Today I was shopping with my kids at Beall's, looking for some school clothes. We were in the dressing room so they could try some things on. In the room next to us was another mom with her daughter. Here's the exchange that took place loud enough for everyone in the area to hear:
Daughter: "This doesn't fit either."
Mom: "You're too heavy, that's why."
Daughter: "Are you saying I'm fat?" (sounding upset)
Mom: "I'm saying you are getting way too heavy for a 8 year old. Stop eating!" (raising her voice to put the emphasis on 'stop eating."
I hear the girl get upset and walk out of the dressing room. I exit seconds later, pass her mom who is still sitting there in the dressing room, to see the young girl standing there with what looks like grandma. The girl does not look fat to me at all. I say to them, referring to the mom, "She's going make this girl have an eating disorder," and I walk away. I'm sure grandma had to hear the exchange that took place in the dressing room and that her grandchild was visibly upset.
Yet it still left me upset that someone would talk to their daughter in such a manner. Even if she had been overweight, there was no excuse to speak to a child like that, especially when they are 8 years old. Here's my thoughts on why:
1. A child who is 8 doesn't do the grocery shopping or prepare the meals. If he/she does there is an even bigger issue at stake here. But I'm assuming what she is eating is what she has access to in the home, and what she is being fed when it comes to meal time. Mom is likely doing the shopping and meal preparation, choosing what to feed everyone and keep in the home for snacking on. Yes, kids to get extra snacks when they are at school or at friend's house, but I doubt enough to make them overweight if they are eating a primarily healthy diet at home and getting exercise.
2. Telling her to stop eating, as the mother did, does not at all tell her how to become healthy or how to reach a healthy weight. What it does is make her think skipping meals is the answer, which may lead to bulimia and other problems.
3. The course the mother took to tell her daughter that she thought she needed to lose a few pounds was disrespectful. She set the tone and example for how to deal with such issues by being callous and hurtful. If she really thought her daughter needed to lose a few pounds she would have been better off focusing on getting her involved in healthy eating, and being physically active each day.
We do have a childhood obesity problem in this nation. There's no doubt about that. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that the rates of childhood obesity have tripled in the past 30 years, and one third of all children and adolescents are considered overweight or obese. This is alarming and we need to take steps to get a handle on it, but it doesn't start with dressing room talks like I overheard today. It starts by driving past McDonald's, stocking up on healthy snacks, making nutritous and wholesome meals, and getting the whole family physically active on a regular basis.
At 8 years old research shows that the biggest influence in a child's life is the same sex parent. So if she is learning unhealthy eating habits or isn't learning the importance of staying physically active, mom needs to take a good long look in the mirror and see what she can do to improve what's going on in the home. It's important for moms to set a healthy example for their daughters about the importance of eating healthy, exercising, and about having a healthy body image. This doesn't mean that mom needs to be perfect or look like a model. But she needs to show she cares about herself, tries to stay active, and makes healthy food choices (at least most of the time).
One way of addressing this issue, like what happened in the dressing room, may lead to a host of problems down the road. There 8 million people in this country with eating disorders, including bulimia and anorexia. The other way of handling it, by making it fun and setting a good example, will teach the child skills that will last a lifetime, and help them be healthier along the way.
...Stepping down off my soap box now. :)