Saturday, May 28, 2011

A weighty issue

The latest statistics from the Center for Disease Control puts the current generation of children's obesity rate at around 18 percent, tripling the numbers of 30 years ago. Reports warn parents every week that this next generation may not have the same life expectancy as the previous one. What used to be called Adult Onset Diabetes, or Type 2, has seen an incredible uptick in younger and younger people. Our First Lady, Michelle Obama, has addressed this with her Get Up and Move initiative, and schools have even started doing their own "fat check," sending letters home noting the child's BMI and advising how to get back to healthy numbers.

Earbaby has none of these problems. So why is weight such an issue with her and her school friends? Because she's skinny.

And there's the rub. In the midst of excess, EB has a healthy appetite, a healthier metabolism, the kind of physical schedule that would exhaust about six kids, and a BMI (15.3)  in the very healthy eighth percentile. And yet rarely a day goes by that her weight isn't a subject people feel free to comment on.

It wouldn't be that much of an annoyance if it were just kids. More than a few of them, I'm sure, got the letters home last year that warned of the dangers of childhood obesity, while we got one that noted she was slightly underweight (actually I ignored it since her doctor said she was fine, just long and lean). Yet most people, even children, would be appalled if someone commented to a heavier child, "Gee, you're so fat! How much do you eat?" Yet no one apparently notices that it is just as rude to say, "Gee, you're so skinny! Are you anorexic? Do you eat?"

But kids have to be taught manners and tact. There's no excuse for the adults who find it perfectly acceptable to talk to a child and chide her about being too thin. One woman at our church said something a few weeks ago, but the woman has obvious mental health issues. When this person said to her, "you're nice and thin, but I wouldn't get any thinner," I rolled my eyes so EB could see me. But there's another one there who comments quite often. Now the problem here is twofold. One, she has known EB since she was five weeks old, and two, her own grandchild is quite a bit overweight. Yet she has no qualms about saying, "hey put some meat on your bones, will ya?" I've decided it's time for me to tell this woman that her "jokes" are hurtful and rude. I shouldn't have to chastise adults, but EB is too well-mannered to speak up for herself to an adult. Nor should she have to. That's what scary moms are for.

As one who grew up skinny myself (OK, those days are long gone), I can really relate to EB's angst. At her age I was thin, probably painfully thin, although I had a healthy appetite as well. I remember seeing a product called Wate-On, for skinny people and wishing I could buy it (I didn't), and as I approached my teen years used to drink milkshakes with eggs for extra protein to try and fatten up. I think my bones still thank me. But when I grew up, thin wasn't in. It seemed as if the heavier girls were more attractive, or at least more confident. I was all (skinny) legs, but while I was teased for being thin, there were plenty of other skinny girls and it wasn't as big a deal. And the word anorexic probably hadn't even been invented yet.

So how many ways can you reassure your thin child that she's perfect? She's a dancer, a gymnast, a singer, a piano player, and an above average student. She's even modeled and been in a video.

But a mere fourth-grader telling her she's skinny and asking if she eats enough can send her into a funk.

It's a strange place to be in when you're a parent. Weighty issues, no matter where you are on the spectrum is a strange place. As females in our society, we learn very quickly not to appreciate, or even like, our bodies. If you're skinny, you're a bag of bones. If you're heavy, you get the indignity of the world acting as the food police whether you're in a restaurant or the grocery store, and if you're average, chances are you're still not satisfied. Can't be too rich or too thin? Not really. Girls (and some boys) are starving themselves for a perfection that doesn't exist.

I admit it, I'm incredibly biased toward my Earbaby. As every mother knows, her child is the most beautiful one in the universe. So it's hard for EB to take me seriously when I tell her that having a weight problem on the other side is no picnic. (I remember in my younger, skinnier days I always thought it would be easier to be heavy, you could always do something to lose weight. That was before it took me a mere 12 years to lose the baby weight.) She doesn't believe it. In any gymnastics competition, she's the skinniest girl in the room (I admit it, I do always cheer hardest for the skinny ones because of her). She also strong, climbed the rope to the top the first time she ever tried it, and has abdominal muscles and a strong core many would pay money to possess. In dance, again, skinniest kid, but with such graceful moves and stage presence, she's a joy to watch.

But Earbaby is 12. She's getting tall, lean, curvy -- and self-conscious. Part of me knows that no matter what her body type, she wouldn't be happy. We're hard-wired to be dissatisfied, I think. But I want her to enjoy her time as an athlete, a dancer, a strong, fit child. There's plenty of years ahead to worry about weight, too much, too little, too something. She lives in that body. I only hope she won't waste too much time seeing herself through others' eyes. If there's one thing I'd want for her, it's to really see herself, and appreciate the view.

No comments:

Post a Comment