Well, If You Ask ME!

I stumbled across this “Dear Annie” bit while reading the fluff section of my local paper. (Online source is here. As always, Sanity Watchers Points required due to douchebag comments!)

Dear Annie: I have a 12-year-old son who is grossly overweight, as is my wife. I’m worried that my son will become an obese adult. My wife blames her obesity on her childhood and believes if we say anything to our son about his weight, it will only carve it into stone. But it seems not saying anything might be just as bad. My wife’s brothers were chubby until they became teenagers and then thinned out. But everyone in my family grew up fat and stayed fat. My son is sensitive, so I don’t want to say anything that would make him feel like less of a person. What do I do? — Worried Dad

If it were me tasked with doling out advice, this is what I would say:

“Dear Dad:
I commend you for respecting your son’s sensitivity, as well as wanting him to be healthy, but you worry overmuch about your son’s weight. As a matter of fact, people’s health have very little to do with weight. There are lots of fat people who are healthy and live long lives, and just as many thin people who are short-lived and ill.

Moreover your son is only 12 years old. He is about to start–or is starting–puberty, and he will need a lot of excess weight to convert into the muscles, bones, brain, and organs of his genetically-determined adult body. If that body is meant to be fat, nothing you can do will change that. Your task as a parent is to encourage your child to eat nutritous foods, to enjoy being active, and to provide guidance and encouragement as he navigates the tricky path of puberty and adolescence. It is not your job to force your son’s body to fit into some arbitrary social mold.

In fact, it sounds as if in writing this letter you are loooking for permission to circumvent your wife’s wishes so that you may shame your son thin and force him into a mold that is more pleasing to your eyes.

Using the term “grossly overweight” implies that your son disgusts you. It is a very judgmental perception. It is not the basis of a healthy relationship with your son, and will not lay the foundation of the healthy man you say want your son to become.

Don’t project your own loathings and insecurities onto your child.

Listen to your wife. Don’t shame your son. It won’t make him thin. Forcing him to do exercizes he does not like and to eat foods that won’t satisfy his growing body’s natural need for high-energy foods is just another way to shame him. It would feel like torture, and your son will know why you are torturing him: because he’s too fat to be accepted by you. That won’t make him thin.

Just be a parent who loves him. Nurture his body and encourage him to test his limits, but don’t force him into a mold you think he should fit into.”

But is that what Annie says? Of COURSE not. Instead she trots out the tired “eat less, move more, be a healthy family!” tropes, and makes a asston of bigoted assumptions to justify it. Let’s break it down, shall we?

Dear Dad: Your son’s biggest problem is the fact that both of his parents have weight issues.

–No Annie, his son’s biggest problem is that Dad is being a judgmental ass. And the only person who has a problem here is Dad.–

The most effective way to help your son is to model healthy behavior. Get rid of the junk.

–Way to make assumptions based on stereotypes! You’re assuming a lot here. You think you know exactly WHY this family is fat. You hear “obese” and automatically make the leap–which is completely unfounded–that this family eats primarily “junk” food. You have no evidence that this is the case. There could be medical issues. There could be disabilities. At the very least its obvious there is a genetic component. Whatever is the case, YOU DONT KNOW WHY ANYONE IN THAT FAMILY IS FAT! YOU DONT KNOW HOW THEY LIVE.–

Cook nutritious meals with lots of fresh vegetables. Have fruit available to snack on. Eat the way you want your son to eat.

–How CLASSIST of you. You assume they have access, money, and time to fresh “healthy” foods. Wiithout getting into the whole morass of the class issues of food availability here, how DARE you assume they don’t eat fresh, nutritious foods?–

Then take him with you for bike rides, neighborhood runs, basketball games and softball practice.

–Once again with the classist assumptions! You assume they live in an open, safe, and spacious neighborhood, and enjoy sufficent leisure time and money to indulge in what are really activities of luxury. You don’t know where they live, what their family schedules are like, how much money they make. Furthermore, how DARE you assume that this family, or the son in particular, aren’t already active?–

You will teach your son the good habits he will need for the rest of his life — and improve your own health in the process.

Way to subtly call Dad here a fatty fat fat, Annie. Way to reinforce his own internalized fat-hate. What a masterful display of fat shaming! Bravo, Annie, Just bravo!