I overheard an interesting conversation at swimming practice yesterday while I was waiting for my kids to get done with there lesson. I was sitting by a young family – a mom and her two boys, and then they had the special treat of their grandparents visiting and coming to lessons as well. They seemed like nice women (I had a brief conversation with them about the seating situation and also how much chlorine was actually in this salt water pool), and spent most of the time talking about swimming lessons that they both were involved in as children and how things had changed. Based on appearance, you would assume that they were both great influences on they children’s healthy lifestyle – donned head to toe in Lululemon (complete with bag for after lesson changes), thin, put together, etc. Of course I sat next to them bare faced in my hoodie, pony tail, and yoga pants (to be fair, they were my “nice” yoga pants). We were contrast in ideas of personal appearance for sure.
And then it happened. The grandmother had gone to the play area to check on her younger grandson (the one not in lessons) and came back with a toy giraffe.
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“Sophie’s put on a few pounds over the years!”, she said holding up this large circus giraffe that I know is part of some train toy that is at the swim center.
Both her daughter and I looked up, not saying much. I’m sure my face had an interesting expression on it.
She tried again. “Doesn’t this look like the Sophie toy? She’s really gained weight!” Snicker and laughs from the grandmother.
I can only imagine that I sat there with an open mouth and a “What the….?” look on my face. I mean why did she say that? Was it funny? Not really. Both the Sophie toy and this toy look like – giraffes. There is no unnatural coloring in either toy, and it wasn’t like the toy she held was a chubby giraffe… it was a larger toy giraffe. I would say the proportions of it were fairly equivalent of a corner drag on a picture. Why was the assumption that this was a fat version of a toy, when in fact it was just bigger? Why do we look at things that are bigger and assume it means “fat”? Why do we have to project weight loss onto toys?
Labeling Items as “FAT”
When we do this, when we label something as being “fat” or have gaining weight, we suddenly ask people to question their own perception of what they see. I can guarantee that my kids never would have looked at giraffe and have seen a weight question associated with it. But, after hearing that remark, suddenly they associate a bigger toy with being a fat toy. And a fat toy is a bad thing. What about the bigger kids at school now? Are they fat? Is that bad? Maybe we shouldn’t be friends anymore. My kids are young – 6 and 4 – and the conversation we have directly affect their view of the world. Good and bad. I’m not perfect – there have definitely been comments that I’ve made that have changed my kids’ way of thinking, but I try to put a stop to the negative thought process and have a conversation with my kids about it.
What can we do?
Start being mindful about the conversations you’re having and the words coming out of your mouth. And if you’re looking at people and objects and assigning a weight or body image classification to them, I encourage you to look deeper into that. What makes you do that? Habit? Why? Possibly your view were shaped by an adult while you were growing up. You can start changing that now if you choose to. Because “fat” is a fuel substance that is stored in our bodies – it shouldn’t define a person. Gaining weight is something that many of us pray for our children. Gaining weight is a good thing is part of growing up healthy. Why give it a negative association that might lead to behavior issues and disordered thinking as they grow?
If you’re worried about unhealthy behaviors becoming the norm for your kids and family, then I encourage you to start educating your family on the benefits on other behaviors instead – and not gaining weight isn’t one of the benefits. Get your kids involved in planning nutritious food that they will eat. Encourage them to find a movement-based activity that they enjoy and will allow social relationships to develop. Note, this doesn’t have to be a sport. My son is part of a Lego Club and they are up and down, using fine motor skills, and cognitive processes for 2 hours. Definitely a lot of movement going on! Walk with your kids to school or designate one day a week (or more) to do a family movement activity. Encourage the healthy behaviors and try to not play up the others. Try not to say things like “If you eat that you’re going to get fat”, or “If you don’t do something you’re going to be like ‘X’.” Teach them why healthy eating, moving, playing with friends, etc. are beneficial – what good things come from doing them.
I’m not saying this will be easy. You will get resistance and you will revert back to your old ways out of frustration. And that’s OK. Just be mindful and continue to work on the change. If you’re falling victim to negative self talk, try changing it for yourself. Be persistent, acknowledge set backs, but keep moving in the direction of changing the conversation and mindset.
OK, enough of my rant. I will go back to being the inconspicuous mom in her hoodie, drinking her drip coffee and reading her book.
PS – if you actually do have a Sophie toy, you might want to give it a second thought. Awesome teething toy, but maybe not as hygienic as we thought. Read here for more.
Do you have questions on how to start changing these conversations for yourself or with your family? Head over to my Facebook page and get support from other mamas on all kinds of issues surrounding being an active mom with a busy life!