Why I Don’t Care If My Daughter Gets Fat

LizBRBodies10 Comments

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Ruthie is three.

She is a healthy toddler. Her brain is perfect–a neurologist confirmed that in 2012 when she was exhibiting some strange growth patterns that needed to be checked out. She is funny and incredibly smart and is absurdly flexible. She is a remarkably fun little kid who loves reading, her dollhouse, donuts from Concannon’s Bakery, her daycare teachers, her grandma’s dog Harley, and apples. I’ve never seen anyone who loves  apples as much as this kid does.

I want desperately for Ruthie to continue to grow up happy and healthy and loved.

The author and her extremely cute daughter

Ruthie & Me

And I don’t care–not one bit–whether she gets fat.

About a year ago, a mother named Dara-Lynn Weiss wrote in Vogue and later published a book about the process of putting her 7-year-old daughter on a diet. Weiss was both praised and villainized–perhaps slightly more villainized than praised. People responded so strongly for and against her because of the way she approached her daughter’s weight. To most people who became familiar with Weiss’s story, it became clear that it Weiss was the one who had a problem with food, not her daughter, who was far too young to internalize anything from this experience except for “food is bad, and you are bad for wanting it.”

Author Dara-Lynn Weiss and the cover of her book The Heavy

Author Dara-Lynn Weiss; Photo from NYMag.com

I don’t want to go into the details of folks’ totally insightful criticism of Weiss’s methods or belief system. I don’t even want to get into the discussion of childhood obesity and what should be done to ensure our children are healthy. What I want to do with this blog post is emphasize one thing: I don’t care if Ruthie grows up to be fat.

I just don’t. I refuse to.

Here’s why.

1) Fat does not equal unhealthyLet me link to that Kate Harding article in this next sentence, too, just to try to get you to go read it. Seriously. Here it is again. Eating horrible food and sitting around all the time is unhealthy, but that’s not what causes people to be fat. Plenty of thin folks do the same thing, and their health is more at risk than a healthy fat person’s. I definitely hope Ruthie doesn’t choose to sit around all the time and eat junk food constantly (although I’ll still love her if she does). But weight is not an indicator of someone who eats poorly and doesn’t exercise–HEALTH is an indicator of those things, no matter a person’s size. I’m going to hope that my daughter continues to be as healthy as she is as a three-year-old, and that I can help her learn to make good choices about eating delicious, nutrient-rich, natural foods and getting plenty of exercise, but I’m not going to tie that to an arbitrary number on a scale.

2) My thin friends seem no less likely to struggle with body image issues than my fat ones. It’s not like there is some magical transformation that happens when a person is under XX pounds and suddenly all of their insecurities disappear. I think back to Meghan’s post, which I wrote about last week. She expressed how her body insecurities have been basically the same no matter where she has been on a 100-pound spectrum of weight gain and loss. Let me emphasize this: being thin doesn’t loving your body, and being fat doesn’t mean hating it. Hoping that Ruthie doesn’t get fat doesn’t mean the same as hoping she loves her body for the amazing thing that it is.

Seriously, her body is incredible. Her heart pumps blood. Her lungs oxygenate that blood. Her fingernails and toenails grow and her hair is thick and the synapses in her brain are doing these unbelievable miracles 24 hours a day that help her develop language and reasoning skills and spacial recognition and so much more. She can feel pain and build muscle and grow. Her tiny little bones are strong enough to support her body, and she can twist and curl and bounce and hop. All of our bodies are these amazing things, even when they don’t work perfectly, and I want her to be excited about the fact that she has a body that transports her from place to place so that she can interact with the world and with people in a vivid and intense way. That’s what our bodies are for–to take us into and help us experience the world–and that’s why we should celebrate them. They also happen to be really beautiful. If I can help instill into her the kind of love and respect for her body that I have for mine, she’ll have a better chance of having a healthy attitude toward that body, no matter what she weighs.

Ruthie playing in the snow

Ruthie’s body doing what it’s meant to do: help her explore her world.

3) I’m a bit fat and also pretty happy. There are some inconveniences to my current size–I can’t shop in the juniors section at Target anymore, and some jerks on the Internet make me feel bad when they criticize the bodies of women who are far smaller than me, but otherwise, there’s nothing all that bad about being fat. I’m healthy, I travel, I’m active, I have great clothes, I love my hair and my waist, I can keep up in conversations with really smart people (most of the time), I’m in love with Chalupa, and the list goes on. Life is pretty good for this fatty, so I’m okay with hoping Ruthie ends up as happy as I am. It’s possible to be happy and fat, and that’s really what I care about when it comes to Ruthie: her happiness. Weight doesn’t really play a part in my day-to-day life, and I’d rather it not for her, too.

4) I’ve seen what happens when people’s mothers intensively scrutinize their daughters’ weight. I’ve seen the damage inflicted on my friends by their well-intentioned mothers, who push their own disordered eating or body hatred onto their children without even realizing it. I know what happens when a young girl’s mother makes casual, hurtful warnings about not getting fat. Her daughter remembers. Her daughter internalizes. Her daughter begins to think that there is something wrong with her, and that she must control the things she eats in order to be a good person. Her daughter assigns morality and worth to calories that never should be assigned. My mother didn’t do that to me, and I will not do that to Ruthie. I will do my best to contradict the messages that this screwed up world sends to her about her body, and I will certainly never allow myself to contribute to anything that could make her hate her body or feel that her body must look a certain way in order for her to be loveable.

5) I refuse to buy into the idea that a person’s worth is dependent upon a number. Any number. For far too long, women have been judged based on whether or not their body meets society’s determined factors for attractiveness. I won’t accept that. I don’t believe that Ruthie’s worth as a person is determined by or affected by: her BMI number, the number of chin-ups she can do in gym class, the results of some future pulmonary function test, her SAT score, the number of colleges she gets into, the number of kids she chooses to have or not to have, the amount of money she gets from her first paycheck or her final one, the pounds she can bench press, or the number of movies she has on her shelves. If none of those things make a difference in the way that I love and value my daughter as a person, then neither will the number that shows up on a scale when she steps onto it.

***

It’s almost cliché for parents to say that they just want their children to grow up to be happy.  If this is true, if this is what parents really believe is important, then focusing on weight–or even quietly hoping to raise a thin child–is exactly the wrong approach to take.

This article first appeared on Liz Boltz Ranfeld.

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LizBRWhy I Don’t Care If My Daughter Gets Fat

10 Comments on “Why I Don’t Care If My Daughter Gets Fat”

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  1. Profile photo of Kat Patches
    Kat Patches

    #4 reminds me of my relationship with my mom so much. She was always trying to make me diet and lose weight since I was in second grade, but it is really freaking hard for me because of my body type so I never did. In middle school, as a teenage rebellion type thing, I started buying candy and stuff on my way home from school and hiding it. I got really good at hiding what sugary things I ate, but that also meant I ate a lot more junk food than I would have if I had not had to hide and eat things all at once. It took me until last year, my senior year of high school, to realize that I have a shit relationship with food. I still hate my body because of its size, even though I know that’s silly. I’m working on not hating myself so much, but with all the nagging I still get from my mom and dad, it’s hard. They only want me to be healthy but it ended up making me eat more junk and be more unhealthy.

  2. Profile photo of Remi
    Remi

    Reading this made me immediately think of the well-intentioned but hurtful comments my mother would make before I actively sought to lose weight (not for health reasons mind you, for vanity, let me be real). She’d buy snacks and whatnot for the family but it was only when I’d reach for some that she’d pop up out of nowhere and reply “Go easy on those.” It hurt. Still hurts thinking about it. She could’ve easily suggested we go walking together (because its healthy, not because she doesn’t like the sight of her overweight daughter) or she could’ve, I dunno, STOPPED BUYING SO MUCH JUNK FOOD, but yeah. I’m not bitter or anything. And you’re absolutely right about being skinny (or slimmer) having little to no positive effect on your self-esteem. I would tell myself if I just reach X weight I’ll be fine. I reached it, loved it for a few weeks then hated myself again and proceeded to lose more. I’ve peaked and some days are great, others, I feel like I did before the weight loss.

    Anyhoo, I’m babbling. You’re a beautiful soul and your daughter is blessed to have you as her mother and mentor and guide through life. I predict your daughter will grow into a happy, healthy and confident woman. Also, could you adopt me?

  3. Profile photo of [E]queSarahSarah
    [E]queSarahSarah

    I;m so glad that there are moms out there like you.

    I was lucky that my mom never put any value on my weight growing up. My heart goes out to those that have that kind of pressure from their caregivers. The world puts enough pressure on women particularly to look a certain way, that kind of bullshit doesn’t need to be reinforced at home.

  4. Profile photo of [E] Selena MacIntosh*
    [E] Selena MacIntosh*

    I love this, I love you, and I think your daughter is going to grow up to be an amazing woman. I can tell, she’s clearly thinking very big thoughts in the photo.

    My mom put me on a diet when I was eight or nine. My mom was the shit, 99.9% of the time, and age and time have allowed me to see that she probably spent her whole life hating her body. I don’t know if she even knew how to teach me to love mine, since nobody ever taught her to love hers. I still hate what the diet did to me – I quit swimming and gymnastics, I stopped wearing shorts and dresses, I started slouching to try to hide my body from the rest of the world – but I’m not angry at mom for putting us on the diet to begin with.

    Bodies are so complicated, and they should be so simple.

  5. Profile photo of [E] Rachel
    [E] Rachel

    This is such a remarkable piece. Even though I’m not having kids, I’m grateful that there are parents like you (and all the Persephe-moms) out there.

  6. Profile photo of Sheena really wouldn't mind an early autumn
    Sheena really wouldn't mind an early autumn

    Health can be emphasized without mentioning weight. And, well, I wish that had been my parents’ focus — rather than “no, you don’t need seconds, you’ll get fat if you have more” or “boys won’t want to date you if you’re fat”, but at the same time setting us all up to have to grab our share of any “treat” before someone else can get it. Crappy body image AND poverty, yay. (And both of my siblings — and myself — have each had our “fat” phase, plus several “way too skinny” phases.) And only positive implications related were to being thin (“she’s such a skinny minny! Isn’t she cute?” vs “I was in walmart and this woman was so fat that she was knocking things off the shelf and didn’t even notice, how rude and ugly”).

    I love that you’re approaching this with an emphasis on *healthy* instead of *skinny*. That’s my goal if/when I have kids; focus on health, rather than size. Especially since kids have pudgy pre-growth-spurt phases; it’s NORMAL.

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