Because your body is valuable, but your value is not your body.
oof THIS LINE: "They may internalize that people with those culturally-conditioned privileges are somehow innately better than people without them."
Thank you very much for the opportunity to participate in the survey about eating disorders. They affect everyone of my family including the men. It is the first time I have done anything like that and I’m approaching the grandmother phase. I think it’s important to name it, describe it, and otherwise air it out for myself and for those to follow.
I had exactly the "kids' bodies are supposed to grow and gain weight" conversation with a student at my last student teaching placement, in a grade 3 class. He had commented to his friend that he was jealous that his friend could "eat anything he wants and stay skinny." Neither kid is fat, but the friend is very small, hasn't really grown as fast as his peers. Totally normal, that age has a ton of variation! I told him I was sad to hear that he had negative thoughts about his body, and we had a chat about his feelings, and that it's not useful to compare his to others, especially since everyone his age is doing a lot of growing, and that bodies need lots of food and energy when they're growing. At one point he said, "But it's really hard being fat." As a fat person, I was like, "Yes, I know! I'm fat. But you know what the biggest thing is that makes being fat difficult? How other people treat me. Being fat isn't the problem, the world being unkind is." I could see him really mulling that over, and that's kind of where we left it. In primary grades we spend a lot of time teaching social interactions, and there's a big focus on kindness. I hope that conversation helped.
Virginia, thank you for including the link to Mallary’s research survey. That was a deeply provocative, well-organized set of questions. I gained so much personal and family insight just from filling out the survey. Can’t wait for the book!
Virginia, I love this and I wanted to share something that happened because of your influence - when we went for my (thin) seven year old’s checkup, the ped started in on some garbage about not going above the weight curve, and before I could respond my kid said “there’s nothing wrong with being fat.” And then he got in a debate (calm on my child’s side) where my kid kept refuting the ped’s arguments about “healthy food.” “All food is healthy. It has different nutrients in it, but all food is healthy.” As someone who grew up immersed in diet culture, this felt like such a win. Thank you for all your work!
Thank you, Virginia!!!!!
I can't put my finger on the research at the moment, but I remember reading that being from a family where "everyone is small" can be a risk factor for an eating disorder--the theory goes that smallness becomes such an important part of one's identity and belonging, and when you add that to the all the free-floating fat phobia that underlies the attention on the family's thinness, it's the perfect storm for becoming terrified of gaining weight. So it's another example of how thin kids (who are never directly told to be worried about their body) are harmed by fat phobia.
One topic I would love to hear your take on (under the umbrella of addressing the oppressive nature of fat phobia with our families) is how we talk to our kids (in all size bodies) about fat jokes in media. I mean, it's relentless. And I've tried some different things in my own home (to varying degrees of success) and find it's really tricky because it sometimes can feel like being a shrill killjoy in every other scene of an otherwise wonderful show or movie.
Then again, if there were this many, say, racist or sexist jokes in a program for kids, would we even let them watch?
So many thoughts on this one. Re: the feeding therapy, I did a dietetic rotation with a cystic fibrosis clinic and there was an interesting combination of “these kids often have trouble gaining weight and are usually very small” and “these kids are at higher risk for eating disorders.” People with CF are usually diagnosed before 1 year old and every effort is made to get them to the 50th percentile. Their weight is monitored multiple times a year and their eating habits are scrutinized. This continues to adulthood. However, once someone crosses the 50th percentile, then everyone wants to pump the breaks. The whiplash between “eat eat eat to gain weight and then stop, you gained too much” must be awful. There have to be better ways to handle feeding and growth concerns.
My 4 year old has been coming home from camp saying one of his friends is telling him not to eat sugar, that it will make him tired and "floppy." It is taking every OUNCE of my being to repeat over and over again that we eat everything in moderation, including sugar, including processed sugar as well as the sugar in fruits or other carbs. He knows I go for runs and lap swims a few times a week and sees me fueling for them, with energy bars or bananas, ahead of time. I explained that exercise is often best fueled by sugar, that there are different kinds of sugar, and sometimes we just need to eat an Oreo ice cream popsicle at the pool and that's the way it is.
And then I got an email from stupid Babycenter, of all places, saying that weight - again, for 4 year olds! - is on a spectrum between obesity and anorexia, and I LOST MY SHIT at them on email and via Instagram Story.
And finally, yesterday an American pro runner - the 8th fastest female marathoner in the entire world and the American record holder in the marathon - posted that some guy told her she was the biggest marathoner he'd ever seen. I don't know a single female runner in my circles who has not heard some variation of this, that we're big for runners or we must be the biggest one out there or how can you be successful when you're OH MY GOD SO BIG? It's ruinous, and it's insane that it happens to so many pros. If there is anything I want to leave my kid with, it's that everyone's body moves regardless of size, and we have to feed our bodies to keep them moving.
I had trouble gaining weight as a child due to a life threatening chronic illness and you wouldn’t believe the comments adults made about my body!! I’ve had to unlearn a lot of the anti fat bias this created, especially since I’ve gotten healthier AND gained much needed weight.
Also unrelated but when my 5 year old niece said she wanted to wear her one piece bathing suit not her two piece because she didn’t want her belly to show my MIL said “now is the time you WANT to show your belly!” 😖