A friend emailed me recently after reading my post about me putting my social anxiety fears onto my daughter’s shoulders. It was a painful email to read…and I imagine equally as painful for her to write. It was in reference to putting our “fat” fears onto our children. And man…while my head is spinning with myriads of thoughts on this….it’s still not easy to write.
The mother's email to me said this:
I am constantly worried I am putting my hang ups and fears onto my daughter. I know I do it and I try to stop myself, but it's so hard because in my mind I say I'm trying to protect her - but I'm really trying to protect me when I was her age.
I am REALLY struggling with her right now because in the last year she's really chunked up and the little inner fat girl in me would do anything not to have her struggle with weight the way I did my whole life. She is not fat, but she is right on the borderline and at the age where she'll start getting teased if we don't stop it. It's hard to handle and I know I'm failing because I say things I shouldn't. It's like walking a tight rope because I don't want her to go through what I went through, but if I'm super strict about everything the poor girl puts in her mouth I'll end up giving her an eating disorder when she grows up.
If I go back into my own history, as a young child and teen, I wasn’t overweight. I wasn’t thin either. And I swear to you that about 8 out of 10 of my friends were literally either anorexic or bulimic. At lunch – they’d see who could throw up first. Or who could go the longest without eating…until they passed out. It was a fad. One I never dabbled in – um cuz – I was in love with Oreos. I was muscular though and weighed more than anyone ever guessed and my mother never saw me as thin.
To this day when I am thinner now than I was then…she still can’t see it. She sees me as the same size as her….which I am not. I used to be but am no longer. Just the other day I had her take a skirt to get altered. She picked it up for me. I had the lady make it the same size as a skirt I wear regularly – which is a 6. My mother handed me the bag with the finished skirt in it and said, “Well I sure hope it fits you because it doesn’t fit me.”…in a tone that clearly said, “It ain’t gonna fit you sweet thang.” Or at least that’s what I heard.
I was scared to death to try it on. What if she was right and it didn't fit?
It fits. I wore it Monday out of spite. It took everything in me not to drive over there and walk in wearing it.
So while my mother never said any unkind words to me about my weight…there are little jabs here and there like the above and always comparisons to my size 2 sister.
I kind of had a mother who saw fat on me that wasn’t really there. Which leads me to my next point – the opposite – the mothers who can’t see fat.
I have a cousin and her children – a boy and a girl – are very overweight, as is she. I swear to you on everything that is holy – she doesn’t notice. When we all lined up for a family picture, her own father yelled out loud enough for everyone to hear, “Yup, the apple didn’t fall far from the tree. Look at my fat daughter up there looking just like me.” He is indeed obese too. He laughed. She laughed. Everyone else cringed and waited for a fight because God knows for most people – them would have been fighting words.
Nope, nothing. Laughter. She never blushed. Never got mad. She laughed. A real laugh.
And on Facebook she constantly talks about her kid’s beauty and constantly talks about making them pies, taking them for ice cream, eating entire pizzas, candy bars by the dozen. In fact, most of her posts are about food. But my God – she seems so happy. For real. Not a fake, empty kind of happy with sadness lurking behind it. Like for real happy and she doesn’t see her kids as anything but gorgeous and healthy.
And I wonder – is that a bad thing? I mean with a mother who clearly is happy and enjoys life overweight – won’t they grow up to be/act the same? Won’t they be fine if they never change and get thinner? Hell – they won’t be emotionally scarred like some thin girls are – because their mother only treated them as if they were perfect.
Which brings me to what we teach our children even when we’re trying not to. When I initially lost all my weight I probably went overboard. I stuck to my calorie range every day and never ever missed a workout. It was my life. It had to be at that point in time. But I realized I don’t want to teach my girls that diet/exercise are the only things in life so I backed off the food and workout dialogue.
I seriously walk around naked quite a bit – not because Rambo likes it – but because I want them to see that I am not ashamed of my scars and my body and that I am proud of it…and I will not hide it in shame from people like my husband or children. I do not talk diet in front of them. I do not whine about exercise in front of them. I don’t talk about my weight or pounds.
But yet they know….because just yesterday I ate a Tootsie Roll and my 4 year old Banana simply stated, “Mommy, you cannot eat that. You are on a diet.” I nearly choked on that chocolate turd of heaven. Now I’d bet my left titty – she has no idea what a diet even is….but it shocked me. Apparently I “do” talk food around her – enough that she knows candy is not allowed. At the age of 4. *sigh*
And the family went on a walk the other night – and I left them all – to go ahead so I could run. Watermelon wanted to run with me but couldn’t keep up the entire time. So it was me running alone and the three of them walking. Was that smart? Did I teach her exercise is more important than precious family time and discussion? Why couldn’t I have walked with them? It still would have been exercise. Sometimes I still go overboard it seems. Running burns more calories you know – and last night – that’s all that mattered to me. Regret mattered later.
Back to the friend who emailed me….I don’t know how to help her….so I’m asking you guys for her. I have two very active thin girls and I have never had to watch what they eat. They eat everything from health food to junk food to everything in between in different quantities. Sometimes they eat very little – they say they are full – and I say okay. I never tell them to finish their plate and overeat. I let them listen to their stomachs and of course if they come up hungry again in 5 minutes – they need to eat more of that supper they claimed to be full on. But chips and stuff like candy are allowed because my kids go outside until dark every night and run and walk and ride bikes. They don’t own video games and usually only watch tv after dark. They burn off what they eat so it’s never been a problem. I’ll keep an eye on it but so far we are okay.
Lest you are mistaken - let me assure you - the fear of them gaining weight is always in the back of my mind. No mother wants that for her child....when you've been there yourself.
If I had little girls on the verge of being overweight – what would I do? I don’t know. Like my friend said – if you take food away – you give them a complex and possibly an eating disorder. If you let them continue to gain weight – it gets worse and they get picked on and have to go through losing it as an adult. How do you stop it? Is the answer a family diet where everyone is involved? Is the answer a candid conversation with the child? What if the child is too young to understand?
I guess as a mother I wish this wasn’t even a topic to discuss. I wish it was all as easy as my cousin – literally enjoy life, eat what you want, only see beauty no matter what you weigh – period. But we all know it’s not that easy…and that would only happen in CareBear Land.
It’s sort of like me wanting Watermelon so badly to never feel the social anxiety I feel or miss out on life like I did because of it. When we try to prevent our children from becoming overweight we are hoping like hell they never feel fat like we did or have to work their asses off to lose it like we are.
But the subject is intense and controversial and there are so many options on how to handle it. I wish I knew the answer….so I could help this friend. In the meantime, can you guys chime in? I’m curious as to how you handle it if you’re in the situation now or how you would handle it if you were some time in the future.
And I'm curious out of selfishness, in case down the road I have to deal with this regarding my girls.
And to my friend who emailed me….your daughter is lucky to have you….that’s the one thing I do know. And thank you for sharing your pain with me…..I wish I could make it go away.
I truly do.