Wednesday, July 25, 2001

Stay strong

My daughter will never be a waif. She'll never be one of those wide-eyed, slim-hipped, fine-boned creatures you see slithering through magazine layouts and rock videos and episodes of Ally McBeal. Her body type tends more toward the sturdy. The solid. The, dare I say it, big-boned. She's slender but strong, proud for now of her muscles and her ever-increasing height and weight. She enjoys eating, as long as it doesn't involve vegetables, and revels in how the food will make her bigger.

She doesn't worry about being fat. Yet.

She's brought it up a couple of times, and I've told her she's not, and that's been the end of it. She's asked me why I'm so fat, usually after she's heard me obsessing about it, and I tell her something depending on my mood that is generally the end of that. Weight, and the perceived undesirability thereof, is not among her concerns. But how long is that going to last?

Forever, I hope. But our culture doesn't suggest that. According to a recent Intelihealth report, experts are now seeing girls as young as 5 who are worried that they're too fat, and adjusting their diets accordingly. My girl is 11, and still showing no interest in decreasing her chocolate-chip cookie intake one whit. I worry, when I tell her to stop snacking already -- am I sending a message that she's getting fat? Or that she will get fat? Or that I'd care if she did?

In truth, it's probably less what I think and say and more what her peers do that will cause the problems. The fact that she's in a grade two years below her age level won't help. For most of her school career, she'll be classmates with girls whose bodies are less mature and whose clothing sizes are smaller than hers. It's hard to believe that won't become an issue at some point. As of right now, between third and fourth grade, she seems to have a healthy range of body types among her friends, from skinny to chubby, tall to short, more to less developed. And it doesn't sound as if any of them are dieting, either -- whenever my daughter points out something in the supermarket that all the kids are eating and she just has to have, it's invariably fried, fast, sugar-pumped and loaded with empty calories.

That's the ironic thing, of course -- as America craves and glorifies thinness, we're all eating worse and getting fatter. Adults are more overweight. Kids are more overweight. It's appropriate, to a degree, to guard against excess weight in ourselves and our children. But it seems that the pendulum can so easily swing from one sort of unhealthiness to another. So far, my daughter is solidly in the middle, slim but not skinny, eating but not overeating, aware of her body but not preoccupied by it, happy to wear jeans and T-shirts instead of hiphuggers and bikini tops.

I just hope she can hang onto that when she's a big, sturdy teen amidst a sea of skinny, sexed-up pop-star wannabes. At any rate, she'll be able to beat any one of those malnourished stick-figure girls at basketball.

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