As the weather turns from gray and frigid and vaccinations are becoming more abundant, we are starting to emerge from our homes. Some of us are putting on real pants for the first time in a long while and starting to see people again. It is elating and nerve-wracking, and unfortunately has brought about an abundance insecurity and fat-shaming. How many memes and jokes have there been about gaining the “Quarantine 15” and lamenting about all the snacks we’ve eaten? I’ve received two text messages from friends I haven’t seen in a while warning me of their weight gain. What?! It’s everywhere, it’s overwhelming, and our kids are picking up on it.
Life after diets
I was never fat-shamed or chastised for what I ate as a child. I did, however, grow up watching my mother agonize over the size of her body, restart her diets on Monday, and idealize thin women. Children absorb everything – even the messages we aren’t telling them explicitly. By sixth grade, I was concocting my own diets and attempting to skip meals because I had learned that certain foods were shameful and our bodies were not to be trusted. I went from a healthy, average-sized kid to a chronic dieter who engaged in a restrict-binge-repeat cycle until my early thirties. Giving up the pursuit of thinness has proven to be challenging, but more liberating than I could have ever thought possible.
I vividly remember being six-months postpartum, googling “Why can’t I stay on a diet?” while crying and digging my way to the bottom of a jar of hazelnut butter. It was on this foray into Google territory that I realized there were people in this world who didn’t mentally calculate the point value of every food they consumed or believe their worth was inherently tied to a number on a scale. It hadn’t even occurred to me that a relationship with food could be anything other than weight-related – this was mind blowing and I wanted in. I wanted peace, even if that meant accepting myself in a larger body. I wanted this peace not just for me, but also because I wanted to break a vicious cycle for my own children.
The process is not linear; I struggle with it regularly, but I am unlearning how to take my care of myself in a way that’s not motivated by changing the size of my thighs. And I feel lucky – I’ve worked really hard to embrace my body and bodies of all sizes and to never criticize my jiggly bits, and my seven-year-old daughter has yet to make any negative comments about anyone’s bodies, especially her own. She is proud of her muscles that help her ride bikes and swing across the monkey bars; she sees no problem in her little round belly. But there are a lot of young children who are already preoccupied with body size and fixating on outward appearances.
While this is something I am very proactive and conscientious about, the recent abundance of fat-shaming and obsession with weight gain makes it difficult. I think it’s important for ourselves, our children, and for other people in our lives to be mindful of the way we talk about bodies.
A few things to keep in mind
Lots of people gained weight this past year. It happened. We were trapped at home, emotions were high, the kitchen is nearby at all times. But really? Hundreds of thousands are dying, jobs are being lost, civil rights are being squelched, and people are struggling to manage depression, anxiety, and the insanity of remote learning. If we overindulged and snacked round the clock, it means food scarcity was most likely not one of the issues that we faced. Not fitting into pre-COVID pants doesn’t seem like it’s even worth mentioning right about now.
The comments we make, the memes we post, the lamenting of weight gain because now we are going to be around people? It is comments like these that make your fat friends feel like garbage and enforce the idea that the health and care of our bodies comes down to what we look like and how our bodies are designed for the approval of others. Unfortunately, our children are picking up on this and can begin placing a heavy emphasis on body size as the barometer of health.
This is a vast, intense topic and I highly recommend reading about topics such as Intuitive Eating, Health at Every Size, and the toxicity of diet culture. Just remember the way you treat and talk about yourself is often the way your children will treat and talk about themselves. If this is new information or you’re unsure of how to initiate conversations with your children, here are a few simple ideas.
Tips to get started
1. Ditch the commentary about body size. Period. It’s harmful and reinforces the patriarchal notion that our bodies have to look a certain way to be healthy. Model body positivity and pride in what your body can do.
2. Openly discuss with children healthy practices that have nothing to do with weight management – i.e. “I haven’t been taking my daily walks lately and I’ve noticed that I don’t have as much energy or time to think.”
3. Teach your kids the beauty of roasted cauliflower and your mom’s recipe for triple chocolate chip cookies.
4. Don’t refer to foods as “good” or “bad,” but talk about their function. Certain foods give us energy, nutrients, and fuel and some foods are celebratory, full of special memories and purely for fun.
5. Create healthy goals that have nothing to do with weight or size. Think family yoga nights, bike races, mindfulness practices, water consumption, or building endurance to beat your highest jump rope score. Celebrate activities and goals that have nothing to do with changing the size of bodies; celebrate strength, mental health, connection to nature and family bonding.