It’s a nice Sunday afternoon, I’m walking home with my second and third. We had been to the supermarket to get some shopping. The day was warm and the sun was poking out of the clouds to say hello, but not long enough to make the day uncomfortable. And if you live in London you will know how muggy it gets.Then, all of a sudden she looks at me, ‘Daddy? Is she the skinniest in the family?’ Pointing at her sister who was skipping alone a few feet ahead of us.
The question took my by surprise but I tried not to show it. ‘No, why?’
‘Because I’m fat.’
‘Daddy, am I fat?’
‘Good god, no.’
‘But I have a fat belly.’
I looked her up and down, I wanted to laugh, not because it was funny, mostly due to the fact this conversation was taking a very serious direction and it made me nervous, ‘You have a normal child’s stomach. Look at your sisters when you get home.’
It’s not the first time I’ve had this conversation, my eldest was saying the same thing around the same age. However, she’s so tall and skinny that we made it into a joke.
My second is not tall, she of an average height and build. She was a very cute, chubby baby but that is long gone.
I asked her if someone at school had called her fat. Her answer was no.
Her sisters, any of her clubs?
I know, at school, they teach them the difference between good foods and bad, but from what I’ve gathered from my two eldest they don’t come back with a complex thinking that they are overweight.
They learn the difference between good and bad sugars, the importance of a balanced diet and of eating fruit and vegetables.
I don’t know what else they teach, so, instead of remaining ignorant on the subject, I looked up the curriculum. It wasn’t very detailed and from what I gather, it’s mostly left to the teachers.
Here’s an extract from the government website:
Cooking and nutrition
As part of their work with food, pupils should be taught how to cook and apply the principles of nutrition and healthy eating. Instilling a love of cooking in pupils will also open a door to one of the great expressions of human creativity. Learning how to cook is a crucial life skill that enables pupils to feed themselves and others affordably and well, now and in later life.
Pupils should be taught to:
Key stage 1
use the basic principles of a healthy and varied diet to prepare dishes
understand where food comes from.
Key stage 2
understand and apply the principles of a healthy and varied diet
prepare and cook a variety of predominantly savoury dishes using a range of cooking
understand seasonality, and know where and how a variety of ingredients are grown, reared, caught and processed.
There is nothing there about getting fat.
It didn’t come from us, we try not to talk about it because we don’t want them to grow up being self conscious, and if we do mention weight, it’s usually in a positive manner. We don’t worry about it either, if you’re someone who has met my children, you will know they will not let themselves go hungry, they love food too much. They will have their dinner, half an hour later they are snacking on fruit and a few minutes later they want more food. I don’t know where they store it all.
Could this have come from the media?
Maybe, but not enough, I believe.
So i took a different route, my thought process told me to go down the route of self awareness.
What if they have reached an age where they are making self comparisons with their friends?
I can’t remember at what age I developed that degree of self awareness, so I decided to go a bit further.
From what I gather, most of the issues when it comes to weight usually start when the child is about to start puberty. My children are nowhere near and at the age of seven?
Andrew Hill, professor of medical psychology at the University of Leeds’s institute of health sciences:
‘Girls of a particular age – coming up to puberty – do compare themselves with others in the class, he says. The most rapid change for a girl’s body is growth associated with puberty and there could be massive differences within a single class.
Girls, on average, double the amount of body fat as they go through puberty. Boys’ body composition changes, but in a different way: they tend to put on more muscle.’
Nothing of the sort is happening.
However, every article I’ve read all point to the media, but where and what program?
Could it be that seeing Daddy Pig as big and round, unable to exercise, run or cycle, where Peppa mentions his big round tummy at every given occasion, have made an impression on them?
We do tend to lead a fairly healthy lifestyle, we walk to school and back, we eat plenty of fruit and 99% of our meals are home cooked.
I found this on the NHS website, I know it states the obvious:
‘One of the best ways to instil good habits in your child is for you to be a good role model. Children learn by example. One of the most powerful ways to encourage your child to be active and eat well is to do so yourself.’
I can’t seem to find any answer that satisfies me, which is frustrating. I don’t want to shrug it off, I like having answers, it comes with my years in university having to do research and find the facts about the subject I’m writing about. Then I made the terrible mistake of doing a Google search including the terms ‘self-conscious’ and ‘diet’ together and as always it starts with the worse case scenario. Out of curiosity I read a couple of things but there’s is nothing for me to worry about, the cases were extreme as always. I guess I am somewhat prepared and have an idea for what I’m looking for….
Could it be a case of ‘girls mature and quicker than boys’? And being in London, do they grow up faster?
Maybe I’m worrying too much over nothing and taking this situation way too seriously. I could have lived a sheltered life as a child where no one spoke of these things, the world was peachy and life was a beach.
I’ve still got a lot to learn about life and parenthood.
The only conclusion that seems reasonable is to keep doing what we have done all along. To keep building their confidence and teach them that regardless of how they look, they are beautiful people. Their height or weight will never reflect who they are and that their health is more important than what the media or their friends say they should look like.
In the words of Spock: Live long and prosper.
If you want to read some of the articles I’ve read or sites I visited, here are the links:
10 ways to talk to your child about weight
Design and technology program study ks1 and ks2
Cooking and nutrition in primary school
Children’s eating disorder cause alarm
Eating disorder statistics
What can I do if my child is overweight?