The health paradox for our daughters

Being a parent is hard. But parenting young girls today seems like it is nearly impossible because of the pressures put on us (parents) and our poor baby girls. When I was a preteen, which was a long time ago, I remember criticizing myself, hoping for breasts early, and thinking I was “fat”. But never, when I was 7, did I ask my mom, “Is my belly supposed to be this fat?” or “How can I make my thighs smaller?” or even, “Is there a lot of fat in this food?” How are we supposed to answer these questions?

I know enough about health and wellness that there’s a ridiculous weight requirement that is considered normal. For my height, I would need to be under 130 pounds. The scary part is that I could weigh 105 and still be normal… and I would be tremendously skinny. But people would not likely worry about my health if I were 105 pounds. They would likely not judge me walking by. Being skinny is ok, even if it’s not healthy.

I am currently borderline obese, though. I, someone who eats ridiculously healthy and runs quite a bit, am considered almost obese. Granted, I know I don’t look it- but a size 8 (okay a size 10) is obese. Marilyn Monroe was a pants size 8- dress size 12. Would we consider her obese? Probably not. Because beauty was not based on pants size. Anyway, as usual- per my typical blog style- I’ve digressed. This isn’t a whiney ode to my obese-ness. No, this is about my daughters. And yours.

So, when my daughter asks me about being fat, I know that at 7 years old she should be about 12 pounds less than she is. But how do I respond? My daughter is not fat, so I simply tell her that. I have to say, though, that she’s not skin and bones either. With this push to fight obesity, what are we doing to our children with these guidelines- and ourselves? Our children are worried about being fat, not healthy. My daughter doesn’t ask me: “Mom, is this healthy?” instead, she asks me, “Will this make me fat?” This is not okay.

On the other end of the spectrum, what if your child is too skinny? What if they obsess about their food and exercise too much? What if your child is 9 and is already obsessed over exercising and a slave to the scale? Do you hide the scale? Do you encourage weight gain? Do you stop them from exercising? So many questions. So much pressure.

But think about it: Why wouldn’t they obsess? Disney shows are full of skinny girls with perfect hair, teeth, and pounds of make up. Our daughters’ heroes are perfect and photoshopped- they have no chance. They are unsure of reality. They don’t know what beauty really is. They hear music that often accentuates ‘big butts’ and full bodies, but that just adds to the confusion. Picture this conversation: Why do guys want this, mom? I’m not ready to answer that question, though. And in in reality, the songs are not helping them see themselves as beautiful because they believe what they see, not what they hear: unrealistic perfection.

And with the cuts to education and the push to become academic superstars in the world power game, our system has cut programs that were designed to keep kids healthy, both mentally and physically. We are worried about the calories and fat in a meal, but not the chemicals. Schools who used to cook from scratch and offer kids real, whole foods have lost funds and now have to serve highly processed, McDonald’s like food in their buffet lines. Did you know that adding fries to a meal is considered a vegetable? Schools have also cut programs and funding for a healthy self concept, also, so it’s no wonder that kids are not healthy.

It’s important to note that I didn’t say obese, because, in reality, these extremes are unhealthy. Overeating and undereating both cause malnutrition. How are we such a great nation if we cannot adequately feed our children what they need to be healthy? Why are we so wonderful when we are the 3rd highest rank for eating disorders? How can we have so much pressure on children to be thin but also have such unhealthy school lunches and very little opportunity to be active? Because we are raising kids with this paradox: be healthy, but we won’t teach you how or provide you with what you need.

I do have to say that there have been positive changes, such as the 5-2-1-0 & the Let’s Move campaign… but this push has been for a healthier school lunch by feeding kids a specific required amount of calories, fat, etc. There is no push, however, for less processed, chemically ridden foods- just to feed kids less of the foods that are easy and cheap to make. How can we demand the best from our children when we feed them the worst? The less healthy school meals are, the further we get away from our goal: children who will live better lives than us. And young girls who are confident with themselves and their choices.

I think our fear of obesity has done a few unfortunate things:

First, it has created a culture where health is dependent on weight… and I get it, really, many illnesses are based on the factor of obesity- but I can be overweight and still healthy.

Second, it has caused us, as parents, to overanalyze things our kids eat.  So much so that, at times, our kids can become obsessed with their food to an unhealthy level. We have become obsessed with making sure we all follow the ‘right guidelines’ that we forget that it’s about moderation- a treat is a treat and a meal can be a cheese stick, carrots, and grapes.

Third, our schools have become so busy balancing the right ‘nutritional guidelines’ that we have forgotten about whole foods. Sometimes kids get so many processed foods that their brains are being robbed of what the ground provides for them. Ease, money, and calories have overpowered quality.

Fourth, and finally, we have veered so far from physical and mental well being that we think providing kids with fear of being obese will do the trick. Scare tactics and statistics about diseases have taken the place of education… to the level that we’ve forgotten the means necessary to support the health and wellness of our children: balance.

Back to raising my girls.

I am afraid for later in their teenage years, especially if my oldest daughter is already worried about being fat. I’m concerned for my girls as they feel they need to look like people they see on their Disney shows. I’m frightened that they want to be perfect, when they don’t even realize that perfection does not exist. I am mostly worried because I don’t know how to respond to these questions. Should I be honest with them? Should I tell my daughter the exercises it takes to thin out her thighs? Should I tell my daughter that it doesn’t matter if her belly is ‘skinny’ or ‘fat’ and that she’s beautiful no matter what? Do I avoid the question and tell her she’s smart? I have no answers and if I did, I think I’d be pretty rich. But I don’t. I’m just your average, borderline obese, healthy mom who weighs herself every morning. (How’s that for a paradox?) I have hypothyrodism, prediabetes, an athletic/ short build, and a self diagnosed gluten intolerance. How do I tell my daughter that her weight doesn’t matter, when in reality, it might?

I just answer every question honestly and keep myself afloat, balanced, and healthy. Right? I really hope so.

Claire Pelletier

About Claire Pelletier

I'm 30. Boy am I 30. I have three children: Shelby (almost 8), Harper (3), and Aidan (1). I work full time as an English teacher, full time as a mom, part time as a wife, part time as a cook at a Diner (this is actually a paid position), and a per diem house cleaner. Basically, I do it all. Oh and I like to write (revert back to my full time teaching position). This life is crazy, people are even crazier, and online blogging has given me a voice. Some may think it's a loud and obnoxious voice, but I kind of like it. I do my best to write about things that interest people, mainly about myself. Sometimes I verge into the political land, but that place scares me, so I mostly write about every day things that make me laugh, cry, or scream. Thanks for reading!