Lately, my nearly 9-year old son has become obsessed with body weight. Not his own, mind you. Everybody else’s.
It all started with a trip to the vet’s. Our ginger cat was due for his annual well-pet visit and the children wanted to tag along. Having never weighed him at home, we were surprised (well, sort of surprised, okay, not really surprised) when the vet told us that at 19.4 lbs, he was overweight and needed to be put on a diet.
Since then, my son constantly refers to the cat as ‘chubby’, ‘obese’, ‘fatty catty’ and ‘big butt’. While that cat doesn’t seem to mind (he’s wary of A. at the best of times), it bothers me to hear him use those words so comfortably when describing another living being (even if it is just the cat).
Recently, he’s taken to pointing out overweight people when we’re out in public. Most of this time, thankfully, it’s from behind the sound-proof glass of our car. Every now and then, he uses his ‘inside voice’ when we’re out in public.
I’ve had many quiet chats with him about why we don’t call people names and draw attention to their physical appearance (‘if you don’t have anything nice to say about somebody, don’t say anything at all’). He doesn’t believe there’s anything wrong with it, as he’s just stating the truth (‘just the facts ma’am’), as we’ve always taught him to.
I worry about this behaviour for several reasons:
- there is one very obese child at his school who’s been a victim of both school yard and cyber bullying about his weight (his mother is a friend of mine and is working hard with him to modify his diet and help him to lose weight in a healthy manner) and I want my son to understand what can happen when people stigmatize others based on appearances
- I have a pre-teen daughter who already has food issues (although she currently has no issues with her body, the teenage years are tough on girls and I know very few women who managed to escape them without developing negative thoughts about their weight)
- ‘fattism’ is all around us. By now you’ve all heard about the Abercrombie and Fitch debacle. While many people were outraged upon hearing this story, I believe that negative images of and attitudes about overweight people are much more prevalent than we’d like to let on (just the other day I ‘unfollowed’ a fellow fitness peep who posted a pair of photos on Instagram, one depicting an overweight women stuffing cupcakes in her mouth, the other showing a lean, curvaceous woman posing provocatively in a bikini; the caption below read ‘you can either eat delicious or look delicious’)
We don’t use either the ‘f’ word or the ‘d’ word at home.
While we do talk about the health benefits of maintaining an appropriate weight for your height and regularly discuss the merits of eating whole, unprocessed foods (usually when one child or another is trying to convince me to buy something I don’t consider a healthy option while grocery shopping), we try hard not to vilify certain foods or make judgements about people who eat them (who doesn’t enjoy a cupcake, now and then?).
Am I being overly sensitive to language? How do you talk to your children about body weight, obesity, and body image? Do you discourage them from using the words ‘fat’ and ‘diet’? Have you ever noticed them adopting ‘fattist’ attitudes? How does one avoid it?
I’d love to hear your thoughts about talking to kids about obesity.
Please add to the conversation by leaving a comment below!