My biggest fear for my kids is not that they will be abducted, or join a cult at the age of fourteen, shave their head, wear a bed sheet and announce the second coming. Nor am I deathly afraid of them being run down by a cell-phone talking SUV driving, class A-hole, although that is quite likely here in good ol’ traffic law ignoring Montreal.
I am afraid they will get fat. I am afraid they will be those kids I see in the Walmart by my suburban work, or in the thrift store in my low income neighborhood that have to shop in the woman’s plus size department. I feel so sad watching those kids waddle their way through the aisles. I have images of the cartilege in their knees being worn down by the weight and of Type 2 diabetes at the age of 12 and of heart attacks and peer mockery.
I am ashamed of this. I am ashamed because there is a voice in my head, a small, mean one that is convinced that it is their fault. They made the choice to overeat. They didn’t have enough will power to stop. Now, I know that this is not true. I’ve read enough books on the subject to know that it is more complicated then that. Dealing with my own weight issues, I know that gaining weight happens gradually, after an accumulation of bad decisions. I also know that people have complicated relationships with food, eating when they are feeling lonely, or depressed and that just because someone is bigger does not mean that they are incompetent or not worth listening to. But just the fact that I have to consciously remind myself of this shows the amount of prejudice bigger people must face in the world. How we unconciously judge people by how they look ( I think there was an actual study based on this).
My god, I, myself, have a complicated relationship with food. I eat the most at night when I feel like I deserve a reward for getting through the day. Still, the voice in my head persists. If only they would stop drinking 2 litres of coke. If only they would get a little exercise… If only they would go to bed instead of eating more chocolate chips (okay, that one is me.)
There is alot of if onlys coming from that mean little judgmental voice in my head. I don’t think this is altogether healthy on my part. It is a response to my own personal history as well as my family’s- I think I have mentioned that I come from the sort of peasant gene stock that was never sure when the next meal was coming therefore had to stockpile the fat the way farmers stockpile for winter: stick it in the barn or the cellar. All the woman on my mother’s side of the family are obese. They wear their weight in front, like a baby that has been gestating for ten years. My mother is the only who has escaped this fate by a combination of over-exercising (15 marathons anyone?), under-eating (she stopped eating when my dad died) and basically worrying about it all the time. Now that she is older, she has relaxed a little. She is still fit, but less worried about what she puts in her mouth and a lot more fun to be around.
But there is another part of me that worries about my daughters. How to get them to understand the importance of eating well and not too much without giving them a complex? I don’t discuss my fear of fatness in front of them and I try not to let the mean voice out of its cage ever. But it is important that they know they can’t just eat cheerios and milk, or cinnamon buns from the bakery down the street without some consequences. To make it worse, my oldest daughter loves ballet. And just this last year I noticed the ballet teacher trying unsuccessfully to get her to suck in her stomach (she has my body- imagine a stick figure. Make a circle for the torso and then add 4 lines for the limbs and you have our basic shape). Of course, she would be having a general toa chicken plate right before ballet.Yeah. We stopped that habit.
I want them to grow with their bodies. Feel confident with how they look, feel in shape enough to feel their own strength. I want them to be Amazons, not waifs. To feel full but not stuffed. I want them to know the feeling of having enough energy to do what they want to do, because they are eating right and exercising. I don’t ever want them to feel the shame of not being able to run or jump or follow their friends because they are too heavy.
On the other hand, maybe this is one fear that could be more helpful then harmful. Now if only I could practice what I preach…