. Instead of asking kids to lift their chins, she tells them to imagine they are wearing a beautiful necklace and she asks them to display the necklace to everyone else.
Kids are perfectly well aware that many, many grownups are freaked out beyond all reason that their bodies are not thin enough. We don’t need a month dedicated to getting adults more freaked out about childhood obesity. And we don’t need a month dedicated to convincing fat kids that they should not exist, that there is a worldwide movement to eradicate them from the planet. What we need is a month dedicated to thinking about how we talk to kids about their bodies. We all need to take a time out like Amanda did, to figure out ways to communicate health and wellness to kids in a way that isn’t damaging to their body image and doesn’t send them charging down the road towards a life of eating disorders. Now that’s a month I could get behind.
Jeanette DePatie (AKA The Fat Chick)
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