I have two daughters. They are three and six. I am hyper aware of how much pressure they will be under by the world in which they live in. The vast majority of strangers they interact with will comment on their physical appearance as an ice breaker (‘your hair/dress/shoes are so cute’), rather than seeking some kind of interest like they would if they were boys. They will receive an onslaught of information from their community, from TV, from the media that they have to look a certain way, act a certain way, fulfil some kind of beauty standard to be considered a worthwhile human. The odds are stacked against them. As a parent, my job is to try to give them such a strong sense of self that no one can ever take that away from them.
The current popular wisdom on body image, especially for girls seems to be don’t talk about it. Don’t let them see you get on a scale. Don’t talk about your weight. Don’t use the word ‘fat’ or ‘skinny’. But I just don’t agree with that. Children will receive all sorts of information about all of those things from the media, from their friends and from their interactions in the community – if you refuse to acknowledge it you are just not part of the conversation. And I think you really need to be part of the conversation.
I do hop on the scale in front of the kids. It tells me what I weigh, what my hydration level is, what my bone density is, what my fat percentage is and what my percentage of muscle mass is.
It’s not a taboo. There is nothing wrong about what I weigh. I also don’t hop on the scale and then become upset with what it tells me. It’s all just information that I will use as to how I’m travelling along. Sometimes they like to hop on the scale too and see how high the numbers go.
I do use the word ‘fat’. If I didn’t say ‘fat’ then I would be telling them that ‘fat’ is somehow wrong or bad or insulting. And it isn’t. Sometimes my three year old comes up to my belly and says ‘I love your fat belly mumma’ and she squeezes it. And I say ‘yes, it’s a cool fat belly, hey?’. Having a conversation with my kids about ‘fat’ and ‘skinny’ allows me to tell them how eating food or not eating food is not necessarily going to make you fat or skinny.
In this politically correct climate, people seem more comfortable with the word ‘overweight’. But out of ‘fat’ and ‘overweight’ one is a judgemental word and the other one is an adjective.
I don’t diet but I do talk about food. ‘Why are you eating that?’ Usually the answer is it’s tofu and I’m eating it because protein helps the building and recovery of muscles. Or the answer might be it’s chocolate and it’s yummy. I try to aim for food is neither good or bad, it’s all just food. Some food will give you the energy you need and some food kind of won’t but it’s fun to eat anyway.
My way isn’t the only way. Most of us parents have exactly the same goal – children who are resilient and happy and love their bodies. There are lots of different ways to get there. And at some point everyone despairs of how you can do anything in the face of a culture that it is all just geared in one direction. After letting my eldest put on some lip gloss the other day she informed me that now all the boys would want to marry her because she was beautiful. My soul vomited. But I still want to be in there having the conversation with her, because I think it’s worth it.