Yesterday's post equating Barack Obama embarrassing his daughter Malia with his firm handshakes of her ten-year-old peers with my dad's own litany of mortifyingly weird habits alerted me to another unexploited parallel between my parents and the Obamas: Michelle Obama's control over Malia's caloric intake as told to (and invariably overemphasized in) a recent issue of US Weekly. Now, I don't have the issue, but the blogs explain that Michelle used to save time by sending the kids to school with Lunchables, but she cut back on the processed foods when Malia's pediatrician warned her she was "tipping the scale." Now, I'm only taking on this topic because we clearly don't cover body issues enough on this site, but…here we go: it is summer, the season of funnel cake and deep-dish lethargy, and I think the moms of this world need to feel safe tempering kids' voracious high-fructose corn syrup appetites without worrying their subtle nods toward the whole-grain fiber-rich persuasions will later manifest themselves as Scars For Life. As a Veteran of Eating Disorders that had absolutely Nothing To Do With My Mom, I think I'm uniquely qualified to offer some advice.
Remember that eating disorders are inherently an existential struggle over the very notion of free will.
You can worsen them, and you can encourage them, but you cannot singlehandedly instill them in your kids, nor can you prevent them. The coolest thing about my mom is that she kind of got this. Her reaction to my adolescent 800-calorie-a-day diet was one of concern but also, exasperation; she had specifically taken such great care to rear me on healthy food and ABSOLUTELY NO MENTION OF MY WEIGHT; I was not even at all overweight, and now, as my big display of free will and rebellion I'd chosen anorexia? She made it clear she thought it was fundamentally shallow, and intellectually, I agreed, but by that point I had almost given up on free will when it came to eating; food issues were just my DESTINY, my curse and fate and blah blah blah. Anyway, that was probably mostly depression. I didn't medicate it, but eventually I suppose it subsided, and my intellect took the wheel again, which was lucky.
With that in mind, ask yourself, are you shallow?
What do you most want for your kid? Happiness and some sort of fulfillment, right? People of all sizes achieve that! The negative correlation between happiness and excess pounds, such that it exists, is totally all in your head, as the field of duh studies has recently confirmed. So if your kids think they're fat, you need to chew on this question: does that have anything to do with you? (Chewing on said question, btw, is a good way to stop yourself from nagging your poor kid!) Like I said, are you shallow? If so, is that the trait you'd most like to pass onto our progeny? (Please, for the good of the country, answer "No.") Conversely, are you so dogmatically un-shallow that they think you just don't have any idea what sort of world world they're living in? That was sort of my problem. In the end it was a good one to have. It was like, hey, the one genetic advantage I have here is that my parents are bright people with strong moral values who don't give a shit how fat I get, except inasmuch as they know I don't exactly have health insurance.
Be honest and remember it's not a big deal.
Acting like a kid's chubbing out is a grave issue that must be discussed in hushed tones is probably not the best idea, especially if they have the sort of grandfather (mine) who will go up to them and play the "Pinch an inch" game. While the Pinch an Inch game is annoying, I never really doubted that my grandfather loved me. I think he just thought kids today spent too much time watching the idiot box and not enough playing elaborate war games in the woods. And he had a point! I asked my friend Don, a former fat kid, whether his mom (a personal idol of mine) had ever said anything to him about his weight, and he recalled a time one summer at the age of 13 when he was eating a piece of pizza while wearing a swimsuit and somehow the topic of his blubber came up. Laughing, she agreed, "Yeah, you really have to do something about that." A few years later, when he stopped eating meat, she worried she'd scarred him; but seriously, Don was picked on his entire childhood for being a fat kid, and she basically played it perfectly, choosing to encourage his positive traits (such as he is fucking hilarious) and accept that he was never going to be as physically attractive as she is. (She is, to be fair here, really pretty.)
Don recommends this movie.
It is, he says, his "Exile in Guyville."
Image via Skip To My Lou