I overheard two nine year old girls talking the other day at a friend’s home. One tall, one short, neither thin, neither overweight – but clearly built very differently. The taller one was urging the shorter one to get on the scale to see what she weighed. Finally, reluctantly, she obliged and weighed in four pounds heavier than the taller girl. The taller girl then responded “ooh, maybe we should run around more at recess.”
What does this tell me? It tells me that the tall girl has probably been overhearing her mother lament about being over-weight. It tells me that at by third grade, she’s already assumed most adults’ belief that what the scale reads, defines how you are seen. It also shows me how much our kids are listening to everyone’s obsession with weight.
It’s not just the girls mind you, I’ve caught many a group of elementary school boys quickly (albeit amongst themselves) dismissing a girl based upon her weight, having learned early on that thinner is more attractive. All it takes is one tossed away comment by a Dad watching a model-eating-burger commercial like “now that’s hot” to take root his son’s head. (Don’t get me started on the irony of those silly commercials!)
If you’ve read my blog for any length of time you know that I do not own a scale, and berate my clients who use one to gauge their fitness. You should also know that I am trying to raise awareness with the world at large, as well as in my own home, that body fat vs. scale weight vs. internal health are three different things and should not be lumped together.
Clearly, being a personal trainer, there’s a lot of discussion in our home about nutrition, body fat, body acceptance, etc. My daughter is built on the short and stocky side, yet she is strong and healthy, and not fat. But put her next to her taller and leaner friends, sure she seems “thicker” – a perception that to the ignorant child/adult could be referred to as fat.
I work diligently to maintain her healthy self-esteem so that she will not suffer in middle-school, high- school and beyond. Young girls’ and boys’ feelings of inadequacy because society has deemed them inferior if they’re not built like models, starts in the home whether you’re aware of it or not.
My hope today for those of you who read this (and hopefully you’ll pass it on to reach more) is that everyone who worries about their “weight” should stop verbalizing their issues in front of their children. Husbands, wives, fathers, mothers, boyfriends, girlfriends – we all need to realize that one little innocuous sentence (“I can’t lose the last ten pounds, I hate the way I look”) can plant a very destructive seed in a little person’s brain.
So think about what you say around your kids, and what they might internalize about themselves from it. Engage in open discussions about health, nutrition, the differences in body types, and most importantly, that ultimately we must not judge books by their coverers – beauty is more than skin deep – and any other words of positive reaffirmation to remind them that life is about being a good person – not being perfect.