Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Big Fat Advocate: We Are Our Children's Role Models

"Mommy, do you eat a lot?"

My head was inside our refrigerator, looking for the grapes.  Will had the day off work and Katie had the day off school, so I came home from the library to spend my lunch hour with my family.  Will nearly had the sandwiches done.  He had just finished chopping up the roasted red pepper and was standing right behind me, waiting to put the living lettuce back into our vegetable crisper.  When I found the grapes buried under the baby carrots, I stood and turned so suddenly I caught Will smiling at the wide space that seconds before contained my ass.

"Excuse me," I smiled and then kissed his cheek as I passed by him on my way to the sink.

"No, excuse me."  Will smiled.  He has this way of overtly groping me with his eyes without leaving me feeling vulnerable or ashamed of my body.  I feel sexy, not self-conscious, when I catch him looking at me that way.  He's the only man I've ever known who had that effect on me.  I generally prefer that men look me in the eye and ignore everything below.  I sometimes joke that I'd like to live in a culture that was more accepting of the burqa, not because I'm into the subjugation of women but because it might be nice to not have to worry about how my body looks to other people.  It's a pretty common feeling many survivors of sexual abuse share.

I turned on the faucet and began to rinse the grapes.  "What do you mean, do I eat a lot?"

I looked over at Katie, sitting at the dining table.  Her hands cupped the small glass I'd recently taken to serving her beverages in after I read about the association between BPA and endocrine disorders, freaked out, and recycled all the plastic cups I had unwittingly washed in the dishwasher.  Katie smiled at me when she saw I was looking at her, and it made her organic chocolate soymilk mustache spread wider across her upper lip.

"Do you eat a lot?"  She paused to give me time to catch up, then said, impatiently, "Food.  Do you eat a lot of FOOD?"  The child often grows irritated when I don't give her an immediate answer that suits her 6-year-old, black-and-white thinking, mentality.

"Well, uh..." I stammered.  "I guess that depends on if I'm really hungry or just kinda hungry.  Why do you ask?"  I turned the faucet off and tossed the grapes into a small ceramic bowl.  Not plastic.

"Because if you eat a lot you get fat and since you're kind of fat does that mean you eat a lot?"  Katie was rearranging the sandwich ingredients on the plate Will had just set in front of her.  "Daaaaaaaad!  I told you.  I don't like leaves!"  She took the lettuce off her bread and dramatically put it on Will's plate.  He said nothing and just lifted his bread to put the extra lettuce onto his own sandwich.

"Lettuce is good for you.  You might not have liked it the last time you had it, but your taste is more grown up now.  When I was a little kid I didn't like lettuce, but as I got older I liked it."  I lectured, to the air apparently, since I got no response.

I made my way with the grapes over to the table and took my seat.  "Who told you that if you eat a lot you'll get fat?  Your teacher?" I mindfully took a slow, deep breath.  I had been anticipating this moment ever since enrolling my child in public school, preparing myself to counter the misinformation Katie would surely receive at school thanks to Mrs. Obama's Let's Move campaign.

"No.  Our principal.  She said it at the assembly last week."  Katie pulled a slice of nitrate-free turkey away from her sandwich and shoved half of it into her mouth.  The child does not abide eating more than one food at a time.  Sandwiches are disassembled and the contents eaten separately.  You should see how she eats broccoli-brown rice casserole.

As a former fat kid who was sent to Weight Watchers in third grade, developed anorexia by fifth grade, and struggled with disordered eating my entire life until I read the book Health at Every Size® by Dr. Linda Bacon, I've made it my job to fight fat phobia and size stigma.  I recently wrote a blog post about Cameron Larkins, the eleven year old boy who was sent, by his public school, to fat camp after being bullied for his size.  I was thrilled when Dr. Linda Bacon shared my post on Facebook and Twitter:
This awesome connection to others who understand the battle has made me determined to keep spreading the word of Health at Every Size®.

That's why I'm thrilled Jennifer Livingston's story is currently blowing up the internet.  Several friends have shared this video of the news anchor's editorial piece confronting her bully: 

"I am much more than a number on a scale."  -- Jennifer Livingston, WKBT News 8 anchor

We need more role models like Jennifer Livingston teaching our children to stand up for themselves.  I'm sorry, Mrs. Obama.  I'll vote for your husband this November, but that doesn't mean I support all of his policies, and I certainly don't support the federal government's involvement in teaching our school children that fat is bad, which is simply a fallacy.  

Fat is not necessarily bad.   As Marilyn Wann argues:

"It is common to blame health woes on weight. We forget that correlation does not prove causation and that many of the factors fat people face — dieting history, fitness levels, health care barriers, stress, discrimination and poverty — play a role in many of the diseases, like diabetes, that get blamed on weight."

Inactivity and an unhealthful diet are what make people sick, not their size.  Some fat people, like me, have excellent internal measurements of health despite our corpulence that places us into the "obese" category on a doctor's chart.  I exercise regularly and eat healthily.  And I'm still fat.  And some of my skinnier friends, despite their weight range being in the "normal" category on a doctor's chart, still have to take medication for their high blood pressure and are chided by their doctors to increase their body movement and eat a more plant-based diet to improve their cholesterol levels.  You don't know how healthy a person is by simply looking at them.

What are the most important things we can teach our children?  Critical thinking and empathy.  And you know how they learn those skills?  By watching us.

The other day as I was walking to pick up Katie from school, a four year old neighbor wheeled herself next to me on her scooter.  Her mom was about a half block behind us, pumping her arms, on her way to pick up the four year old's older sister.  I usually see them driving, but it was a beautiful day so maybe that's why they decided to walk.  My assumption was soon corrected. 

Without a hello, the child announced, "My mom needs to get more exercise.  She's trying to lose weight."

"Oh."  I didn't know what else to say.

"I need to lose weight too."

The girl said it, not me.  The tiny, scrawny, itty bitty teeny weeny little four year old girl on the scooter next  to me.  I nearly sobbed on the spot.

"Oh, honey."  I shook my head.  "No."