Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Fat Girl

Picture this. You have a daughter. She's in school - maybe 6 or 7 years old. The town you live in has a mandatory BMI testing for the kids in your school. So the whole school is tested and then they send the results home to the parents...pinned to the outside of each kid's back pack. While waiting for the buses or to be picked up, your daughter, along with every other girl, and some boys, in the school, is traipsing around comparing BMI numbers that are prominently displayed on backpacks and grouping themselves accordingly.

This happened last year in a town near mine.

Here's another scenario. You're a previous Olympic-hopeful swimmer. You're in amazing shape. You and your husband are both active, strong, sturdy and athletically built. You have a son who is five. At his pediatrician appointments, the first thing they do is weigh your son and tell you his percentages compared against other kids his age. They tell you right in front of him that he needs to lose weight - even though he's just as active, strong, sturdy and athletically built as you are.

This happened to a woman I know from one of my mommy groups.

How about this scenario. You're a new mom. You are overweight and feel unattractive. The attention you give your body is focused on losing weight and looking prettier so you will feel better about yourself. You talk about it with your friends with your baby in tow. You fester over it in front of your children. You focus on it for years and your children grow up thinking that in order to be happy, you have to meet a level of beauty defined by popular culture.

A woman came and spoke to the mom group I attend at a local church and it was eye opening for me. She spoke candidly about the eating disorder she had as a teenager that was started after she realized she looked different than the other girls at school. Her family didn't talk about feelings, so she lost herself in her need to feel happy. She has been recovered for over twenty years, but it opened her eyes to the messaging we give our children and she's doing something about it. She runs several support groups for women with eating disorders and speaks often to groups about the importance of the messaging we give to our kids.

I am a new mom. I am overweight and I feel unattractive. I feel like if I lose weight I will feel better about myself. I make fun of myself in front of my son. I fester over it and if I am not careful, I will raise my children to think that the popular culture's ideal of beauty is the only way to be happy. I want my children to love themselves. Because when you love yourself, than you give yourself the power to be a healthier person.

Changing my attitude towards my appearance is going to be the hardest change I have ever made in my life. I am going to have to work on it every day. Especially because I am NOT healthy. My first inclination is to think, 'If I were healthier, than I would be happier; I would be a better person'. And while part of that statement could possible be true, the real truth is believing that 1) I am not a bad person or a bad mother because I am not healthier and 2) if I allow myself to be happier, than I will be more empowered to be healthier.

The messaging our kids receive from popular culture, from peers, from insurance companies that send home letters to kids with high BMI's, and from our own inabilities to love our bodies is daunting and unhealthy. As a parent, I can only hope to release my children from the shackles of insecurity, but the only way to do that is to let myself be free too.


  1. paddyandhenrysmomTue May 17, 10:28:00 AM

    Amen, sister! BTW, our school does the BMI testing, too, but they have the forethought to put the results in a sealed envelope to bring home to w/o the kids knowing what it is. Just another boring letter for mom/dad/guardian. Pinning them to a backpack and making them public like that is just shameful.

  2. YES, and thank you!

  3. This is a wonderful post. I need to save it and read it again. As an overweight adult who was an overweight kid, I really can't remember a time I wasn't self conscious of my weight. I would love for my future children to feel the same way.

  4. I think the fine line between complaceny and acceptance is difficult to walk. I admit I use the word fat, but I'm married to a Pole and Poles are much more frank than Americans. So that's just how we talk, and for me it feels like we are just stating a fact (that I am overweight) and not being critical.

    I do think it's important to find a way to make changes that will make you healthier, but accept that you can't instantly be where you want to be, and that during the journey you have got to love yourself somehow. It's a hard thing. I want you to love yourself! But do keep in mind that working on your looks doesn't have to be a bad thing for your children to see. I feel so good about myself when I go out for a run with my kid in his stroller, and I think about how if I keep these things up that these are habits he will develop for himself as well.

  5. That fine line is exactly what I struggle with, Jenna. Because there are two ideals thrown at me. The one that Hollywood wants me to believe and the one the Doctor wants me to believe. Either way, I can not allow my children to watch me degrade my self-worth. It isn't just size. For some people it is the length of their legs, or the flab on their belly or the color of their eyes. I want my kids to always love how God made them and respect themselves. The first step to that is treating myself with the same respect.

  6. What a wonderful post - so, so true.