Butterfly Cauldron

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Dieting is bad for your daughters. (And sons too.)

Today's Round 2 in the Obesity Wars -- children whose mothers diet regularly develop poor body image.

To which I say -- Duh.

As obesity rates climb among children, health officials are warning parents about the dangers of junk food and lack of exercise. Yet few speak about parents who meticulously count every calorie that crosses their lips.

That type of obsession can be just as destructive and eventually teaches kids to weigh their self-worth on the scale, said Christine Gerbstadt, spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association.

While fathers also play a crucial a role in shaping children’s attitudes about food, research has focused primarily on women and their daughters, since females are more likely to diet and worry about body image.


(And yeah! Let's blame women! Whoohoo!! Because girls and women have so many pluses in this society, what harm could it do to blame them for their own body issues? It's not the fault of society or airbrushed magazines or a patriarchy that discourages girls to be physically active and assertive. Nope. It's all mom's fault.)

I'm actually surprised this required a study to figure out. Most of the fat people I know had parents who compulsively dieted. And put them on diets. And forced them to exercise. And counted calories. And give the a Look when they were fixing their plates. Oh yeah.

I, unhappily enough, was one of them. My mother has, as long as I can remember, been fixated on losing weight. She's 52 years old and I can't remember a single span of time when she hasn't been on a diet. And she's not that big! Sure, by society's standards she is, but for gods sake, she's only a size 18.

I remember my mother dragging my brother and me into the living room to exercise with her. Neither of us wanted to. I couldn't stand it. I would get so very angry. I'd be reading or writing or playing with my cats and suddenly, it's time to go exercise. Now, part of that was my mother didn't want to exercise alone. The bigger part was that she didn't want us to get fat.

Well, too bad. Both of us are quite corpulant. I don't know how my brother feels about his body, but I'm quite happy with mine, thank you very much.

I remember resenting the restrictions put on food and the push to exercise. I remember being so very pissed off. What was wrong with my body? I didn't have any problems with it! But no, there was always something wrong with it, according to someone. It was bad enough that my peers were calling me fat, but to have my own family suggest it? My mother never actually said it, but she made it clear in other ways.

She was afraid, always, that she'd (or me!) would get as big as her sister. My Aunt Vickie was a very large woman. Actually, she and I were probably the same size, but I'm 5'10 and she was 5' even. Which makes a huge amount of difference in appearance. My mother loved her sister so much, but she was always....it was clear that being Aunt Vickie's size was Not Good.

Even my Aunt didn't like her size. And, in this instance, I can understand why. Because she was so short, her size made getting around easily difficult for her. So, I get that, for her, her weight was causing some problems. But for me? Eh. I've never really been bothered.

My mother doesn't understand that. I really think she wants to, but she just can't.

The really messed up part? I wasn't overweight when I was younger. I was big, sure, but that's because my family is all big. Genetically, I'm destined to be large. Cool. I'm big and I'm tall. I look at my teenage photos and I'm a fricking Amazon. I was tall and strong and imposing and no one could see it. To this day, it pisses me off. I want a time machine so I can go back and give that girl my current attitude. I want to tell her that she really is as amazing as she thinks she is, that she really is as capable as she believes she is, that her body is a blessing, not a curse. That people are going to love her, they are going to love her body, they're going to celebrate it. I want to tell her to celebrate it like she wants to.

It's almost enough to make me want to have a child, so I can contribute to changing the future.

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posted by Zan at 5:47 PM

4 Comments:

You could be telling my story, except that my mother has managed to be a size 8 (at the cost of her bones, she is on her third hip replacement, had the first at 42), I'm the short one so being large is a problem for me, and she was afraid I'd end up looking like all four of my grandparents and seven of my great-grandparents.

I remember not getting pie or cake when everyone else had it and knowing I was being punished for being fat when I weighed three pounds more than my mother and was far from fat. But, given time, all of my mother's children got fat. Very fat indeed.

1:44 PM  

I worry about my niece. She's only 2, but she's kinda pudgy. I love her and she's active and a ball of energy and yeah, she's pudgy. But she's two! Granted, so far no one has really said anything about it, but you know -- the first person who says something in my range of hearing is gonna get an earful from me.

I want so much to protect her from all the horrible things in this world. I want to make sure she always knows she's loved and special and capable and strong. I want to hide her from all the people who are going to say things that upset her - and smack them around while I'm at it. I want her to know she doesn't have to be a "girl" if she doesn't want to. If she wants to play sports or climb trees or race cars or start a band or be an astronaut -- whatever she wants, I want her to know she can do it. And I want to make the world a place that lets her do it.

I think I want to be for her what my Aunt Vickie was for me. I want to be the sort of woman she'll want to grow up to be like. I want her to see that I put myself through college, that I hold a job I love, that I bought my own house, that I have great friends and great interests and I want her to know there's no one in the world who loves her more than I do. And so, I think that for her if not for myself, I have to continue to accept myself and love myself and show her that it's possible to have a wonderful life even if you end up in a body that society doesn't deem "good."

8:10 PM  

I'm so glad your niece has you.

1:14 PM  

Well, I hope I do a good job :) My mom tells me she's going around saying "I'm sooooo pretty." So I'm going to see her tomorrow and teach her to say "I'm sooooo smart." :)

5:52 PM  

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