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The Other F-Word

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If I could have had three wishes in high school, they would have been: 1) to be thinner, 2) to be thinner, and 3) to be thinner.

Girl looking at the mirror

Beth Falkenstein: My weight was a constant preoccupation (if you don't count boys). When I became a mother -- a mother of girls -- I was determined that they would not grow up with the same body image issues I had.

I will love my children no matter what size they are. But let's be honest, this isn't about what I think. Images of the ideal physique in movies, magazines, and on TV take this source of affirmation right out of the hands of mother love and put it squarely in the clutches of mean girls and shallow boys.

That is why, as my oldest daughter approaches the end of puberty and her metabolism changes (while her eating habits don't), I would like to help her learn that it is better to keep her weight under control from the start, because taking it off later can be very difficult (PUN ALERT!). It's the old "ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure" argument.

Yes, I would like to teach her that. But I can't find the words.

First of all, I worry that bringing up the subject at all will start her compulsively checking her butt in every mirror. But even stickier is the catch-22 that the conversation creates. If I say, "don't get fat," then am I not implying that fat is bad? (I know, there are countless politically correct euphemisms, but at the end of the day, what we're talking about is fat.) And wouldn't I then be disparaging all those young women out there who, for whatever reason, are losing the battle against fat? And wouldn't that put me square in the ranks of the mean girls and shallow boys?

Furthermore, what am I supposed to say when my daughter complains that her skinny jeans are too tight? What sadist named those friggin' things anyway? My daughter knows that the opposite of skinny is not "relaxed fit"!

Trying to warn your children about overeating without using the word "fat" is like trying to warn your children about STDs without saying "sex," or about addiction without referring to drugs, or about drummers without using the word "crazy."

Until I figure out the best approach, I've limited myself to simply trying to set a good example. I don't overeat, I exercise regularly, and even though I still wish I were thinner, I don't cut myself down (at least not out loud). I have found this to be plenty hard enough because I love ice cream, I hate exercising, and it's often hard for me to keep my fat mouth shut.

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2 comments so far | Post a comment now
Anonymous October 8, 2009, 9:23 AM

I have to say, this subject concerns me! I often wonder how to encourage my daughter, when shes older, to maintain her health, and with that, a healthy weight, without giving her the issues I, and so many other women, have with the subject.

Anonymous October 8, 2009, 10:16 AM

As a mother (who is overweight) of a 9 yr old daughter, I also wondered how to approach this subject. I have tried to lose weight so many times, I can no longer count but I don’t want my daughter to ever have to go through this. I have already started talking to her about how important it is be live a healthy lifestyle. Instead of using the word “fat” I use the word “healthy”. And even though I still need to lose weight, I ask her to walk w/me while I walk the dog each night and when she wants a night time snack I tell her to grab a piece of fruit. It’s so hard to lose weight when you are older (40+) and have had a couple of kids but I won’t give up and hope that I can teach my children healthy habits.

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