(I’m the one on the right, at about 13 years old).
At 15, I weighed 85 pounds, and easily passed for 12 whenever it was necessary to get cheaper entrance to the movies. I remember how excited I was the day I hit triple digits (101 pounds!), somewhere in my college years. It seemed like a miracle. I’d been scarfing down banana splits for years in an effort to fatten myself up.
My beautiful daughter is experiencing the same sort of “observations” from adults and children that I experienced, people finding it necessary to comment in some fashion on her weight. Among her classmates, it is often unkind. Kids tease each other, that’s the way of the world. When she complains about it, I ask to her to list all the characteristics that other kids get teased about – there’s something for everyone. I can easily rant about how other kids are just envious. And I tell her stories of my childhood, how I was tossed around swimming pools and carried across playgrounds and called all the lovely names I’ve tried to forget. I am also able to point out how strong she is. A gymnast, my kid can do more sit ups and pull ups than anyone in her class, boys included. I never could do that, and I am more proud of her than I can say. I tell her the same thing my mother told me about my toothpick-thin legs; that they would be fabulous when I grew up (they are – and still my best feature).
It is more difficult to explain away the comments of adults, especially those she knows and trusts. Why do people think it’s all right to comment on a child’s slender figure? We frown upon people who make comments about children being overweight, don’t we? Doesn’t the tactful rule apply to skinny girls too? With strangers, I can chalk it up to ignorance, rudeness, or envy (again), but it always astounds me that anyone thinks it is appropriate to tell an unfamiliar child that they need to eat more (or less). I have vivid memories of waitresses asking me “Is that all you’re going to eat?” I didn’t eat much, and looked it, but why should I have to explain that to anyone? I was embarrassed and upset, and developed an anxiety about restaurants that cursed me for years.
The toughest comments to digest (yes, I used that word that intentionally) have come from her gymnastics coaches, which sparked this particular rant. They encourage all the girls to have healthy eating habits, no matter their size, so I believe yesterday’s questions came from a place of concern – her coaches asking what she eats and how much, and telling her she should eat more. But some friendly teasing may have followed. She was upset. Like me, she is very sensitive about this issue, and nothing hurts me more than when this issue upsets her. It comes up constantly, and there is nothing she can do about it. She is who she is.
D is a good eater, really. She was very picky as a small child, and her appetite is not gargantuan. I have at times worried about her weight. But eight hours of gymnastics a week demands sustenance, she certainly eats a lot more than I did as a kid, and her food repertoire grows all the time. She eats a steady, healthy diet, is active and alert, and actually gets sick less than any kid I know. She’s fine, just built with a fast metabolism.
I dread my daughter developing any kind of issue over food. I did, and it is not something I want her to endure as well. I am grateful for the gymnastics, which brings her strength, confidence, and a relatively hearty appetite. But don’t talk to my kid about food. She’ll eat as much as she wants, when she wants, and I will provide her with proper nutrition and all the ice cream she desires. As long as she is bouncing around, developing her brain and her body, and happy at least 80% of the time, we’re good.