Our country is struggling with a strange cognitive dissonance. The news is filled with stories of an American obesity epidemic. Soft drinks and school lunches are being regulated to a ridiculous level. And yet we’re told we should never, ever refer to that overweight elephant in the room, for fear of passing on “body shame” to our daughters. We’re supposed to keep them at a normal, healthy weight without ever mentioning the word “weight.”
And that’s a bunch of crap. It’s another example of political correctness taking something simple and making it complicated. I tried the “it’s important to eat food that will make you healthy” conversation with my daughter. Her response was filled with typical 9-year-old logic and underscored the absurdity of the PC approach: “Will it make me die?” In her mind, she’s weighing (no pun intended) the pros and cons of eating that second brownie. The fact that it could, in some small way, contribute to her death in 45 years doesn’t make much of an impact; at 9, she thinks she’ll be too ancient to care by then. On the other hand, when I stop dancing around the issue and get to the point by telling her that too many brownies could make her fat, she puts the brownie down. Conversation over.
No, I don’t want my daughter to think she has to look like a Barbie doll to be of worth and value. But we’re sending our kids some ridiculously contradictory messages, and it’s doing them a huge disservice. Regardless of how often we tell our girls that weight doesn’t matter, it does. Trust me, I’ve struggled with my weight my whole life and have clothes ranging everywhere from size 2 to 14, and I can tell you without a moment’s hesitation that it’s more fun to be slender. Being overweight can suck a lot of the fun right out of your high school and college years, because—let’s be honest—we’re living in reality, not some utopian world where nobody notices 20 extra pounds. Being overweight can even make it harder to get a job. And let’s not ignore the fact that being overweight can have serious health consequences.
So why are we lying to our daughters by telling them that the size and shape of their bodies doesn’t matter? I’ve chosen a middle ground with my daughter. I tell her that it shouldn’t matter—socially, at least—but that it does. I tell her growing up overweight is no fun. That standing in your closet looking for something that still fits and doesn’t highlight your bulges can be so discouraging that you decide to just stay home. And that it’s both embarrassing and isolating to have to take the elevator when your friends are all running up the stairs two at a time. And I tell her that, while being overweight has absolutely no impact on her value as a person, it can most certainly affect how much she enjoys her childhood and adolescence.
I want to protect her from the pain of growing up overweight, and if I have to utter the word “fat” to do that, then so be it.