Sunday, October 13, 2013

Thin Obsession in a Country of Abundance

My two year old, Claire, handles a candy bar at the checkout line at the supermarket. It fits perfectly in her tiny little hands. She squeezes it, turns it over and looks at the wrapper. She puts it back, reaches for another on the shelf.

The candy is placed just at her eye level in palmable, enticing packaging. I hate that she’s so intrigued by something so devoid of any nutritional value, but I let her go. What else can I do?

My rhetorical answers:  "Not take her to the grocery store?" Pragmatically impossible.

Forbid it? That’s bound to backfire.

She’s actually never had any of it, but she knows. They want her to know. Its placement on the shelf. The way the candy looks -- all carefully contemplated. They start them young, when their minds are pliant. “Impulse purchase”…bypass the rational seat of the mind", I think.

I laugh, as I imagine how unlikely it would be to find carrot sticks in the checkout aisle. Nope. Marketing experts send their kids to college on the money they make figuring out how to make this crap so appealing.

“It’ll make you fat,” the woman in line in front of us says to Claire.

Really? I’m so shocked I don’t know what to say. I want to defend my daughter, but I can’t find the words. All I can think is “She's just a toddler? Wow. I hadn’t expected it so soon.”

The indoctrination begins.

Binge, purge. Repeat.

Complete and utter mixed messages courtesy of a country founded on the schizophrenic combo of the excess of capitalism and the guilt of puritanism.

I’ve written before about how society’s thin obsession has trickled down to children. I’ve read arresting pieces from moms who’ve had similar interactions with strangers as mine, as well as painful ones on the genesis of eating disorders. I was shocked to learn that 80% of fourth graders have dieted!

“But Claire isn’t anywhere near nine yet!” I protest in my mind.

I look at my daughter. She is a perfect cherub.

She’s just beginning to access the power and agency of her body. She's learning that its mastery can help her kick a ball, raise her arms towards the sky and express love through the most delicious hugs and kisses.

No, I didn’t expect to be here yet. I'm not ready for the sometimes subtle, sometimes not so subtle, message that she is not good enough just the way that she is. I thought I had a few years of reprieve.

Do I blame the woman in the grocery store line? I don’t know. After her ignorant statement, she was super nice to Claire. She doesn’t mean to be offensive. She’s just a cipher of a cultural ethic. It's not the fault of the people with marketing degrees either. College is awful expensive.

The reality is I don’t know who to blame.

All I know is that I feel powerless to stop an insidious, societal tide. And that this post is the most unfortunate thing that I’ve ever felt compelled to write.

Photo Source: D. Sharon Pruitt, Pink Sherbet Photography, FlickrLicense This photo has been altered and does not suggest that the licenser endorses me, it's use or this blog.

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  1. I have written about this before and with two girls who are getting close to being in elementary school, I worry about this, too. Trust me, I know Emma has always been petite, but still I don't want her to ever have to worry about her body image. Yet, I know there is going to come a time where she and Lily will probably do just that. It is just so sad that we live in a society that does worry about body image all the time for young girls. Seriously, I am with you and wish that it wouldn't be the case and not sure how we can change it, but if there was a way, I am so with you on wanting to try to find that way.

  2. The other day my mom said, "You know Jen, Isaiah is getting a little chubby, and it's not like he's growing that much." I was indignant! My mom has been the bearer of all things wrong body image, sending my sister to Diet Center when she was 10. I have repeatedly asked her to not talk about ANYONE'S weight in front of the kids. I reminded her again, then later when he asked me if I would take him for frozen yogurt she said "Don't you think you've had enough to eat today." ???!!!!!!!!! It is an uphill battle my friend, an uphill battle.

  3. I've been lucky enough not to have to deal with this yet with both my kids. We focus on healthy eating in our house and with my husband and I- working on losing weight to promote the image of a healthy body for our kids. We're kind of promoting the opposite of the skinny fetish right now. Either way, it's hard.

  4. Crazy angry. But you'd know that...

  5. Rachel, that's terrible, I cannot believe a complete stranger would say that. My aunt has made comments like that around my daughter, and it drives me crazy. Hopefully talking about this makes people more aware?

  6. I simultaneously loved and hated your post- I'm sure you understand why! That horrifies me. I am always so shocked when people make comments like this to children, as though it is their right to project their ignorant, hateful viewpoints onto whomever they please. I don't know how i would handle it- wow. So happy to be featured this week! :)

  7. This is a topic I think about a lot. As a teenager I had an eating disorder and now I find myself with a young daughter and I want to protect her from all this "thin is in" garbage but it's impossible. As you noted, the woman at the store wasn't being mean; she's just passing on what she's been taught. I read somewhere that kids as young as 3 report feeling "fat". And that's just the saddest thing.

  8. It's as much a reflection on the woman and her state of mine as anything about your daughter. Such a great reminder that we project onto others (and to keep our mouths shut when it comes to other people's children!).

    You could ask Clarie later in the car what she thought about what the woman said? Or buy/make her a healthier option later and say something about how you love sweets in moderation? Not to fear fatness for the image sake but for healthy lifestyle.

  9. People really should think before they speak. Saying the word "fat" to a two-year old at all is just weird and wrong! UGH! I remember when I was about 12 and mom mom told me that if I ever wanted to model that I should really think about losing five pounds right away. I was like um, I don't want to model, I'm not tall enough anyway and thanks to you, I know I'm too fat as well! UGH (I was a really active kid and not fat at all). And there began 33 more years of up and down dieting and hating and loving my body.
    Really amazing post Rachel. As always...

  10. Thanks for Sharing...

    My daughter is also 2... I guess what we can hope is that if we keep sharing these kinds of stories, then maybe we can reach some of those people puttin the ideas out there, and stop some of the messages... That's all we can do, right? Is try? I want nothing more than for her to have a healthy body image, to understand health is what matters, not weight.

  11. These subtle messages are so deeply embedded that I think you're right, when people say such things as, 'it'll make you fat,' they have no idea at all that they're adding to it. I can think of many similar examples from people who love my daughter but have said something stupid to her (she's 14) about her weight (and she's not overweight). I can only imagine what she hears at school, or from others in her circles of friend and activities. I educate her at home, and let her know she's wonderful because she's her, and I hope it's enough.

  12. Hello, I've just nominated you for the Versatile Blogger Award, x

  13. My oldest two kids are boys and this concept has never even crossed my mind. So sad that my daughter has to face battles that they don't....

  14. Parenting and making good decisions on how to navigate the slippery slope is hard enough without input from total strangers. I would imagine that the comment was meant to be least I would hope so but it was still uncalled for. My daughter is 11 now and I watch her very closely for signs of negative self and/or body image. She has far too many influences outside of me now. Hopefully, I remain her biggest influence long enough that she believes that she is amazing just the way she is.

  15. I now I shouldn't be shocked by things strangers say to parents but I am. My daughter is 10 now & I've never said "Im fat!" or told her to be concerned about her weight. When she asks at times I've said "No I'm not on a diet. I don't diet but I am trying to eat healthier & take better care of myself."


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