Content Note: discussion of emotional abuse and eating disorders
I take my 4 year old to preschool every day, drop her off, go workout, come home shower, change, and then pick her up from school. All in all a very nice morning out and I have really enjoyed the routine. Yesterday was a small bump in the routine as one of the other Moms asked me for a ride home. She and her daughter walk to school every day and she didn't want to walk back. It was no trouble at all so I agreed to do so but first I need to fill out some paper work for the front office.
As we sat and I filled out some administrative form or another the other Mom was discussing with me how she needed to do aftercare tomorrow for her daughter because of a doctor's appointment. The school secretary reminded her to pack a lunch and a healthy snack for her daughter since she'd be staying late. The Mom said, "Of course. I'll pack her a big lunch, I have to tell her all the time, "STOP eating, that's why you're obese!" She went on in this vein for awhile talking about how her daughter wants to eat all the time and she for sure wasn't going to let her get fat and she's putting a stop to it NOW etc. I jumped in immediately, "Your daughter is not obese. She's fine. She's a healthy little girl. Why would you say something like that?"
The woman answered me, "Well, she's only 4 and she already wears a size 6!" I said, "That's perfectly normal, my daughter wears a size 6 too." And then this very tall, very thin Mom *eye-balled me*, as if to say, "Well, you're fat."
The secretary, fortunately, another thin tall woman jumped in, "Size 6 is fine for a 4 year old! She's a perfectly normal sized kid." Maybe she'd believe it from someone less chub-tastic than me. Other Mom looked confused and went on, "Well, she likes to eat junk food all the time." I said, "I doubt your kid is going to the store herself and buying junk food, if you don't want her to eat junk food then you can just not have any in the house. Kids require a tremendous amount of energy just to grow each day, that's why they want to eat more frequently."
"Well, that's how you get obese;" she continued, eyeballing me again, "by eating all day long. I tell her to just stop it. STOP EATING."
I tried one more time, "I really hope you talk to your pediatrician right now. What you are saying to her is NOT okay. Kids need to eat and kids need to know that their Mama loves them NO MATTER WHAT and what you are saying is hurtful and not even true. She's a lovely little girl and there is nothing wrong with her."
Other Mom stared at me through her sunglasses and said, "I have to criticize her a little bit at home so when kids make fun of her she's like, tough, like 'I don't care!' and besides you are taking this to a whole new level. She knows I'm like playing with her, she knows its just me talking."
I asked her one more time to talk to her pediatrician and then I gave her a ride home.
This woman is young, she had her kid when she was even younger. She is tall and thin and blonde in a world that rewards you just for being those things. She probably does not have a lot of positive reinforcement for anything beside her looks. Her daughter is lovely and may or may not grow up to look like her Mom, but right now she has the compact, sturdy build of a healthy, active preschooler. It is so very easy to judge this Mom, to say, "What an inconsiderate, vain, unthinking jerk. Even if her child were somehow "obese" or "overweight"; what a thoughtless, vile way to speak to her child. Most of us could never accept talking like that to a child we loved.
But how many of us will say, "I'm going to be sooo bad and eat a slice of cheesecake tonight!" or "Oh God, I'm disgusting, I have to lose like 40 pounds!" in front of those same kids. Do we tell them, "It doesn't matter what someone looks like, it matters what is on the inside that counts." and then spend countless hours trying to change those outsides? How many of us frame our own "health" issues in terms of looks or shape? We need to change the conversation with them and with ourselves, "I'm going to be able to lift 100 pounds." "I'm going to run up the stairs at work so that when we go hiking this fall I can go all the way to the bottom of the canyon." "I'm going to learn to do a cartwheel." "I'm going to swim faster than I did last summer." "I'm going to beat Daddy at tennis!" How much more inspiring, how much more FUN than complaining for the millionth time about the size of your thighs!
Doctors are reporting that kids as young as 5 have expressed intense anxiety about their weight and size. Kindergartners. Our babies need to know that Mama always has their backs, no matter what; that we want what is best for them. They need to know that we want to take care of them and take care of ourselves to the best of our abilities, that we want to see them happy, healthy and strong. No matter what Mama loves you.