My 8 year old daughter recently had to write a paragraph on the most important things about herself. I was excited to read this because my daughter is quite precocious. She comes up with some pretty unique ideas and I couldn’t wait to read about her view on herself. She included a lot of the typical 8 year old priorities: her pets, her toys, she wants to be a comedian when she grows up…but the MOST important thing about her was quite alarming.
She wrote that the MOST important thing about her was that she’s skinny.
Gasp! Choke! Surely, this must be a mistake! My child can’t possibly be that shallow!
How could this have happened? I spent my young life with eating disorders and poor self-esteem and I spent my young adult life recovering from it. It wasn’t until I read the book “Intuitive Eating” by Evelyn Tribole that I really made peace with food. I’ve gone out of my way to promote healthy eating habits in my children. I don’t make them eat when they don’t want to. I limit their food choices. I make sure they pay attention to their bodies when they’re choosing snacks. It’s always been the one thing I want to protect my children from – food and body issues. And yet, somehow, my daughter came to the conclusion that being skinny was the most important thing about her.
My gut reaction was to start looking for the culprit. Who did this to my child? Was it the Disney Channel and their preteen sitcoms? Or because we let her do cheerleading? Was it the kids at school or the commercials on television or the magazines or the books…
Was it me? Was it my five gym memberships and my protein shakes and my race medals? These are good things, right? Exercise is a good habit, right?
It could very well be all of the above. It could be none of these. But somehow, in her 8 year old brain, healthy and active translated to skinny.
I made her change it. That’s the benefit of having my kids attend the school I teach at. I can obnoxiously intervene any time I want! And intervene I did. We had quite the discussion about how body shape doesn’t make anyone any better than anyone else. We talked about how people come in all shapes and sizes and that what matters is how people treat others. We came up with better adjectives. Active, strong, athletic…and we finally agreed upon healthy.
Healthy. We rarely see health being advertised on television. No celebrity is revered for their excellent organs or spectacular blood pressure. At one point in our evolution, healthy meant viable meant offspring meant survival of the species. And now healthy has become a synonym for skinny.
I do not accept. My kids deserve more. They’re always watching, listening, learning the rules, learning how to cope, taking this world apart and putting it all back together so they can see how it works. And how it’s working lately is not so hot.
Hopefully, I cleared this up with my girl. Because the most important thing about ME is this job called parenting. It’s the most important thing I’ll ever do and being skinny isn’t going to make it any easier. But being physically and mentally healthy just might.