As parents, it can be a daunting task bringing our children up in a world where fatness is deemed as dangerous, In fact, it is 'classed' as a chronic Non-Communicable disease in government discussion around the world (1), though this is a whole other topic of discussion that I'm sure I'll get to down the track.
We are a society that fears fatness to the extreme that we would cause ourselves physical debilitation in order to appear in a 'healthy" sized body. There is so much wrong with this picture, wouldn't you agree?
I won't argue on the purported epidemic of size, but I am going to discuss the best way to approach this subject with your children, and why it is so prudent we teach our children to embrace diverse bodies in this current body obsessed climate.
I'll rehash a story from a previous blog, about my middle son arriving home from school one day asking me how he could stop himself from getting fat. I knew at the time my response would be a critical one in how he saw himself, how his relationship with food would be, and how he treated others who lived in bigger bodies.
Read on and ill tell you.
Like many parents (and I'm not pointing fingers or laying on any guilt, we're all human), in a previous life, my response to this question would have been
"eat healthy foods and get lots of excercise".
This is what we have been taught.... right?
Well, after countless hours studying, reading, learning and relearning, I have come to realise just how not right that answer is.
Let me give you a bit of background and context.
As a young girl, 8 years old to be exact, I came to realise that the majority of women around me, were trying to lose weight. I didn't really understand why, I thought they were beautiful, and different, and just right.
However, as a young 8 year old, I came to understand that if their bodies weren't ok, then perhaps mine wasn't either, in which case I would need to do anything to stay slim. I also came to fear body fat, to the extent that disordered eating became my normal from my teens into late 20's.
I came to believe that fat people ate too much sweet food, and that they didn't exercise enough, which is what we, as young children were told.
Let me just bust that myth right there.
Bodies come in all shapes and sizes. some bodies are big, some bodies are small. This is largely an inherited state, some is our environment, it could be in part to do with nutritional inadequacy, or abundance, or it could be due to medications that SAVE THEIR LIFE.
Body shape and size can be attributed to many things, but a person in a bigger body could be healthier than their small bodied friend.
So back to the point.
Why is it so important to teach our children body diversity?
* So that our children don't fall into the same psychological trauma that over 16% (2) of teens fall into today (I talk more about this here).
* So our children don't ostracise and speak unkindly to children living in bodies that are different to theirs.
* So our children grow up knowing their worth is not based on their clothing size, or the number on a scale.
* So that our children realise there is a whole world of thrilling diversity out there, and it is not to be feared.
So what is a more appropriate answer to this loaded question?
So lastly, how did I respond to the question my son put to me that day after school?
"mummy, what can I do to stop me from getting fat"
My response was (ready yourselves for dialogue):
Me: "why are you worried about getting fat?"
Him: "because 'so and so' said if you're fat you're unhealthy"
Me: "Well actually, that's not necessarily true. Every body is different. Some people are bigger than other people. And isn't it great we're all different? How boring would it be if we all looked the same!!!"
His response? "yeah... eye roll... it would be pretty boring".
Me: "So should we just eat food that helps our bodies feel great, and enjoy running around so we feel strong?"
Him: "YEP! Can I go jump on the trampoline now?".
So in innocent child manner.... off he went to have fun and move his perfectly made body that will hopefully stay that way in his mind for his exciting life ahead.
Just remember, we are all human, we respond to things based on our own experiences, so this response would not be the norm for many parents in this climate.
I would however, encourage you to try and reframe how you discuss bodies with your children, to encourage body acceptance, and in turn, hopefully improve the environment our children grow up in.
I know my desire is to see my children grow with strength, confidence, and with honour and respect for others regardless of the size or shape of the bodies they live in.
Learn to love your version of you, and be the change our children so desperately need.
1. Rosen H. (2014). Is Obesity A Disease or A Behavior Abnormality? Did the AMA Get It Right?. Missouri medicine, 111(2), 104–108.
2. NEDC (2018). Sourced from https://www.nedc.com.au/eating-disorders/eating-disorders-explained/something/eating-disorders-in-australia/