Right then, my heart broke.
Once she was done, I asked about this statement, where she had heard it, who had told her about “fat,” (in our house, even Mfuta the elephant is banned!) and she responded that a friend had told her that food makes you fat. I couldn’t get my jaw to stay closed as the first rage of being a mother of a beautiful little girl began to seep to the surface. There are already so many concerns I have for my daughter’s future, so many holes I want to fill, and then this? At the tender age of three! She comes home from playschool with the idea that food makes her fat!!
And rightly or wrongly, especially considering a previous post, I blame the parents.
First off, and for the public record, I am no size eight model. In many ways, I am probably fat. Overweight at best. According to my BMI, I need to shed about seven kilograms before I am out of a risk zone and according to Cosmo, I should shed twenty-seven. We eat well in our home – and by well I mean tasty as well as healthy: lentils, chickpeas and quinoa, fresh veggie juices, no white carbs at night, lots of fresh fruit, organic and homegrown as much as possible, limited quantities of red meat… I run a little and cycle a little and walk a lot. I swim and jump on the trampoline with my girls. I stroll down the road holding on to a toddler on her bicycle and often explain that it’s great to be outside rather than inside watching television. So we eat well and live well.
Yes, I could be a size eight if I sacrificed wine, chocolate and cappuccinos; if instead of having a lay-in, or reading, or writing or gardening I went for a run or a cycle or a swim. If I sacrificed that bowl of popcorn watching Sofia the First and opted for a smoothie at the gym. Yes, my weight has been an uphill battle since a little after I turned eighteen and it is something I monitor and maintain as best I can, (within reason.) But I think my daughters will both look at me and see someone who is fairly well groomed and fun and energetic and healthy; perhaps not made up and well dressed and as elegant as they may want me to be. Yet, I have a life worth aspiring to, if I am honest, whether it be a happy marriage or a masters degree, I hope to lead a little by example. As I believe all parents should do, even if that is as simple as reading good books or praying with your children; they will mirror us eventually.
Which is why I was so upset today. The child who told my child about food equalling fat had heard it from their parents. Like prejudice or ungratefulness, this is something parents instil. I went through the list of parents I have met in the six short weeks we have shared a parking lot and couldn’t work out which one it would be who was so delusional that they felt it necessary to teach their children about fat. The parents I've met seem so much more sensible than that. Surely they wouldn’t be that naïve?
And since I don’t know who it was I wanted to address both the moms and the dads.
Moms first: We are who our daughters want to be. Whether we like that responsibility or not, it is a fact. They will watch your every stroke of the mascara brush and attempt to self apply the moment your back is turned. When you get dressed in the morning, they are imagining what they will wear when they are big like you and will try on your shoes wishing that day to come sooner. They may not always like us, may not always obey us, may not even show an interest in us, but they are watching. When you cry, they learn about showing emotions. When you accept belittling behaviour, they learn to be little. When you look at yourself in a mirror and express disgust, they learn that they are ugly too.
And if you are a mother of sons, the role is as important. Already you are teaching your boys what to look for in a spouse. You are also teaching them what to expect of women. If you, Mom, bemoan your own appearance and take drastic measures to appear slimmer, your boys will expect all the women in their lives to do the same. If you tolerate bad treatment in your home, tolerate being treated as a servant and a chauffer and a cook rather than the queen of your household, your sons will learn that a wife need be treated as nothing more.
Fathers, you are your daughter’s first love. But – and I know this from experience – it is not the way you love your little girl that leaves the lasting impression, but the way you love her mother. Telling your daughter that she is a princess, but not treating her mother as a queen is sending your child a very clear message that she’s not actually a princess, but the daughter of a doormat. And your adoration of your wife needn’t be so explicit that it makes romance novels blush, but it should be implicit in all you do: consideration, respect and reverence for the wife you have been blessed with. Your daughter will then realise that she need accept nothing less from her husband. Even when your wife has gained a whopping twenty kilograms, applaud the choice of salad over fries rather than say, I hope you’re not eating fries?! You need to realise too that your daughter is watching you.
And fathers of sons, watch how you treat the woman of the home; the queen on your household and the matriarch of your kingdom. Somehow, you need to communicate to your son that the reason you love his momma most of all is for her soul, her spirit and her brain. The fact that she was the most beautiful woman you had ever met was simply a bonus. Applaud her kindness, generosity, culinary prowess, faith.
I will never forget a young man in one of my classes sharing a story about why he had abstained from sex. He explained that he had a sister whom he adored and one day his father had asked him how he would feel if someone called his sister a slut. He said that he would be so angry, he’d want to punch whoever said that. His father then asked, but what if your sister had caused that reputation by being sexually promiscuous? The young man, after much consideration, answered that no matter what his sister had done, she would never be a slut and he would defend her for the rest of his life. His father then said to his son, “Just remember, every girl you meet is someone else’s sister or little girl. And you don’t want to be that guy who causes her a bad reputation.”
I was so impressed. Yes, with the young man, but more so with his father. His lesson had worked, but only in part because of his little speech. The real punch of that parable came in the fact that the father had clearly lived a life his son believed in and was willing to emulate. For better or worse, parents are the paradigm to which kids aspire.
Eating food is fuel to the body. Yes, if you live off fried chicken and tubed burger patties pretending to be meat, you won’t be fuelling your engine with very good stuff, but food is fuel. Our little ones are growing faster than some of us would like and they need to be fed well. With intolerances becoming more and more commonplace, already our children are learning that some foods can make them sick. Do we really need to add to that and teach them that healthy foods make them fat? (As the guilty party in my daughter’s tale would like her to believe.) I have to ask the question, WHAT WAS THIS PARENT HOPING TO ACHIEVE? Did he or she want his or her child to start dieting? Did he or she want his or her child to start monitoring his or her daily caloric intake? Did this parent simply stand in front of a mirror and say, Oh, I ate too much last night! Look at how fat I am! and not realise that his or her toddler was within earshot taking permanent mental notes?
There can be only two outcomes to this parenting lesson:
The child will develop a distaste for food – healthy or otherwise. Said parent will soon be complaining about a fussy eater. Said parent will soon wonder what supplements to put the child on. Said parent will slowly make food (already too big an issue,) into a massive issue. Said child will like food less and less. The cycle is not a healthy one.
Second outcome is worse, though. With obesity and over-weight people becoming more and more the ‘norm,’ there is a STRONG possibility this child will have a weight issue at some point in his or her life. Already, however, the programming is in place that when the weight piles on, the self-loathing will too. The child needn’t even be ‘overweight’ or ‘officially obese,’ they may simply carry a few pounds they don’t want. This parent is inadvertently teaching his or her child to hate themselves.
If you're a parent who spends day and night on a couch watching telemarketing, Here comes Honey Booboo, (or the intellectual equivalent,) eating chicken from a bucket and needing special undergarments to hoist your body towards itself, this blog post is not for you. Your lifestyle probably needs adjusting and while I know folks like you exist, I haven’t come across any in my world. Funnily enough, you’re probably not doing nearly as much psychological damage to your child as my next example is.
If you’re a parent of average height, average build, average level of activity in the day and averagely healthy – please, don’t stand on a scale in front of your child and call yourself fat! Yes, every woman I know wants to lose a few extra kilos – especially the ones the babies left behind. Many men I know would like to shake their bellies off. But there’s a difference between having a bodily goal and teaching your child that moderation is key – to teaching your child that what they see in the mirror is gross. Because that’s what your issue is. Yes, that is exactly what your issue is. BUT don’t make your issues your child’s.
They need to aspire to be like you – being healthy and doing the best you can. They need to see you being happy within your own skin; even if you need to fake it. It may even do you some good to pretend to like your body for a while.
I wrote a long time ago that we need to reach a stage of self-acceptance, and I beg of you, consider your children when you look in the mirror and berate your child’s mother or father – the person reflected back at you. You are standing there, with critical eyes, scrutinising the idol of an innocent mind – one that is still being moulded and ideologies that are still a-shaping. Keep your issues to your self.
And for goodness sake – don’t send them home with my kid again.