A friend of mine recently posted this question in a group on Facebook that both of us are in:
If your child is/were fat, would you encourage (I don’t want to say nag) them to lose weight? How do you deal with judgement from other parents on your/your child’s size, or judgement from your own children?
It’s an excellent question, one that deserves an honest answer, and while some of the answers there were spot on, I didn’t want to write an editorial on the page, hence this blog.
I grew up in an Italian household in New Jersey. We had an Italian/Mediterranean diet that consisted of lots of vegetables, some pasta, an lots of fish. At about 1o years old I discovered snacks, and gained a significant amount of weight, which I’d often lose during the summer simply because I was a lot more active then, participating in baseball, hiking & camping, and racking miles on my bike. It was an up & down cycle that took place every year until I was about 17. At 16 I weighed over 275 pounds, my heaviest.
At no time did my parents mention my weight, or that they wanted me to go on a diet.
Years later, they told me that they just didn’t think it was important, as they knew that I was active, even when I was fat. There were a couple of occasions that I was bullied about my weight by the kids in school, but after I administered a couple of beatings, the bullying stopped. Some kids (even back then) never realized that fat kids can still be quick & deadly……….I can only recall one occasion when it really got to me, and my mom & dad did their best to make it a non issue, saying “real friends don’t talk to their friends like that, so shrug it off, knowing that they don’t get to be friends with you.”
I have 2 kids, a 25 year old daughter, and a 10 year old son. Neither of them are fat, so while I’ve had no first hand experience with my own kids, just the ability to draw from how my parents were with me. I have friends who grew up fat, who as parents have put their kids through fat camps and the like, simply because they didn’t want their kids to have to experience what they went through as kids. I was lucky enough to have parents who allowed me to live my own life, be it fat or average or thin, and gave me enough space to allow me to grow into who I became as an adult.
Interestingly enough, I dated bigger girls in my teen years. My first girlfriend Claire weighed more than I did, and my only thoughts centered around how lucky I was to be dating her. My parents met her, and never commented, and the only time I recall anything being said was by my grandmother, who when she met her mumbled in Italian “Come grande!” (My grandmother was fat too, making that judgment call even more out of line),
Being blind to weight is like being blind to race in many ways. Some people get it, others don’t. In this very harsh digital world we live in, the internet allows us to be cruel to others without fears of reprisal. Bullying other kids over their weight, whether online or in person, can cause horrible emotional damage to kids. The last thing they need are their own parents drawing off their own negative body image and superimposing that on their children. That can be almost worse than bullying from kids, as it legitimizes the negative connotation.
Many parents of fat kids claim that they do this because “they want their kids to better than they did. Tell you what, if that’s what you truly want, why not work towards, and advocate size acceptance? Don’t you think that introducing your kid to size acceptance, holding their hand as you both read size positive article, and getting them involved in the movement is better than alienating your kid by telling them what’s wrong with them because of their weight? While I sympathize with parents who had been bullied & mistreated due to their weight, I can’t ever justify such a reactionary response. Your kids are not you, life is different now than when you were growing up, and your kids need your support, not more of what they get in school or on the street.
So recently, my girlfriend’s daughter received “the fat letter” from the school nurse……you know, the one that tells the parents that the kid’s BMI is higher than other kids her age. I fired off an e-mail to the school nurse telling her that not only did I disagree with the school’s determination, but that as a parent, I encourage her to be healthy no matter what weight she’s at. At her age (13), she reminds me of me at that age, and as an active kid whose genetics makes her a little bigger than the other kids, she may or may not lose the weight. The next day, the school nurse called to tell me that she “was in agreement” with my assessment of her health, and backed off, and while shutting the school nurse up was the primary goal, the collateral result was that her daughter was thrilled with my defense of her.
Bottom line from a parent. Let you kids be themselves, fat or thin. Support them, help them feel good about themselves. Talk with them about the fact that fat shaming is still bullying, whether it comes from their classmates, or the institution they attend. Teach them about size acceptance, and get them involved with it in some way. Let’s face it, more girls than boys get shamed for their weight. I have some pens left over from one of my old NJ Bash events that say “Fat Chicks Rule”. If any of you have any young girls, and would like one for them, drop me an e-mail with your address or PO Box, and I will be more than happy to send you one. My e-mail is firstname.lastname@example.org