"Mummy..." said Chloe "... your tummy is all wobbly." I am not sure what was less welcome, the fact that we were having this conversation at 6:01 a.m., or that we were having it, period. Well, I explained (trying to summon the brain of a responsible parent through the fog), that is because you used to live in it. AND your sister. That's enough to make anyone's tummy wobble, don't you think? She thought for a moment, glanced over at the picture of me nine months pregnant and agreed. We then moved on to the Very Important subject of what waffle toppings were available for breakfast.
Later on that morning, I had an epiphany over that moment. It would be so easy to be offended and yet what was she comparing it to? Her own washboard of sinewy muscle? I think anything would be wobbly compared to that. But the best part was that it wasn't said with a single ounce of judgment or an opinion on whether that was "good" or "bad." To her, I am just her mum -- and my legs are long, and my eyes are green, and my tummy wobbles... it's simply a collection of facts. It doesn't mean she loves me any more or any less, it's just part of what makes me hers.
As a nutritionist, I work with a lot of people that want to lose weight. I also work with some who want to gain weight. Either way, I have tried to be as careful as possible in how I describe my job to the girls. If you ask Chloe what I do, she will probably tell you that I "help people learn about healthy food." What I am trying to avoid is her thinking that the crucial part of being healthy is weight loss and that weight loss is always a good thing. I have seen eating disorders tear individuals and families apart and I would do anything to prevent that happening to mine.
The thing is, it's so hard to get this part right. Some people argue that teaching kids about the dangers of processed food (and the negative effect it can have on their health and weight), will either generate an obsessive fear of food or push them toward rebellion. Others argue that not teaching this information is the same as not teaching kids to wear a seatbelt or not to talk to strangers. Of course, there's a middle line where we succeed, but even if we do, there's the enormous influence of the social sphere and media too.
The images our kids see in magazines and on TV are Photoshopped beyond reason. We know this and yet we seem powerless to stop it. Our children torture themselves with comparisons to pictures that were never real in the first place. They play with dolls that are anatomically impossible. Someone told me to "stop picking on Barbie" but I'm not sure I can. I am not saying that Barbie makes girls anorexic, but I do think that Barbie, plus Disney, plus a society that celebrates weight loss to such an extreme all contribute to a much bigger problem. As the saying goes, we've got to stop pulling people out of the river. We've got to go upstream and find out why they are falling in.
Although we would like society to see the beauty in every single person, or even better, that we stop placing so much value on looks anyway, it's not unraveling very fast. Every single day completely normal people make countless decisions (from what to wear to how to act) with the end goal of looking better or feeling more attractive. Is that really going to change?
Ultimately, being physically beautiful is down to any combination of (and I am sure I have missed some): genetics, luck, money, style, effort, personality and perception. Thank God then that people differ in their perception of beauty, or certainly in their preferred "types" of beauty. I just hope I can help my girls deal with whatever the gene pool throws at them with good grace. Meanwhile, I'll try and show them that real beauty is rarely perfect and that nasty or fake personalities can sour a pretty face. But I'll have to do that while recognizing that there's nothing like a blow dry and great lipstick to put a pep in my step. Sometimes our best "outside" really does make us feel good on the inside. So again, we tread a middle line and hope for the best. We help our kids navigate their formative years by equipping them with these wise words about beauty being on the inside, while still "playing the game" so to speak.
The distortion of reality, the hyper-perfection that we are presented with on a daily basis is so severe we even do it to our food. Tomatoes are shinier, oranges are brighter, bananas are perfectly curved -- because we're conditioned to like visual perfection. This is the age of the Artic Apple after all, the first GMO of its kind, designed to withstand bruising and discoloration.
Here in Bermuda, while we have some local produce, the vast majority of our food is shipped or flown in. Our fruit may come from thousands of miles away, via conveyor belts, trucks, ships, cranes and more trucks and yet we balk if it has the smallest bruise. I did a double take in the organic aisle the other day because while so many organics taste amazing, they often look a little rough around the edges. I've been as guilty as anyone for picking out the better-looking options. Still, maybe that's a useful lesson for my kids. I'll show them that despite the lumps and bumps, organic produce tastes just as good, if not better. I'll teach them that eating better, is about feeling better and living better first and foremost. I won't deny that being a healthy weight and looking "good" (however you define it) often comes as part of the package but we just need that glow to come from the inside out. Because perfect should be allowed to be imperfect -- lumps, bumps and all.
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