Ruthie is three. She is a healthy toddler. Her brain is perfect–a neurologist confirmed that in 2012 when she was exhibiting some strange growth patterns that needed to be checked out. She is funny and incredibly smart and is absurdly flexible. She is a remarkably fun little kid who loves reading, her dollhouse, donuts from Concannon’s Bakery, her daycare teachers, her grandma’s dog Harley, and apples. I’ve never seen anyone who loves apples as much as this kid does.
I want desperately for Ruthie to continue to grow up happy and healthy and loved.
Ruthie & Me on the train
And I don’t care–not one bit–whether she gets fat.
About a year ago, a mother named Dara-Lynn Weiss wrote in Vogueand later published a book about the process of putting her 7-year-old daughter on a diet. Weiss was both praised and villainized–perhaps slightly more villainized than praised. People responded so strongly for and against her because of the way she approached her daughter’s weight. To most people who became familiar with Weiss’s story, it became clear that it Weiss was the one who had a problem with food, not her daughter, who was far too young to internalize anything from this experience except for “food is bad, and you are bad for wanting it.”
Dara-Lynn Weiss; photo from NYMag.com
I don’t want to go into the details of folks’ totally insightful criticism of Weiss’s methods or belief system. I don’t even want to get into the discussion of childhood obesity and what should be done to ensure our children are healthy. What I want to do with this blog post is emphasize one thing: I don’t care if Ruthie grows up to be fat.
I just don’t. I refuse to.
1) Fat does not equal unhealthy. Let me link to that Kate Harding article in this next sentence, too, just to try to get you to go read it. Seriously. Here it is again. Eating horrible food and sitting around all the time is unhealthy, but that’s not what causes people to be fat. Plenty of thin folks do the same thing, and their health is more at risk than a healthy fat person’s. I definitely hope Ruthie doesn’t choose to sit around all the time and eat junk food constantly (although I’ll still love her if she does). But weight is not an indicator of someone who eats poorly and doesn’t exercise–HEALTH is an indicator of those things, no matter a person’s size. I’m going to hope that my daughter continues to be as healthy as she is as a three year old, and that I can help her learn to make good choices about eating delicious, nutrient-rich, natural foods and getting plenty of exercise, but I’m not going to tie that to an arbitrary number on a scale.
2) My thin friends seem no less likely to struggle with body image issues than my fat ones. It’s not like there is some magical transformation that happens when a person is under XX pounds and suddenly all of their insecurities disappear. I think back to Meghan’s post, which I wrote about last week. She expressed how her body insecurities have been basically the same no matter where she has been on a 100-pound spectrum of weight gain and loss. Let me emphasize this: being thin doesn’t mean loving your body, and being fat doesn’t mean hating it. Hoping that Ruthie doesn’t get fat doesn’t mean the same as hoping she loves her body for the amazing thing that it is.
Seriously, her body is incredible. Her heart pumps blood. Her lungs oxygenate that blood. Her fingernails and toenails grow and her hair is thick and the synapses in her brain are doing these unbelievable miracles 24 hours a day that help her develop language and reasoning skills and spacial recognition and so much more. She can feel pain and build muscle and grow. Her tiny little bones are strong enough to support her body, and she can twist and curl and bounce and hop. All of our bodies are these amazing things, even when they don’t work perfectly, and I want her to be excited about the fact that she has a body that transports her from place to place so that she can interact with the world and with people in a vivid and intense way. That’s what our bodies are for–to take us into and help us experience the world–and that’s why we should celebrate them. They also happen to be really beautiful. If I can help instill into her the kind of love and respect for her body that I have for mine, she’ll have a better chance of having a healthy attitude toward that body, no matter what she weighs.
3) I’m a bit fat and also pretty happy. There are some inconveniences to my current size–I can’t shop in the juniors section at Target anymore, and some jerks on the internet make me feel bad when they criticize the bodies of women who are far smaller than me, but otherwise, there’s nothing all that bad about being fat. I’m healthy, I travel, I’m active, I have great clothes, I love my hair and my waist, I can keep up in conversations with really smart people (most of the time), I’m in love with Chalupa, and the list goes on. Life is pretty good for this fatty, so I’m okay with hoping Ruthie ends up as happy as I am. It’s possible to be happy and fat, and that’s really what I care about when it comes to Ruthie: her happiness. Weight doesn’t really play a part in my day-to-day life, and I’d rather it not for her, too.
4) I’ve seen what happens when people’s mothers intensively scrutinize their daughters’ weight. I’ve seen the damage inflicted on my friends by their well-intentioned mothers, who push their own disordered eating or body hatred onto their children without even realizing it. I know what happens when a young girl’s mother makes casual, hurtful warnings about not getting fat. Her daughter remembers. Her daughter internalizes. Her daughter begins to think that there is something wrong with her, and that she must control the things she eats in order to be a good person. Her daughter assigns morality and worth to calories that never should be assigned. My mother didn’t do that to me, and I will not do that to Ruthie. I will do my best to contradict the messages that this screwed up world sends to her about her body, and I will certainly never allow myself to contribute to anything that could make her hate her body or feel that her body must look a certain way in order for her to be loveable.
5) I refuse to buy into the idea that a person’s worth is dependent upon a number. Any number. For far too long, women have been judged based on whether or not their body meets society’s determined factors for attractiveness. I won’t accept that. I don’t believe that Ruthie’s worth as a person is determined by or affected by: her BMI number, the number of chin-ups she can do in gym class, the results of some future pulmonary function test, her SAT score, the number of colleges she gets into, the number of kids she chooses to have or not to have, the amount of money she gets from her first paycheck or her final one, the pounds she can bench press, or the number of movies she has on her shelves. If none of those things make a difference in the way that I love and value my daughter as a person, then neither will the number that shows up on a scale when she steps onto it.
It’s almost cliché for parents to say that they just want their children to grow up to be happy. If this is true, if this is what parents really believe is important, then focusing on weight–or even quietly hoping to raise a thin child–is exactly the wrong approach to take.
This post originally appeared on my blog, Liz Boltz Ranfeld, where I write about living and parenting as a liberal feminist Christian. It was later cross-posted here.