Friday, July 06, 2007

Overheard at the lunch table

Recently I had occasion to take my kids on an all-day excursion, to which they were allowed to each invite a friend. As we cruised the lunch joint we'd chosen, the 12-year-old friend seemed, well, anxious about what to choose. She wanted nachos, she said, but that wasn't healthy. (Sound familiar, anyone?) Her parents, she explained, have a rule about eating fruits and vegetables at every meal. She finally settled on nachos and a container of cut-up fruit. "My father says I don't eat enough for a girl my age," she commented. Gee, I wonder why; could she be learning from them to be afraid of food? If she has the genetic loading for an eating disorder, she's in big trouble.

As we ate, the conversation turned to a new movie, Ratatouille. This girl had seen it. "I really liked it," she reported, "except for all those rats who were so fat!" Then she went on: "It's so disgusting! They had all these bulges of so much fat!"

I was fairly stunned, but only because she was articulating what I know so many people think. I didn't know what to say, honestly, and what came to mind wasn't great: "In our family we don't feel fat is bad. People come in all shapes and sizes."

"But all they have to do is eat less and eat healthy and they wouldn't be fat!" she cried. Out of the mouths of babes, huh? "That's not actually true," I said, and then changed the subject, feeling like a coward. But I really didn't feel like taking it on, especially since I could see she was just parroting what she'd heard at home.

Later in the day, everyone else got ice cream, and so, I was happy to see, did she. The fruit went home unopened. For what it's worth.

13 comments:

carrie said...

That's so sad. I hate the culture that our girls seem almost forced to grow up in. I wish it would be based less on myth and more on reality.

Ya did good, Harriet.

Maggie said...

Harriet, you're no coward. You can't save the entire world's teenage girls - you're working hard enough to save your own.

Or, if you can indeed save them, it probably won't be done in five second sound bites with someone else's preprogrammed child. All you can do is continue to set the example you set so well.

It's really, really depressing though, isn't it?

Anonymous said...

Harriet, your guest's comment about Ratatouille reminds me of something my aunt said many years ago while visiting Wisconsin. She was riding in the car through a bucolic part of the state (you know, hills, fields, farms) and she made a disparaging remark about the cows, because they were so "fat." I try to fight the fat remarks made by my own kids and other children, but it is hard.

LavaLady said...

I just saw Ratatouille yesterday, and I have to say that the message your daughter's friend got was the message the film seemed to be sending. The lead character (undersized compared to the other rats, actually) had a fat brother who didn't care what he ate - and although the rats came in different sizes, he was, to my recollection the "fattest" of them all.

My mother does the "healthy food" scare tactic with both my children and it drives me to distraction. These kids eat very healthfully, they don't need to be policed every minute. This past week my youngest and I made a pledge to each other that we would "Love our bodies and treat them well", which means eating when we are hungry, chosing a variety of foods, and not talking bad about our bodies.

As a woman, it feels revolutionary to make such statements. Every bit of help counts, what you said was a seed which may grow...

Harriet Brown said...

Oh boy. Maybe we'll give Ratatouille a skip. For all the rave reviews we really don't need to have the message that fat = death reinforced any more.

lavalady, I am ruminating on your comment. I will have more to say on that shortly. Very interesting and inspiring.

anonymous: fat cows. Now I've heard everything. Soon, perhaps, there will be a hormone designed to slim cows so they're more aesthetically pleasing. Actually I think there's the germ of a great send-up in that.

Maggie and Carrie: Stay tuned. I have an idea.

Anonymous said...

Harriet, this aunt is the mother of my cousin who had bulimia for many years. My aunt either didn't know or didn't acknowledge that it was a problem. At least my mom knew and was concerned when I had an ED!
lavalady's comments remind me of Ellyn Satter's mantra: eat when you're hungry, stop when you're full. Why can't we have a public health campaign to teach that to all young people, instead of the current anti-fat crusade?

Harriet Brown said...

Great idea! My other thought (which will be another blog entry, I think) is to mount a campaign to get girls and women to stop the trash talk about their bodies. More on that soon.

I love Ellyn Satter, BTW. She's my hero and I'm also lucky enough to say that she's a friend.

Kunoichi said...

I don't know about genetically modified skinny cows, but didn't they just announce that some cows have been modified to produce low fat milk?

The irony of that is one of the signs of a cow that's content and healthy is that they produce more cream in their milk. Cows produce thin milk when they're stressed in some way.

Nancy Lebovitz said...

I was happy with Ratatouille. To mind mind, one of the virtues was that it had fat characters without insulting them.

LavaLady said...

Oh, Harriet, please DO go see Ratatouille - it's really charming in many ways (although there is a bit of an off message about romance, which I think has more to do with the filmmakers ideas of what "French" is than anything else).

It's also a technical marvel, and enjoying food is a very important part of the story. Not perfect, but what is?

I'm exciting about talking to other women about body acceptance, but it's such a surprisingly touchy subject. Having empathy for others is a lot easier than having it for ourselves!

Harriet Brown said...

You're right, lavalady and Nancy. I saw it this weekend with my 11-year-old, who loved it. I liked it too, despite not having all that much plot. It had enough to carry the real reason for the movie, which was to show off the unbelievable animation. And yeah, the romance was fairly weak too. Oh well! I loved when Gusteau talked about food-as-pleasure to both eat and cook. I walked out with my stomach rumbling!

Kunoichi--Wow. Thanks for sharing. That's bizarre. Why do I get the feeling that the more we try to manage and control things, the more we muck them up??

Lavalady, I'd like to hear more about the "surprisingly touchy subject." Have you brought up the subject and gotten some strange responses?

Laura Collins said...

The phrase "eat healthy" used to be benign to me. Now it sounds just as ugly as "how white of you," which used to be a compliment.

Every time of one us DOESN'T chime in on those toxic statements is a small victory. If we have the opportunity to actually confront it every once in a while we're doing great!

Harriet Brown said...

You are so right, Laura. Prejudice is prejudice, whatever form it takes.