Otherwise titled "Things You Shouldn't Say to Your Daughter" or "How to Make Your Child Feel Fat"
My daughter's father (we're divorced) sent me an email a few weeks ago stating that he was concerned about her weight. My ex (hereafter referred to as DBD) thinks that my daughter has been gaining too much weight. I had feared this day would come, not because there is anything wrong with my daughter, but because I'm familiar with DBD's penchant for extreme skinniness. I had already realized that my daughter didn't fit into that mold - she's not a waif. DBD is obsessed with being thin to such an extreme that when he feels he looks "fat", he will skip meals and just drink diet drinks until he loses the weight he wants to lose. DBD has actually never been even the slightest bit overweight. I don't want my kids growing up with a poor self-image and I've been concerned that his feelings about the importance of "skinny" would rub off on them. I had hoped that DBD would be unable to negatively influence the kids during the limited time he spends with them.
But my fears were confirmed a couple of years ago when my then 5 year old son burst into tears as he put on the new winter jacket I had bought him. "It makes me look fat!" he cried. It took weeks before I was able to convince him that he did not look fat in the jacket.
So when DBD sent that email, I was a little upset and immediately defensive of Alex.
Alex is a strong, healthy 9 year old. She is 54 inches tall and weighs 73 lbs. Based on the child growth charts put out by the CDC, that puts her completely within a healthy range. Alex has been in the 60th-75th percentile since she was about 9 months old and her pediatrician has never been concerned with her weight. She is very average in her body size and shape. She wears a size 8 in her jeans and size 10 in shirts. She's not fat. She can't even be described as chubby. She's very active and rides her bike and scooter outside most days, weather permitting. The kids are only allowed one episode of TV per day per kid, so when all three kids are here, that's a maximum of 1 1/2 hours of television. We have similar limits set for video games, but to be honest, we rarely have to enforce them because the kids would rather be outside. We make regular trips to the park to play and the aquatic center to swim.
Now, Alex does love to eat. She has a very good appetite and on most days, finishes her food faster than the other kids. We serve healthy foods like fruit, vegetables, and low fat yogurt every day, in addition to kid favorites like hot dogs (premium beef, no nitrates) and chicken nuggets (baked). We allow the kids to eat dessert once a day, usually after dinner. Alex's favorite dessert is Oreo cookies- we allow her to have three. That is one of the only forms of "chocolate" that she will eat. She had multiple food allergies for more than half her life. She's outgrown those allergies now, but never developed a taste for things like chocolate and candy bars (Oreos were on her "safe" list so she likes those). She also loves pickles (yes, for dessert-we don't consider those a healthy food, so they are reserved for treats), and pudding. For dessert last night, she ate 2 Tic Tacs. Yes, Tic Tacs - those little breath fresheners. Two little low calorie breath mints. The kids are also allowed a snack each day, but we have fairly strict parameters around it, so they can't just go into the pantry any time they want. On most days, they are busy playing outside with their friends and miss their window of opportunity for a snack (we don't let them eat too soon after lunch or too close to supper).
I explained the above to DBD. I was trying to let him know that there was no reason for concern because she is active, healthy, and eating well. DBD didn't care. Whatever. I let it go.
But then Alex came back from his house after a weekend visit and said "Did you know that I weigh more right now than Daddy did when he was 14?"
I was livid.
She weighs more than DBD did when he was 14 because when he was 14, he was a wrestler in junior high who was trying to wrestle under his weight class. DBD purposely kept his weight down by skipping meals, working out while wearing garbage bags, and when it came time for weigh-ins, he would suck on lemons and spit into cups to lose water weight. Clearly, that is not healthy and that's definitely not a lifestyle I want for my daughter.
I don't want her to feel guilty about what she eats. I want her to make wise eating choices and be able to have a treat when she wants one. I don't want her to feel like she needs to skip meals so she can be thinner. I want her to be glad she has a strong, healthy body. I don't want her to count calories when she's 13. Eating disorders are increasing among teenagers. Girls as young as 9 are dieting. There's enough stress on young girls to conform to the societal image of what's "beautiful." There's enough pressure to be skinny from television. There's absolutely no reason for that stress and pressure to come from a child's very own father.
If it sounds like I'm furious with DBD over this issue, I guess I am. But please don't misinterpret that for any personal animosity towards him. I wish him the best in all his personal endeavors and he's free to live (and diet) all he wants. I just don't want him taking my kids with him down the dangerous road of an obsession with skinny.