The Top Chef host gets real about losing weight, and her fatphobic language
How many times have you heard a woman say, “I’ll have to work off this donut later” or “I’m bad for eating chocolate” or “I’m going to pay for this cake tomorrow.” Maybe you’ve said some of these things yourself. And while we do hear these seemingly benign sentiments a lot, that doesn’t mean they’re not damaging. Especially to our kids.
That’s why ‘Top Chef’ host Padma Lakshmi is done with it. She noticed the negative impact it was having on her daughter’s self-image. She recently penned an extremely candid and refreshingly honest essay in the Hollywood Reporter about the pressure she puts on herself to look a certain way (presumably thin) for awards season. She calls it “red carpet ready.”
“While I can clearly point to the many ways our society constantly reinforces this pressure, the truth is, my own vanity also plays a big role,” she writes. “I want to look good, to be fit and to fit into those fancy couture dresses.”
And while many of us can’t relate to the red carpet aspect of it, we certainly can relate to the mental torment of trying to lose weight to match society’s version of beautiful. We can also relate to having our self-image take center stage, even when there are so many more important and healthier things we should be focusing on.
In truth, it must be hard to maintain an unrealistically thin body, especially when your job is literally to eat. Lakshmi explains that during fimling for the show she consumes anywhere from 5,000 to 8,000 calories in a day. “I typically gain anywhere from 10 to 17 pounds every season,” she says. “Once I get home, what’s taken me six weeks to gain takes me 12 weeks to take off.”
She explains that those months leading up to awards season, she vigorously exercises (two hours per day) and strictly diets: “no meat, no wheat, no cheese, no fried foods or sweets. And, of course, no alcohol.”
“Recently, I realized my daughter, who is seven and a half, has been listening to me talk about my weight,” Lakshmi says. “When we have taco night, I have taco salad with just a few crumpled chips. No tortillas, sour cream or cheese. When we order pizza, I get it for her, but I have leftovers of brown rice and lentils. When we make pasta, I have only ragu with greens.”
This paragraph hit me like a ton of bricks. When I was trying to get my “pre-baby” body “back” (hahahaha, it’s never coming back) I was doing the same thing. Taking my kids out for fro-yo and not eating with them. Not even a tiny bowl because I was afraid it was going to go straight to my ass. I’ve done the taco salad thing – with no actual taco shells in it because you know … carbs.
Additionally, Lakshmi realized that it wasn’t just what she’s inadvertently showing her daughter, it’s what she’s saying too.
“While I’ve been working to lose weight, she has been going through a growth spurt. She still asks me to carry her, but now she’s 4 feet tall and weighs nearly 60 pounds. So, I’ve inadvertently been telling her, ‘You’re too heavy now to lift.'”
“‘She’s noticed, and suddenly she’s told me and others in our circle, ‘I don’t want to eat because I’m watching my figure,’ or, ‘I weigh too much,’ she admits. “I wasn’t thinking anything of the sort when I was seven or 10 or even 13.”
Our kids are mirror images of ourselves. And thankfully, Lakshmi seems self-aware enough to know that society plays a role too, but so does she. A very important one.
“Her comments stopped me dead in my tracks. Her words scared me. Language matters. We send signals to our daughters every day. And I am her first touchstone of femininity.”
Our kids eat up everything we serve to them: our words, our insecurities, and our behaviors. If we’re obsessed with our bodies, they will be too.
“I can’t block my child from reality and the culture that we live in. But I have a responsibility to make sure that she has a healthy self-image and a normal childhood. I don’t want her to ever be ashamed of her body. I want her to cultivate her mind.”
Shifting our focus away from vanity and more into education, connection, kindness, creativity, and nature for example, are all healthier channels for building a well-rounded, secure child. Just like many other parents that realize they’ve been doing something wrong, Lakshmi just acknowledged it and vows to change it.
“So, this year, I’ve decided my weight will not be my focus. If I need a bigger dress, so be it,” she says.
“That one day — or any day — on the red carpet isn’t nearly as important as making sure my daughter doesn’t measure her worth by her dress size.”
She so poignantly adds, “And if at my family wedding I have a few more samosas, so be it.”