I have a confession to make: I had a fat baby. And, no, not the, "Oh, look at those cheeks!" sort of fat, either. He was a genuine porker, which in the age of childhood obesity-or ‘globesity’-isn't exactly trendy. In fact, it's positively scandalous.
In a world where kids are starving to death, ours are literally eating their way to an early grave. We all know that obese children grow into obese adults with all kinds of health red alerts-from heart disease to diabetes and cancer.
I don’t deny that child obesity poses a serious and very real threat. Fat is the genuine weapon of mass destruction of our time. Still, a little fear-mongering goes a long way. While recent campaigns to fight childhood obesity have their hearts in the right place, they have gone about it in utterly the wrong way.
The issue of childhood obesity is chicken-and-egg in its complexity, and everybody’s circumstances are unique. While it’s true that obese parents tend to produce obese children, the story doesn’t start-or end-there.
In my case, it was a baby boy, now preschooler, who has always been off the charts in terms of both his height and weight. This, in spite of having two tall, lean parents, and an uncle, by all accounts a portly baby, who's now a lanky six-foot-sixer. Needless to say, I’ve seen the future, and it’s tall. It’s probably skinny, too. Although, judging by my son’s current build, you’d scarcely believe it.
The pediatrician remained nonplussed by the climbing numbers on the scale. My son was healthy. Still, that didn't stop passersby-total strangers-commenting on and tsk-tsking at my son's size, at every turn. In the first two years of his life, we heard it all-sumo, linebacker, big guy, Michelin baby, bruiser-from every teller, cashier, construction worker, Tom, Dick, and Harry.
Sticks and stones, I reminded myself, yet the name-calling grew old, fast. As did the shameless ogling that inevitably shifted from my son to me. “What on earth do you feed him?” they'd say, incredulous, for as his mom, I must've been to blame for my son's size. I might as well have been killing him with my bare hands. At such times I could only bite my tongue, knowing the answer–a well-balanced diet, rich in grains, fruits and vegetables, and low in fat–wasn't what they wanted to hear or believe.
Nor would they believe that for the longest time his mother was militant about sugar. That not a drop of fruit juice had yet passed his lips. That she struggled to find a single nutritious item on kids' menus to feed him, whenever they went out as a family. And that every evening, in every kind of weather, they set out for a family stroll, sans stroller.
As my pork chop spurts into a slim preschooler, I've relaxed a bit, lest he come to covet the taboo. (The way I see it, there's no such thing as bad food, only bad attitudes to food.)
So the next time you see a chubby infant or toddler in the mall or grocery store, do me a favour-before you make a flippant comment or a silent judgment, stop and remember my son and a funny little thing called subtext.
When the ultrasound technician let slip that I was going to have a baby boy, my heart sank. What the hell did I know about boys? Yet the more I thought about it, the more relieved I was. Phew! I wouldn't have to raise a girl in a world that remains largely complicated and contradictory for the female of the species.
The day I stopped paying heed to catwalk models and glossy magazines was a glorious day. I don't remember when or how it happened (though having a baby definitely helped get my priorities in check), but the feeling of emancipation was instant. Was the fashion industry—which endorsed a shape so emaciated it appeared ghoulish—warped, or was I? And with its ideals of beauty so entrenched, would it change its stripes within my lifetime?
If the recent hype over Angelina Jolie's leg, "fatty" Adele's Vogue cover, and the lawsuit over Holland's Next Top Model are anything to go by, the answer is: not likely. In my teens, eating disorders were practically a rite of passage; many of my close friends had them. One summer I even 'dabbled’ in starvation myself. Fortunately my apple and Diet Coke a day diet frightened me enough to call off all bets. My face grew gaunt, and as for what it did to my bowels, well, I won’t even go there…Every day I walked for miles. But health wasn’t my motivator.
Thankfully the days of obsessing about my weight are more or less behind me. Muddling through that first shell-shocked year as a mom, I didn't have the time or energy that diets and disorders seem to require. As I pushed the stroller one day, a young woman tottered ahead in heels, her every follicle painfully in place. When I caught her checking herself out in every passing shopfront window, I had to laugh. I actually felt sorry for her, felt drained for her. Though I still take pride in the way I look—and of course I could do more exercise, eat healthier, and generally make more of an effort—overall I’m happier now, stretch marks and all.
But, what with the advent of a certain little package known as Photoshop, is there more pressure on today's young women to look a certain way? How can they possibly compete with the computerized perfection of ads like H&M's? Digitally manipulated images manipulate our sense of realism, not to mention our sense of trust. Airbrushing creates a dangerous fantasy for both men and women, much in the way that the porn industry paints unrealistic sexual expectations for average couples.
According to the recent national study, The Health of Canada’s Young People: A mental health focus, a staggering 39% of female Grade 10 students believe they're fat, even though most of these girls aren't actually overweight. Such warped perceptions affect quality of life, with 20% of said young women ranking their satisfaction at, or lower than, five out of ten. And as they climb through the grades, that figure steadily declines.
If men allegedly think about sex every few minutes, then we must think about our fatty deposits just as often. I look alright now, but man, I looked HOT back then. I only wish I had known it then!
The irony is, you rarely feel good in your skin when you look your best. And that irony is never more apparent than on a nudist beach, where the youthful bodies typically remain covered up, while the elders throw caution to the wind and (literally) let it all hang loose…
So my advice to today's young women is simple. Quit buying the glossies. Instead, think about what your 80-year-old self would say if she saw you right now. Chances are, she'd say you are looking pretty damn fine.
Maybe I am ready for that daughter, after all.