I want my girl to be joyful, not “thin”

I don’t blog about my opinions very often. There’s a reason I write fiction and not non-fiction and that is that, as my husband will attest, I can get a bit … bolshy about the things I’m passionate about. Equal marriage rights, refugee rights, indigenous rights, the right of an animal to a life of kindness, free of abuse … All those things fire me up big time. Trouble is, they also make me emotional. And when I get emotional I don’t articulate my opinions clearly or cogently. I tend to get fired up, babble, get confused, get up upset and then cry.

 

Hence the fiction-writing. Hence the lack of blogs about things I really care about (writing excepted).


But maybe today the mother-hormones are doing funny things, because I feel compelled to write this blog. I might babble a bit. I might end up crying (I’ll try not to as I’m hugging a sleeping baby and I don’t want to get her wet). I just have to do this.


So what is it that’s got me so fired up?


It’s this article, from Mamamia.


I’ll repost just a little bit of it:

 


It feels like some shameful secret I’m supposed to hide – my joy that my children have strong, lithe, healthy bodies.

When I enter my local aquatic centre, I shudder at the size of some of the kids in their cossies. I murmur a prayer of thanks that mine aren’t carrying all those spare tyres.

Yet.

Don’t get me wrong – I wouldn’t love my children less if they were large. They will always be my sweethearts, no matter what. And I will always foster their self-esteem, no matter what. But I really hope – for their sakes – that they stay thin.

 

The article has already generated nearly a hundred comments on Mamamia.com.au, some agreeing with the author’s stance, others vehemently arguing that her preoccupation with her children being “thin” is, in fact, a much more damaging example to set them than her self-confessed few extra kilograms.

I fall into the latter group.

As someone who’s had issues with her body image her entire life (Too skinny! Nose too wonky! Feet too big! Flat bum! Too many moles! Legs a funny shape!), it is so very crucial to me that I foster a positive body image in my daughter. Not that I imagine for one second that this will be an easy task – I’m sure my mother tried with me and I still ended up this way. And the reasons I’m like this are complicated. I guess I’m the classic eldest child in many ways. I strive to be perfect, for attention, for approval, “so people will keep loving me and not leave me”.

Yes. At thirty. Pathetic, I know.

And that’s not my parents’ fault. Not at all. My insecurity is my own monster.

So what am I trying to say here? I guess my goal as a mum will not be to “tell her she’s beautiful”. On the other hand, I know I’ll say it. Because she is. She always will be, to me. But my aim will always be to make her feel like she’s enough. Just as she is. She doesn’t need to be a certain way, behave a certain way, look a certain way, to be loved. Whatever she is – that’s enough. If she does well at school – great. If she gets a kick-arse job or marries the “perfect man” – awesome. But, you know what? If she wants nothing more than to work in a job-that’s-just-a-job and concentrate instead on baking fantastic cakes; if she marries a man without a penny to his name, as long as she’s happy I’ll be ecstatic.

And, if she isn’t happy, sometimes, that’s fine too. I’ll be there for her no matter what. Because insisting on constant happiness is also damaging and …

Gah! See, what did I tell you? I’m babbling.

To get back to the topic of the article, it’s been worrying me lately that people have started to describe my girl as “chubby”. As if it’s a bad thing that my daughter – born at 2.1 kilos and down to 1.7 a couple of days after birth – is now thriving. Has our obsession with avoiding obesity become so acute that a very normal-sized (in fact, she’s still slightly small for her age), baby is now something to be feared? I’m proud Tiger’s got a bit of weight in reserve. If she ever (heavens forbid) gets sick, she’ll need it.

She’s healthy.

And, when she’s older, I’ll do my level best to ensure she stays healthy. But the reality is, she might be healthy and bigger. It’s unlikely, considering her genes, but my girl might not be thin. And far out, that’s bloody okay with me. Because you can be healthy and not thin. You can be thin and very sick. Health is not a number on a scale.

My girl will eat vegetables aplenty, and lean meat (no, despite my own choices, I will not raise her vegetarian), and grains and eggs and cheese and all the good things but she will occasionally eat pizza too. And fish and chips and sausage rolls and jelly slices and gosh-darn fairy bread because I remember eating all those things as a kid with such joy.

My girl will experience joy.

Because, unlike what the author of this article contends, food doesn’t always have to be just about sustenance. It can be about fun, too.

In my writing, I am proud that I examine issues of body acceptance. I’m proud that I present strong, healthy women as main characters. I know I have a lot of work to do in feeling that way about myself but I’m determined to, to set a good role model for Tiger. But what I weigh won’t be her example. How I act and what I say and believe will be.

I’m working on that.

I’m working on it so, when she’s older, she never feels like the children of this author will feel when they read this article – that what they weigh is more important to their mother than the joy they feel.

There. Done. Sorry for babbling and, if it sounds as if I’m on a high horse here, I’m not. I’m a work in progress when it comes to this stuff, with a long way to go, but I’ll do it for my little girl. Because she’s worth it.

19 thoughts on “I want my girl to be joyful, not “thin”

  1. ‘Chubby’? Tess is a baby! Since when were babies NOT meant to be chubby??? Don’t despair of people’s ignorant comments Kate. Although they mean well, they can unwittingly cause angst, especially for new parents who are somewhat sleep deprived and can at times feel delicate. Stay strong and keep doing what you’re doing – it must be right if Tess is ‘chubby’! 🙂

    My daughter was 4.34kg (or 9lb 9oz) at birth, was always on the 95th percentile for height and weight at all her health checks. I had comments from my mother about my daughter’s size (“You’d better be careful and watch that Alison, she’s very chubby”). What? Now, just turned 12, she’s around 5′ 4″ (taller than me!), slim, lithe, fit, sporty and healthy. She’s sometimes teased about her hands and feet being bigger than those of her friends’ (shoe size women’s 9). I just tell her she’s like a puppy and will grow into them! She complains about being too ‘skinny’ (she’s not) and having to now wear women’s sz 8 clothes. The conversation of reassurance with her will no doubt continue as she starts to fill out with girly curves during teenagerdom. The best we can do for our children is to reassure them that there is a huge range of ‘normal’ and that we love them no matter what.

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  2. Childhood obesity is such a difficult thing to deal with. I can see how a parent would be pleased not to have to deal with it. I’m glad I didn’t have to deal with it because I’m sure I would’ve stuffed it up. My kids went through short periods of chubbiness which we ignored… and they grew out of it. We ignored it because we were presenting them with healthy food and making them walk to and from school everyday and they were playing sport.
    But a friend is having terrible trouble with her daughter who is a food lover, and a sport hater, and has a Yiayia who wants to show her love through food and live too far from school. My friend & her husband are thin and athletic and present healthy food but they can’t keep up with Yiayia’s food-love or their daughter’s desire to eat. They have finally had to resort to angry words with Yiayia about the meaning of love and introduce the concept of dieting to their 11 year old daughter. I cringe at what they’re going through as parents. I cringe at the potential for body image disaster. But parents are told childhood obesity is their fault. They have to take some action to keep their child healthy. They are approaching it with responsibility, love, humour and hope. That’s all any parent can do. No parent knows if they’re doing it right, really.

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  3. Hard to read a blog post in context when it’s a guest post. I get your point Alana, easy for us to judge you and your opinions on this one post we read on Mamamia without reading any of your other stuff. Maybe that’s a problem with guest posts. The issue struck a chord with me as I have one ‘thin’ child and one ‘solid’ child. Both with same parents, both fed same foods and brought up same way. One will always be viewed as thin (and get comments about the hollow under her bibs) and the other as the ‘chubby one’ and it’s no fault of her own, just the body she was born with. I love the both and don’t feel any sense of relief that the eldest was born thin or remorse that my 2nd child is chubby. And they’re both still young (4 years and 11 months) so who knows how they’ll end up but I’m already stressing about it!

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    1. I’m wondering if people would have been less upset if I’d used the word “obese”? Does that word imply unhealthy more? Who knows.
      I wouldn’t be stressing about your kids, Jacinta. They’re so young. Both of mine were “solid” (and adorable!) until they were about five and shot up.

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  4. Great article Kate! I haven’t read the original post yet, but I do wholeheartedly agree with Mamamia posts losing their context.

    Body image is a tricky one. It’s not something we’ve given a lot of thought to just yet – we’re more focussed on giving our daughter a childhood full of fun, playing in the dirt, ripping up grass, running on the deck with a ball and enjoying every kind of food in moderation!

    Tiger is beautiful and you’re a fantabulous Mother. Xoxo

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  5. Oh Kate not offended, just sad that I’ve come across as a mum who doesn’t let her kids have treats and bases my love on their size, because that’s not the reality. Like you I have spent my life feeling inadequate about my looks, my body and my abilities. Its the last thing I want for them. But I still feel glad that they aren’t the obese kids at the pool, and I don’t care who slams me for that.

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  6. This is something I fret about often as well, as the mother of two girls. There are no easy solutions. I catch myself telling them how beautiful they are (because omg of course they are) and remind myself to add or mention later all those other things I value about them – being brave and strong and funny and clever.

    I want my girls to be joyful too, and to value all kinds of things about themselves, to not hate the way they look (which is possibly an impossible goal given that they are both going to be teenage girls some day), and to recognise that looks are only one aspect of what makes a person.

    There’s so much pressure out there for young women to think about themselves in negative terms, and it’s scary how early it begins. Prepare yourself for several decades of deprogramming the scary/weird/bizarre ideas your daughter brings home from daycare or school, picked up from other kids who manage somehow (at age 4 or 6 or 8) to speak with Great Authority about how girls can’t do this, or should do that, or shouldn’t do the other.

    There will be enragements aplenty! But I think the association between health and weight is a massive one, no pun intended, and I can see why you’d take it personally as the mum of a premmie.

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    1. Thanks heaps for your kind words, lovely lady! And I tell Tiges she’s beautiful every day too – I can’t help it. She just is, to me. But I tend to think she’s most beautiful when she’s pulling some crazy silly face, not when she’s being “pretty” :o)

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  7. Oh, and while I’m at it, food is so not just about sustenance in our household, I blog recipes constantly, everything from homemade meat pies to muffins. You’d know that if you were a regular reader. We also went trick or treating last night and the kids stuffed themselves with lollies til they were bursting. No sustenance there … OK, I’m done. Unless you’d like me to make a few presumptions about you. I’m no slouch at that either – so perhaps we have more in common than you think.

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    1. Gah! This is why I should stick to fiction! I’m sorry if I offended you, Alana – you’re right, I did read your blog post out of context and have now had a squiz at the rest of your site. It’s obviously a sticky issue for me and I’m floundering with how to deal with it. I just hate the thought of my Tiger inheriting any of my insecurities, and I’m desperate to work out a way to prevent it. I obviously don’t have a flipping clue, but I’ll muddle my way through, as we all do! I hope my post didn’t seem judgemental – it wasn’t meant to. It was more a way of me working through my own thoughts than a comment on your parenting. Anyway, babbling again! Thank you for getting in touch and I hope the assumptions you make about me aren’t too harsh!

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  8. The funny thing about a blog post being republished on Mamamia is that people don’t read it in context. This was the first time I’ve ever discussed childhood obesity at housegoeshome.com. The hopes I usually discuss for my children are that they be happy and kind. I want those things for them above all else. I’ve expressed those sentiments in blogs such as Sticks & Stones (wp.me/p1Jq2y-1Tc). Heavens, what a terrible mother I would be if slimness was my biggest priority for them. How awful.

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  9. You know, I agree, children need to be nurtured with love – not adult ideals! BUT the fact that your child is quite young may mean the comments are not directed at weight at all. For some reason, even though the world strives to be thin, babies are adored for being chubby. I got comments in the other direction because both of my babies were born without all those delicious roly-poly legs that everyone seems to love in babies. I got ‘Aren’t you feeding you poor child’ all the time 😦

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    1. I’ve had both ends of the spectrum, Rachel, as Tess was born very tiny. Because I’m quite thin, I’ve had so many comments along the lines of, “No wonder she’s so small – look at you!” and “Were you dieting when you were pregnant?” (No, of course I flipping wasn’t! She was small because she was six weeks’ premature, due to a tumour on my placenta, and was actually a good size for her gestation). Now, I’ve had people say, “Gee, she’s stacked on the weight – look at her fat legs! Is she on solids yet?” It’s a crazy old world where the weight of an infant is cause for comment at all! :o)

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  10. Bravo and well said. As a mother of a very strong and healthy 10 year old girl, who is a bit bigger than the other girls, I applaud your blabbing. I have raised my daughter to be happy and confident, so the fact that she is a size larger than her friends does not concern her, or her friends. My only hope is that this will continue through High School and she will not be pulled down by small minded people.

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    1. Thank you, Tamryn! It’s such a difficult thing to do – instilling a positive body image in our daughters. I know I have no idea how I’ll do it. It’s so wonderful you’ve raised a healthy girl who’s happy in her own skin. I hope I do as well as you have! And I hope high school is kind to her. Thanks again, so much, for your kind comment.

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