Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Let's Move - Away from Fat-Shaming

As she rolls out the pretty awesome Let's Move campaign against childhood obesity, Michelle Obama is taking guff about using her daughters as an example of learning to exit the highway to obesity.

It's unfortunate that that was the first thing I heard about Let's Move. The First Lady has made what I believe are some excellent points about obstacles to nutrition in our country. To wit:

"Urban sprawl and fears about safety often mean the only walking they do is out their front door to a bus or a car."
"It's about small changes that add up - like walking to school, replacing soda with water or skim milk, trimming those portion sizes a little - things like this can mean the difference between being healthy and fit or not."

I love that Michelle Obama is working on this. I love most of what she's saying about it.

However, I'm torn about whether it was a good idea to use the First Daughters as an example here. True, perhaps the family had this conversation, and the daughters were okay with it. Nevertheless, the act of using your own daughters' bodies to make a point seems excessive. On the one hand, this is very similar to what politicians do all the time in campaigns, apparently with the subject's consent - "Jack here is unemployed and his children are sick" - but on the other hand, you are telling the public about your daughters' medical issues, issues that are ridden with social stigma. Furthermore, it seems so unnecessary. Mrs. Obama's speech is so right-on about so many issues that the personal tie gilds the lily for me. As a tax-and-spend liberal, I'm probably not the audience, but I find it hard to believe that the personal anecdote would have changed anyone's mind. So why not leave it out?

I am not sure how much this bothers me. Perhaps not much. But I do know that the following bothers me: using body-shaming language about your pre-adolescent/adolescent daughters. For millions to read about. ABC reported that President Obama said the following:

"A couple of years ago – you’d never know it by looking at her now – Malia was getting a little chubby."

Again, perhaps this conversation with Malia happened and she was cool with it. But there is really, really no need for this and it detracts from what Let's Move is about - it's not supposed to be about making women feel like shit for being "a little chubby." It's about making healthy choices. As Psychology Today points out, "[w]ords like “chubby” don’t cause eating disorders but they are often a trigger to disordered eating behavior. As an eating disorder professional, we would strongly caution parents from using labels or prerogative words to describe their child’s weight as this has lasting impacts on a child’s self esteem."

I would ask anyone who has a young person in their lives they care about to encourage healthy choices by emphasizing benefits like growing up big and strong, having a well-functioning body (heart, tummy, etc), and maybe being able to perform better in school/sports/arts, rather than focusing on being not chubby. The more we teach children that healthy choices are about being well and not about deprivation to achieve a certain type of body, the better service we do for the young men and young women in our lives, and the healthier they will be.


Post a Comment