I remember it vividly. I was an early blossoming 10-year-old girl. I stepped on the scale at the doctor’s office for my yearly exam. “Hmmm…” the doctor said. “You’ve gained 10 pounds since your last visit. May want to slow down with the cookies there, Wendy.”
At the time, I don’t think my mom was even aware of what had happened, and I silently swallowed the doctor’s words in shame, probably spending a few extra minutes over the next few months scrutinizing my widening hips, my newly emerging squishy belly. I was not overweight or obese (not that it matters in terms of how the doctor spoke to me). I was simply a tween going through a growth spurt. In fact, my first period would come just a few months later.
Thankfully, although the doctor’s words stung and haunted me for a long time, I didn’t develop an eating disorder then, as many young women do (yes, girls and boys as young as 10-years-old, and sometimes younger, develop eating disorders). But I still do hate getting weighed at the doctor’s office and avoid it if I can, sometimes asking the doctor not to tell me the number.
Apparently, stories like mine are not uncommon – not at all. Of course, there are healthcare professionals who are sensitive about the matter. But many doctors carelessly – and often shamefully – criticize weight gain in children of all ages. Very often, the critique is done right in front of the child, without discretion.
This is not okay.
I recently came across a viral post from a mom named Julie Venn who tells the story of her 13-year-old daughter’s most recent check-up at the pediatrician. Her story was shared on the Moms of Tweens and Teens Facebook page. And let me warn you: it is absolutely infuriating.
Venn says that after her daughter Riley’s vitals were taken by a physician’s assistant, the nurse practitioner (NP) came in to go through a litany of questions that Riley was supposed to answer. You know, common questions like “What’s your bedtime?” “How much exercise do you get?” and “How was school for you this last year?”
Then, says Venn, the NP looked at her computer, looked back up at Riley, and blurted out: “Tell me, RILEY, HOW CAN YOU EXPLAIN ALL OF THIS WEIGHT YOU’VE GAINED?”
What in the actual fucking fuck? I can’t imagine how this poor girl must have felt in that moment. My stomach turns just thinking about it.
“My daughter is speechless and her eyes begin to glass over,” Venn says, describing the moment after this absurd question was asked. “I am speechless and the NP goes on to explain to her that given what her previous weight was last year, the numbers just don’t correlate with her current height.”
Hello, have you ever heard of a teenage growth spurt? I mean, really.
Thankfully, Venn came her to daughter’s rescue, exchanging some choice words with the NP.
“I LOST MY MIND,” Venn writes. “I had a literal, physical reaction. I put my hand up and said ‘STOP! You need to stop talking to my daughter about her weight. She is 13, she is strong. She is healthy and she is PERFECT. You need to move on!’”
Later, the NP took Venn aside to ask her why her reaction to the weight talk was so strong (she seriously still had no freaking clue why?!). Venn’s retort was absolutely perfect.
“I explained in no uncertain terms that she was out of line in the way she dealt with my daughter,” Venn writes. “Our girls need to be empowered and supported and celebrated. They already have to compare themselves to the ridiculous social media bullshit standards. They are flooded with images of perfection via tv, youtube, FB, Instagram and Snapchat.”
Then she says what I was thinking the whole time I read this horrifying account: “If my child has a problem or is OVERWEIGHT than a doctor needs to talk to ME — not my daughter.”
Children – especially tweens and teens – absorb everything grown-ups say, especially grown-ups in positions of powers like doctors. And body shame starts early. It is NEVER okay to criticize a child’s weight (girl or boy) in front of their face. Ever. Even mildly.
Seriously: if you have a concern about a child’s weight, then by all means, discuss it with the parent. Just don’t freaking do it in front of the child.
Venn, who tells Scary Mommy that she decided to go public with her story to raise awareness about this issue, says that she has been flooded with supportive messages – and stories from other parents who have experienced similar horror shows.
“I also had no idea I would receive 1000s of messages of support from all over the world,” she says. “People telling me THEIR similar stories — some with devastating long-term consequences.”
As for Riley, Venn says her daughter is doing fine, and seems aware of how totally out of line this doctor was. “She understood quickly how inappropriate the exchange at the doctors office was,” Venn shares. “I’m just thankful I was there to advocate for her and stop it.”
Venn says she had a meeting with the head doctor at the practice where her daughter had been seen. Thankfully, the doctor did not try to justify what happened, or excuse it in any way.
“She was sensitive, apologetic and embarrassed,” Venn tells Scary Mommy. “She made no excuses and agreed with me on every point. She appreciated me sharing my daughters experience and she was concerned about how she was doing. She assured me she would be having conversations with her staff. I am confident she will do that and hopeful they will be sensitive to the issue for ALL girls. It’s a big deal!”
It’s a big deal, indeed. Venn is a hero for calling this out – and more of us parents need to do the same if we ever witness similar behavior from healthcare professionals. In fact, we need to shout this kind of thing from the rooftops.
It’s not just a matter of a harmless, insensitive remark. These kinds of remarks can affect kids in deep ways – and in some cases can do irrevocable harm. It’s so important that everyone involved in healthcare understand this.
Again, this does not mean that health concerns regarding obesity not be discussed. These are important too. But it is so easy to take a grown-up aside, discuss the matter, and then come up with a thoughtful, sensitive way of addressing the issue with the child. In most cases, the reason for a child being overweight is multi-faced – and sometimes what looks like rapid weight gain is actually just a child’s own growth natural curve, which isn’t always constant due to growth spurts and other factors. And if there is an issue, there is are healthy, body positive ways to address these.
Bottom line: It is never okay to make off-handed comments about a child’s weight, whether the comments are “innocent” sounding or harsh. What we should be focused on is celebrating children of all sizes, shapes, and body types – telling them each day that they are beautiful inside and out. God knows there is not nearly enough of that.