What’s the best way to tell a kid they need to lose weight?

by bezzle

I just finished reading Big Girl by Danielle Steel.  It’s this book (not sure what genre it falls into, though) about a woman who has been emotionally starved and abused by her family because she had a problem with overeating and her weight.  Maybe it was due to the skill of the author (I haven’t read any other books by her, so nothing to measure up against), but I found it really moving.

So it got me thinking about body image again.  I haven’t ranted for a long time, mainly because I never finish my drafts and post them, so I end up deleting them because I couldn’t continue my train of thought.  I did a post on my own opinion about a healthy body image a while ago, but this coincidentally links in with random things I was thinking about before.

Once while I was perusing the newspaper, I saw an article written by those child psychologists or some other professional, and it was about how to tell your children to lose weight.  I skimmed it.  It talked about how parents shouldn’t bring weight up as an issue with children, unless it really is beginning to be a problem.  And if so, how to do it respectfully and with the child’s self-esteem and motivation in mind, such as by encouraging the whole family to go for a walk after dinner, etc. 

That sounds wonderful in theory, but I don’t think that sort of positive mindset occurs all the time.  I don’t think the sort of situation in Big Girl is common at all (it’s pretty extreme), but I’m sure at least some of you reading this have heard some comments on your body shape or weight from parents or relatives.  Especially because most people are chubby as kids.  Thinking about this now, it could be the other end of the spectrum – you’re too skinny and need to put on weight – but I’ve heard more than occasional comments from my mum about certain aspects of my appearance, needing to lose weight and decreasing the amount I eat.

I realise that sounds like I’m whining about my mum (and my dad occasionally does it too) but it’s not to such a degree that it’s reinforced and beginning to feel like the truth.  I like to think of it as an exaggeration of *minor* flaws I may have.

Another factor is the Chinese relatives.  I despise it when people classify certain behaviours, people or objects as Chinese mindlessly, even though I am definitely guilty of it myself.  But there’s a grain of truth behind this pigeonholing, and this is not going to turn into a hypocritical rant about passive racism and and ethnicity versus nationality.  I may save that for some other time.  And don’t get me started on the ‘labelling Chinese’ versus ‘labelling Asian’ thing.

Once again I’m going to presume most, if not all our readers out there go to our school and are probably in our grade.  Going to our school, we know that 80%+ of our student body has Chinese or Asian descent, etc.  So I’m going to presume again that you’ve been in that awkward situation at yum cha/in a restaurant/at somebody’s house where you’ve had your appearance, height, academic results and familial obedience prodded at, while you remain obliged to nod and make noncommittal noises by some relative or family friend at least thirty years older than you.  I’ve had plenty of that, so I apologise if I’ve presumed wrongly and you can just treat this as an anecdote.

I never got told I was fat or anything similar (not that I can remember, at least) at these sort of meetings, but after I hit puberty and into my teenage years, I got told at least several times the Double-Edged Compliment that I’ve already ranted about to Syd and Claudia, but I’m going to mention it here again (sorry!) because I want to make sure no one reading this ever grows up and says it to a child…or even an adult.

I’m talking about the ‘You Look More Beautiful Than You Did As A Child’.  I don’t care how butt-ugly I was as a kid, I don’t want to hear about how I now miraculously look better.  I’m sure each one of the people who said it to me meant in the most complimentary manner (I’m going to assume the best) but it stings somewhat.  I think what my brain is trying to say by being so touchy about it is that if you were honestly trying to praise someone’s beauty or whatever variation of the above, you wouldn’t compare it to the person’s own.  Because doing so is actually insulting to the person when they were younger and it’s a comparative that doesn’t really mean much.

Now that I’ve recovered from my personal tangent about a pet peeve of mine, back to what I was saying about Chinese relatives.  Maybe it’s the ingrained belief that elders have a right to speak their minds and to pick up their chopsticks first at the dinner table, but I’ve notice that senior family friends and relatives feel it is perfectly fine to verbalise anything they find negative about the poor children forced to endure the gathering.  I didn’t get much criticism, but when I went with my cousin, they found no issue with telling her that she needed a haircut and weight loss.  It got worse when she wasn’t around – they really don’t hold back.

I’m glad that she is sensible enough not to take all their not-so-subtle-hinting to heart. 

I think the whole purpose of me writing this post was that my aforementioned reading of Big Girl and my own musings about how to approach weight issues in children lead to me feeling like I needed to discuss my own opinions about how thoughtless and ‘well-meaning’ comments can be hurtful and negative.