Hey parents—I’m begging you to leave your kids out of conversations about their pandemic weight gain. We are about 16-ish months into a global pandemic. A lot of us have returned to semi-normalcy, but some things are still not quite as they once were. Our kids can’t be vaccinated yet, and are still wearing masks in public places (at least they should be!). They have missed so many activities they’d normally have enjoyed, and weathered an entire year of pandemic schooling. Our children have lived a pretty big chunk of their lives in pandemic upheaval, and they deserve so much credit for surviving that kind of uncertainty and disappointment.
During the months when they were fully stuck at home, out of their usual routine, and missing the people they love, they might have snacked a little extra, laid around a little more, and moved a little less. You might notice that your child, especially one whose body was already a little bit thick, has put on a little more weight.
As a former fat kid and current fat person, I am begging you to let your child be comfortable in their body for as long as they can.
The world is going to try to break their spirit and force them into seeing fat bodies as wholly unacceptable. I assure you; nobody fully escapes diet culture. Nobody gets to stay blissfully ignorant and in love with their body without trying really, really hard.
FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, don’t be the first reason your child stops feeling joyful and free in their body. Don’t bring their weight change up to them! Don’t start questioning their food choices. Don’t make comments about how they look. And don’t put them on a restrictive diet!
Odds are, your feelings about your almost-certainly-healthy child’s slightly chubby pandemic body are rooted in your own discomfort with the idea of fat bodies in general. You’ve been force-fed the idea that fat people are unhealthy, heading toward an early death, destined to be clumsy, unattractive, sloppy and alone.
That’s a carefully curated perspective that powerful people created so they can sell us billions and billions of dollars-worth of weight-loss products. It’s a stereotype that the fashion industry uses to create a feeling of exclusivity, charging astronomical amounts for bits of fabric that carry labels that don’t cater to large bodies. You associate thinness with health, wealth and happiness because influential people want you to. That’s what diet culture is all about.
In reality, many of us are healthy, happy, beautiful, loved and fulfilled.
Fatness is not a life sentence of misery and pain.
Of course, I can’t stop you from worrying about your kid’s weight. You are a grown-up, and you’re free to worry about whatever you want. If obsessing about your child’s body is what you want to do, have at it. I don’t care how you waste your mental energy.
But you seriously need to get a little freaking perspective. Your kid survived a global trauma. If they gained weight, they’re in good company. Millions of us did.
I gained weight during the pandemic. You know why? When we were stuck at home for a year, I cooked delicious meals, baked with my babies, and ate the occasional midnight pudding cup. I turned to food as recreation and comfort during a time when so many of my other comforts were unavailable to me. My body did its job and changed in weight in response to my change in habits.
As we have returned to some sense of normalcy, I naturally returned to my former habits. Sure, I’m still fat, but I have lost all the weight I put on during the pandemic, and I didn’t do anything intentional to make it so. My body just did its job yet again, and changed when my behavior changed. I’m back to my usual size and weight. (And no, that doesn’t mean it would be just that simple for me to “keep going” and end up thin. Bodies fluctuate; that doesn’t mean the science of body size is that easy to pin down.)
Pandemic weight gain is not permanent for all of us.
Imagine making a big fucking deal to your kid about their weight and then they return to school in the fall and those extra pounds fall back off. Congratulations. You just introduced your child to the idea that they are more acceptable to you when they’re thin.
Imagine making a big deal to your kid about their weight and then they stay chubby forever. Good job. Now they know that their body is a disappointment to you.
Your parent is the one person who is supposed to show you extravagant, condition-free love. If you are instilling a sense that body size affects your feelings about your kids, I’m sorry to say it, but they deserve more from you. It’s never too late to do better.
And before you start freaking the fuck out in the comments acting like a fatphobic fool, I am NOT encouraging you to ignore your child’s pandemic weight gain.
If there’s been a change that seems significant enough that it needs to be addressed before their yearly physical, by all means, discuss it — privately — with their doctor. Your kids deserve adequate healthcare, and you need to make sure you arrange for that.
At home, encourage all of your kids to eat foods that are packed with nutrients and energy for them to grow, no matter what their bodies look like. Model that behavior for them. Teach them by example how to use their body for joyful movement, just for fun. Show them how intentional movement can increase their strength, flexibility and enjoyment.
Just leave children out of discussions about their bodies. Work on confronting your own anti-fat biases instead of passing them onto your innocent children. Let your kids be children, especially in the midst of an unprecedented global health crisis. Let kids feel the freedom to exist peacefully in their body while they can, even if that body makes YOU uncomfortable.