Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Weighty Issue


While driving Cordelia home from preschool I am used to discussion time. Usually she comes back from school ready to talk. Sometimes she wants to talk about school stuff, but other times she just seems ready to ask any question that pops into her mind. Elise quietly listens, absorbing it all. I love this time, but it is often challenging as kids are wizards at asking tough/confusing/weird/uncomfortable questions. I am careful to pause a moment and consider my answers to the more challenging questions.

The other day we were driving and Cordelia asked me why some people are "fat." We never ever use the word "fat" to describe people to our children so I assume the word came from a discussion with her friends. We had just been talking about the snow monster from Frozen, so it was a rather abrupt topical shift and I wanted to be sure that I said the right thing.

Finally I said,"Well, people struggle with their weight for a lot of reasons, but mostly they are overweight---which is what we say instead of fat---because they have trouble listening to their bodies and they eat when they don't need to eat or make unhealthy choices and don't get enough exercise."

Then I was peppered with follow-up inquiries:

"Why don't we say fat?"
       "Because it makes people feel bad. Being overweight is something that most people don't want to be as it is hard on their bodies."

"Why don't people listen to their bodies?"
        "For a lot of reasons. Sometimes people eat too much when they are bored or sad. Some people have health problems that keep them from being able to stay healthy. Some just never learned how to eat healthy."

"Why do people eat when they are sad?"
"List three ways that people have sickness that makes them not listen to their bodies?"--She really talks like this.
"Is riding my bike exercise?
Why don't people want to be fat?
"How are people unhealthy when they weigh too much?"

It went on for some time and I tried to focus on the value of healthy eating and exercise, always listening to what our bodies are telling us. I told her that healthy people can come in all different shapes and sizes. I tried to shove all of the body loving goodness I could at her. Additionally I tried hard to emphasize that it is not our job to judge other people who are having difficulty making good choices. Who knows how much sunk in, what she and the eager eared Elise took in on that drive? Hopefully I said the right things.

Then, recently we were at an event and I noticed that Cordelia was really scoping the scene. Eventually she loud whispered, "Look mom, none of these people are listening to their bodies." I looked out at a sea of people who were very overweight and couldn't really deny that fact. Later we talked about it again and it was clear that she was feeling empathetic to people who might be unhealthy or uncomfortable, but I also emphasized that people are so much more than just one thing. Who knows? Parenting is tough. What are your thoughts on the issue?


Mom said...

I think you are such a great mother. Yep, that is what I think.

Daphne said...

I think your response was great. You might also add in something about how people come in all shapes and sizes, and larger people are not always unhealthy (some people are giant weight lifters! Or just a very large person!). I was taught that being overweight was very unhealthy ALWAYS and something that I ought to feel "compassion" towards overweight people...and I'm not sure that's always true, and it seems a little patronizing to me now. But having the conversation early and in such a nice open way is surely a great place to start!

Maria Rose said...

Thanks Daphne! Yes, we did talk about how healthy looks different on people. We will also talk about how being very thin can be unhealthy as opportunity presents. Mostly now we are just emphasizing how people can use their strong and healthy bodies to do so much.

Daphne said...

The "Love Your Body and What It Does" is such a great message. Feed it healthy food and keep it strong so you can do lots of fun things!

Amber Robbins said...

This is a good lesson for all of us.

Leslie T said...

What a tough and important conversation to have! I would second Daphne's thoughts on all kinds of shapes being potentially healthy AND unhealthy. I work pretty consistently with people (mostly young women, but men too) of all sizes -- more often average than not -- who have such trouble listening to their bodies because they want to be thin(ner) at any cost. I think that's one of the dangers of associating thin with healthy and fat (the term many people prefer, actually) with unhealthy -- it is almost never so simple. Our society has gotten really good at subtly and not-so-subtly shaming overweight people, alienating them, making them feel that they are some how less than average-sized and thin people and that they have somehow chosen this for themselves. There are many reasons why some people are larger, not only their eating and exercise habits (genetics, health issues, medications, emotional difficulties). One little boy I know has a genetic disease that requires him to be on steroids -- he looks chubby, but as a result he experiences less pain and is more able to be an active kid.

In addition to focusing on strength and health rather than size and shape (which I think is awesome!), I would encourage parents to be aware of how they talk about their own bodies. Kids are little sponges, and one of the best ways to teach them to love their bodies is for you to openly express your love of your own body... Which is challenging, because most of us have some pretty strong internalized messages about our shape and size.

All of this from a non-parent who doesn't have a curious kid asking her questions, of course, but someone who hears a lot about early messages people got regarding body size and shape. I love watching your girls grow up, and hearing about how tough situations are handled! Keep on keepin' on!

Maria Rose said...

Great points! All ones that I fully agree with, one of the most difficult parts of parenting is trying to get all of the information shoved in there before they tune out!

I will say that Eric and I model self-loving behavior and never talk badly about our bodies or the bodies of anyone else!

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