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talking about bodies, body-image and more…

Posted by on Feb 3, 2011 in Blog Posts | 11 comments

I really love this post from This Woman’s Work where the author talks to her daughter and friends about being round, body-image, health and more… Check it out.

Recently Madison had two friends over and they were chit-chatting away over tea and she said something (I didn’t catch it) about me being fat and one of her friends was horrified because she knows fat is supposed to be an insult.

Thank you for your post, and what a gift you gave that little girl who now has a safe place and a safe grown-up who is sending her another kind of message about body-image…

The other day, M was watching some horrible cartoon from the 80’s on Netflix (no commercials at least…) and the evil guy is the only fat one and someone was telling him he had to get in shape and lose some weight. I talked to M about how silly it was, that you can have different body shapes and be healthy. I didn’t go into the whole spiel about dieting, but I know I will likely have to soon. I told her that she will hear things about bodies and weight and silly stuff about diets and she should talk to me if she has any questions. She said, “Yeah, ‘cus grown-ups are always right, right Mom?” This broke my heart, because I know that grown-ups she trusts and looks up to, like teachers and family probably, will talk about “obesity” and being “fat” and how horrible it is and how you can not be fat if you just stop eating junk food or diet, and she will believe them (see essay excerpts from grade-schoolers,) and I’ll have to work really hard to be an example and to talk.

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  1. Elizabeth

    We just got back from vacation, and I read approximately 10,000 books to my toddler (or at least it felt like that many). But I wanted to share a good story (or at least pretty good) about one of them, Poppleton in Fall.

    There is a whole series of these, about Poppleton, who is a pig, and the various other animals in his neighborhood, especially his best friend and next-door neighbor, Cherry Sue the llama. One of the three chapters in this one deals with Poppleton going to the coat store to buy a new winter coat. Zacko the ferret measures him, and tells him that he has nothing to fit him – Poppleton is too big. Poppleton goes home, looks in the mirror, and gets depressed. Cherry Sue comes over to ask him what’s wrong, and gets mad at him for being upset. “Zacko’s a ferret! Did you tell him that he was too small? No? That’s because you have good manners! You are a big pig, Poppleton – be proud!” Then she gives him the Big and Tall pigs catalog and he gets a coat that fits. He parades it by Zacko’s store, then decides he feels sorry for him for being so small, so he goes in and buys a scarf. :-)

    On the one hand, I guess this does bring up fat discrimination in an age group that might not have seen it yet. On the other hand, I feel like the overall message that we should be proud of our bodies is a good one.

  2. The WellRounded Mama

    I used to spend a lot of time stressing about the horrible commercials promoting dieting and such when my first child was little. She’s built just like me so I was pretty sure she was going to be at least a little plus-sized, and the pressure on girls in particular is so intense. I worried a lot, but I worry less so now. I just spent a lot of time with the mute button or the “previous” button when they were little. My kids didn’t catch that I was doing that until they were much older and by then I could verbalize the issue more with them.

    I began by talking about commercial messages in general….how they are trying to get you to buy stuff, how they manipulate you, what their purpose was….before I began pointing these things out in dieting commercials. If they see it first in other things, it becomes so much clearer in dieting and weight hatred materials. They’re pretty good at being savvy media consumers now, though of course I still worry.

    It’s been harder dealing with favorite TV shows that have negative stereotypes about fat people, because I can’t just turn them off or switch the channel so easily (like a commercial) if the child loves that show in general. If it’s really awful I will censor that episode but there’s usually a lot of push-back from the kids about it so that can backfire. Sometimes it’s better to let them watch it and then discuss it…but that takes a lot of time so sometimes I just use the delete button anyhow.

    Major cartoon movies that are wonderful in some ways and not so positive in other ways are another difficult dilemma. (Kung Fu Panda, Wall-E, etc.) I’d rather the kids didn’t see them at all, but my DH thinks I’m over-reacting. So we wait to see them till they are not in the theater (the messages are less overwhelming on a small screen) and try to talk about my concerns with them without coming off too strong. But I really struggle with that one sometimes.

    The best solution of course is to really limit media consumption, and we do limit a lot more than many…..but we also do enjoy media (we’re tremendous sci-fi nerds) and don’t want to give it up completely either.

    So like everything else in child-rearing, we struggle to find a happy medium, and talk about the rough spots when they arise. Creating media-savvy kids is important in so many ways; this is just another area to discuss.

  3. Ines Anchondo

    This is such an important topic, Katja (I like Dawn too! and what she writes about this topic and others makes a lot of sense).
    For me, growing up and even nowadays, this has been a constant. Both my parents are very (very, very) weight and body image fanatics. For some reasons (I think mostly genetics and some self assurance and oppositional behavior) I never internalized these kind of messages. And, nowadays when there are comments like ‘bread makes you fat’ or ‘don’t eat too much because you are going to get fat’ when we are eating with my parents I make sure to clarify it for my daughter. I always explain that her grandparents are ‘weightists’ and that we don’t have to take seriously their comments about food or weight, etc. This is even more interesting because both my parents are kind of naturally big people except they restrict so much their weight now is lower.

    • katja

      I LOVE THIS!!! Calling them out for what it is… “Weightist…” If our parents said racist things, we would call it out… I’d like to put this out there for other readers to comment on sometime. I’m intrigued! At what age did you introduce this term. I don’t know if my 5 yo would get it, but I’m filing it away.

  4. Twistie

    Again, I have to sing the praises of how my parents handled this kind of stuff. When I was a kid, there were no DVRs. Heck, VCRs weren’t invented until I was in my teens! I was the third person I knew who actually owned one. So commercials couldn’t be avoided, and while the diet culture wasn’t quite as ubiquitous (though it was pretty virulent and widespread even then), there were plenty of commercials touting diet aids and plans on tv, in magazines, on billboards… almost everywhere you looked.

    And though my mother didn’t single out diet ads in particular, she took ads in general on in a deliciously pragmatic way. When a commercial came on tv that she felt was misleading in some way, she would ask me and my brothers about what the ad was trying to say and whether we thought it might be accurate or inaccurate. She discussed the wording and the images with us. She probed our little minds about why we considered some ads more likely to be true than others, and made us really stop and think about it.

    Thus when I was confronted with all the diet pill ads in the backs of magazines with the before and after pictures, I started noticing things like how the models were posed and styled, and how the ‘after’ measurements always included a significant increase in bust size, despite losing weight and inches from every other part of a woman’s body.

    It didn’t make me completely immune to the diet culture, but it certainly made it easier for me to ignore or take with a grain (pillar) of salt some of the more ridiculous claims.

    It also meant that when I started hearing about how fat people are lazy, slow, gluttonous, and unhealthy I could look at my fat mother who walked miles every day (she didn’t get a driver’s license until she was fifty), carried heavy items easily, ate the same meals as I did, rarely got sick, and was incredibly involved in the community and in the lives of her three children. Having learned to logic at her knee as a tiny little thing, it made a lot more of the diet culture and gospel of thin at all costs a lot less appealing or reasonable to me.

    You can’t keep the messages from coming at your children. They’re going to be there, and they’re going to be heard. I think the best thing we can do is teach them from a very young age to parse out as many of those messages as possible and really think about whether they make sense. A kid who knows how to think for him/herself has tools to combat groupthink and propaganda.

  5. Kate S.

    Herbal Magic is the one that gets me the most. The ad is constantly on Teletoon Retro (which also plays Bugs Bunny which my daughter loves!) It is such a long ad too, they must buy at least double the ad space, and then it is testamonial after testamonial. The woman who raised four children and ran her own business but during that time her weight got “out of control” – as though all her accomplishments don’t matter, the only thing that matters is she gained 40 pounds! Ack!

    I am much happier when she is watching commercialless tv, but you still have to watch, so much insidious talk about diets and weight even in those. Lots of fat kid who are always eating or only care about food!

    I was listening to my daughter’s music class (I was volunteering at her school and happened to be in the same room as the class.) They were doing an action song about an elephant – that is (of course) big and fat and slow. Elephants are not slow! It’s amazing how much of that “fat and lazy” meme there is in children’s books and music.

    • katja

      it is ubiquitous. Little wonder that a study showed 4 year olds view fat people as stupid, lazy, selfish, more likely to steal, less likely to have friends… All those impressions can be turned inward of course. 5 year old girls are dieting, 4 year olds report feeling guilt and shame eating “forbidden” foods, and NONE of it makes them healthier or thinner, in fact quite the opposite. So sad.

  6. Anne

    My son is a science/weather fanatic – so he loves watching the Weather Channel (normally we DVR everything so we can skip commercials), but I hate it because every third commercial is for Nutri-System or Weight Watchers. I usually try to flip to another channel or at least mute it but I can’t help getting my hackles up as I try to balance it with some you know, actual facts.

    • katja

      it is maddening, and it’s everywhere. the free DVD with the Shrek movie from the grandparents makes it 90 seconds before the three little pigs sing about their diet for bikini season… Argh