This post was originally published on the Canadian Parents blog, September 20, 2011. We thought it touched upon so many issues that Guiders, parents and girls deal with, that we simply had to ask writer Blake Eligh for permission to repost it here for everyone to read. Thank you Blake and The Daily Bite!
As parents, we spend so much time thinking, talking, obsessing over the food our little kids are (or are not) eating. But what happens once the wee ones are past the food-flinging toddler phase?
The recent news stories on a diet storybook aimed at kids has me thinking about girls, and the way we talk about food.
Paul Kramer’s Maggie Goes on a Diet gives me the shudders. The cover shows an overweight girl looking wistfully at the reflection of her happy, thin self. It’s the pigtails that get me — Maggie is just a little kid, too young for big problems. In the story, Maggie goes from introverted and overweight to happy and popular after she drops some weight and starts to exercise. The author contends that it’s a book that encourages healthy eating and lifestyle changes.
I know the stats on kids and obesity and Type 2 diabetes. But telling kids that thinness means happiness and popularity is all kinds of wrong. There are better ways to encourage kids to eat well, to aim for health, to develop a positive image of themselves, whatever their size.
In high school, I knew too many bright, beautiful girls who binged, purged and hated their bodies. They were the smart ones, the athletic ones, the beautiful-but-couldn’t-see-it-ones.
And I know too many women now who obsess about post-baby lumps, dress sizes and the stupid, stupid number on the dial between their toes.
Girls’ body hatred is insidious, and maddening, and heartbreaking, and starts so early. None of us want this for our daughters.
My girls are still small, and protected from music videos, Facebook and teen fashion mags. I don’t pretend to have all the answers, but a recent chat has me thinking.
Becky Vincent, a good friend who works with Girl Guide camps, tells me about the training that Camp Woolsey counsellors get before campers arrive for the summer. Part of training deals with food, specifically how to talk about it. For camp staffers, it’s verboten to say things like, “I’ll be bad and have an extra helping of dessert” or “I’ll be good and eat a salad today.”
Instead, counsellors talk about making healthy choices, so their bodies can be strong for a day of canoe portaging. Or they talk about how much they’re looking forward to dinner. They learn (and model) behaviour to show the girls that nourishment is important, that making healthy choices is important, but that morals or ideas of “good” and “evil” have no place at the dinner table.
So at our house, we do the same with our wee girls. We talk about the beauty of a bowl of tomatoes, the wonderful sweet taste of ripe plums, the awesome way that Pop Rocks crackle in our mouths. Broccoli is a vegetable, not penance.
We eat treats, but make sure to pack healthy foods into our day, too, so we have energy to play.
We don’t talk about diets, or abstinence, or how skinny the kids seem after a growth spurt.
I hope my girls always take the most important message: that their bodies are valuable, important and strong, and they need good fuel for fun stuff, like climbing, jumping, swimming and running.
How do you help your kids develop a healthy relationship to food and body image? I would especially love to hear from parents of older kids and teens.
By Blake Eligh. Blake is a writer, editor and mother. She tends to her garden, stockpot and two small daughters in Etobicoke. —————————————————————–