I have always hated doctor visits. Not because of the doctors personally, but the experience has never been pleasant. Never mind the needles for vaccines or having to fast for blood work — I can handle that shit again and again. It’s the damn scale that ruined it for me and destroyed my body image.
I’ve always been overweight. Literally, every memory I have had since I’ve been aware of my body has been of me overweight. I wish I could say my memory was foggy. Or maybe these memories were just the result of years of body dysmorphia. Nope, these memories, these painful and hard feelings, were reinforced by my pediatrician. Back in the day, he reminded my Mom, and he reminded me, over and over again about how I was on the cubby side.
It wasn’t totally his fault. These were the days when BMI was still the golden standard instead of an outdated AF measurement based on weight and height. Society in the late ’90s also valued all the wrong aspects of health. Thin was in, and mental health was still taboo. Literally, if you didn’t have a negative body image, it’s like you were doing something wrong. When I reflect on how much those early days impacted my (mental and emotional) health to this day, I just feel so damn sad. But then, I get hella mad.
A 2016 Journal of Pediatrics study found children as young as 9 to 14 years old were dissatisfied with their body shape. How devastating is that? Haven’t we come further than that in the last few decades? In tween and preteen years, the last thing on kids’ minds should be their body shape. Why can’t they be dissatisfied with the answer we give them when they ask for more screen time? Or find dissatisfaction in the fact that just because they add it to my basket online at Target doesn’t mean I’ll be buying it.
I don’t want my children’s experience with their doctor to be a source of anxiety. Well, at least not because they know they’ll be weighed and fall into a certain percentile on a growth chart (the flu shot is an epic battle every year that will never change). Because of this, I pay careful attention to what their doctor asks them and how she talks to them.
She asks what their favorite foods are and what they like to drink. She asks what kinds of things they do for fun and what was the best thing that’s happened since she saw them last. She asks them about their friends and how they have been feeling. This is the way to do it.
There are no bad, or good foods. Y’all, it’s so refreshing to hear that food doesn’t have a moral association. Some foods give us more energy, and other foods don’t give us as much energy. Talking about exercise as something you do because it feels good?! What sorcery is this? Framing exercise, not as a punishment but as something they do because they enjoy it, shouldn’t be as revolutionary as it feels.
Asking about their friends and their feelings are highly underrated questions. There is so much we can understand about their social-emotional development and mental health without making a big deal about it. Because in case you needed a reminder, mental health is health–full stop.
Maybe, I’m a little bit more vigilant than most when it comes to my children’s experience with their doctor, but I’d rather they didn’t follow in my footsteps. Once upon a time, after I’d had my second daughter, I actively avoided visiting my provider for four years. Why? Well, I kept promising myself after I lost that last bit of baby weight, I would go. I eventually lost the baby weight but still didn’t go. I wasn’t thin enough to face that scale in my doctor’s office.
When I finally did (four years later), I’d developed a whole slew of unhealthy eating habits, an eating disorder, oh and precancerous cervical cells. I would love to say that this was a one-off instance, but it isn’t and happens far too often. Now, as an adult, I can recognize body-shaming a mile away. I try not to take it personally. Some people truly have unconscious biases and aren’t aware of what they’re doing. But as a child, all I heard was the doctor telling me I was fat. I was fat, it was bad, and therefore I was bad. I am living proof of what happens when pediatricians make disparaging comments about the bodies of children in their care. It will impact your child’s body image for the rest of their life. If this has been your child’s experience it’s time to get a new, body-acceptance-oriented doctor ASAFP.
While I can’t go back in time and change my experience, I’ll be damned if my daughters go through the same thing. It’s one thing for children to hear their parents tell them how strong, beautiful, and perfect they are. It hits differently when it comes from someone else, you know, like their doctor. But hey, if you don’t want to tell my child that they’re strong and beautiful, that’s okay. But you damn well better not contribute negatively to their body image, because mark my words, parents will drop you like it’s hot, as they should.