Your problem is that you’re overweight…thoughts on talking to kids about weight loss.
I sat down on the weekend and opened the Daily Life magazine to find myself looking at an article called “Drastic Meseaure: If she’s hungry, she can have some salad” which chronicles the journey of a mother who, at the advice of a paediatrician, needs to help her 7 year old daughter lose 7 kilos.
It’s something of a strange title because you don’t have to read far into it to realise that for this mother it’s a case of “if she’s hungry, she shouldn’t be and no she can’t have any salad.”
If you haven’t read it but have a vague interest in what I am going to say here then I’d suggest taking a few moments to acquaint yourself with the article – to paraphrase it here would not do it justice.
I tried to read this journey with an open mind. The idea of teaching children about choices is great, the idea that even at a birthday party you shouldn’t gorge yourself on everything is fine too, good even. The thing I struggled with the most was the language Weiss used about food when talking to her daughter about the issue, and the overwhelming sense I had that this mother was so consumed by her own food issues that she couldn’t find a way to respond that didn’t pass those issues on to her child. She betrays herself by speaking heavily of the “health” related side of this weight loss journey, likening it to a “disease” but concluding the experience by asking her daughter if she “likes the way she looks now”.
No matter what we say about this, no matter how strong our opinion we best not forget that there is a young child involved, a child who has been placed on very public stage about something that most of us would prefer to keep private.
Near the end of the article, Weiss makes a comment that astounds me. She says…
Food was not a fraught issue in my household growing up, yet I developed problems with it. There are some issues that kids are just born with. I didn’t make Bea obese. I don’t blame sugary drinks, processed foods, trans fats or gargantuan portion sizes. She didn’t become overweight because she gorged on junk food or played video games all day. She was simply and indisputably born with the unfortunate tendency to overeat and a congenital preference for foods that are conducive to weight gain.
I don’t want to be a smart arse about it but I do have to ask, isn’t this is a “condition” the whole world is born with?
I support a parent who wants to do the best they can by their child and who, having identified an issue such as this early on, is willing to take some hard lines to help their child get healthy. What I have serious questions about is the undue burden placed on a 7 year old who is told “your problem is that you are overweight.” (I can’t imagine a way that I would be able to say that to my child, or indeed anyone, that didn’t involve me being a total bitch.) I’d like to think there is a way for a parent to take responsibility, because surely when you are 7 years old involved it is the responsibility of a parent to oversee things like diet, without burdening the child. And while I think Weiss’s desire to give her child the language to talk about something that most of us are uncomfortable to talk about is admirable, I fear that it is too big an ask for a seven year old.
It seems to me that at the heart of this issue is “shame” and the way it is (wrongly) inextricably linked to the notion of being “overweight” or perhaps it’s the other way around… Weiss perhaps protests to much that she is primarily concerned with the health of her child – isn’t this the argument that gets trotted out whenever the topic of weight comes up?? We aren’t comfortable with it so we try to sanitise it and hey, making it a health issue makes it waaaay more palatable. Weiss’ daughter now understands this connection in a way that I don’t think a 7 year old should. But hey, that’s just my opinion.
The issue of food and body image is fraught. I regularly think about how I speak of these things in front of Bliss, how I speak about myself and what kind of example I am to her. If you follow me on Facebook you may have seen me share updates about my own post-baby weight loss journey. I speak of it there in small measure because it does not consume me. I no longer agonise about my appearance and weight and if I can find away to impart this ability into my own child’s life well before her 30th birthday then I will be utterly thrilled. I highly doubt that this process will ever involve me uttering the words “your problem is that you’re overweight.”