One of my daughters was quite upset recently, crying and complaining that she was “fat.”
She grabbed a tiny handful of her belly, perhaps enough to hold half a candy bar, as her evidence. She’s still a pre-teen, and she’s still growing, but it’s safe to say she isn’t fat.
She didn’t want to eat. When she did eat, she only wanted to eat “healthy” options, which in her version wasn’t a terribly balanced diet.
Her mother tried to comfort her, telling her that she was just growing into her body and definitely wasn’t fat. She’s an analytic sort, so I tried entering her numbers into a body mass index calculator to show her she’s within the normal range for her age.
She didn’t believe it. She said it would tell everyone they’re in a healthy range. So I plugged in my information. It said I was obese. That made her feel a little bit better (and me a little bit worse).
Body image is such a complicated topic. I often joke around our house that I’m a fat, old man. The reality is I’m really neither. I could afford to lose about 20 pounds. I also wish stress and genetics hadn’t turned my hair so salt-and-pepper.
I felt convicted as I heard my daughter complaining about her weight. She likely learned it from us. She probably heard me wishing for washboard abs (yet unwilling to work for them). Maybe she heard her mother obsessing about eating better (usually while suffering the indigestion from not eating well).
The reality is we all have very typical bodies for Americans. We could afford to lose a few pounds, but we’re not dangerously overweight. We still have good mobility and aren’t limited in what we can do.
This is on top of all the body-shaming our society brings to a young lady nowadays. Most actresses on TV are rail-thin, unless they’re large and sassy (usually for comedic effect). Magazines and Internet images offer impossible standards.
We need to reinforce healthy living to our children. It’s not about the number on your scale. It’s about being able to do all the things you want to do. It’s about being healthy enough to enjoy your life.
I’m committing to myself and to my children that I’ll stop joking about my belly. It’s too important for their future to think it’s OK to hate your own body. There’s always room for improvement in your diet and your physique, but it helps no one to just make fun of it.
I just hope our children can learn that maybe we were wrong before. It’s better to be happy and healthy than to obsess over your body type.