Winning the reader-selected topic poll with an impressive 33.33% of the vote, I thought I’d talk about nutrition and body image today. However, instead of focussing on my own nutrition and body image, I thought I’d talk about some of my second-grade students and how the girls are already beginning to perceive themselves as fat and unattractive.
I was standing in the hall today, while the students were lining up to go to the bathroom, and one of the little girls came up to me and gave me a hug. It was incredibly sweet, and as I untangled her arms and sent her back to her place in line she said, “Wow. You’re so skinny. I wish I were thin like you. You ate a huge bowl of soup at lunch, and you’re still soooooooo skinny.”
(Necessary background information: I am currently around five foot four and around 104 pounds. In short, I am underweight and probably look it.)
I was shocked. Sure, I get bizarre questions and comments from kids all day long (Today, one of the boys wanted to know if the carved wooden monkey bead on my necklace was a real monkey that I had trained to stay still, and another boy is convinced that jalapenos don’t actually exist.), but I’ve never heard anything like this. It certainly would have been easy to laugh it off with a “thank you, that’s very sweet,” but I do not want to become another member of society telling these girls that in order to feel good about yourself, you have to be underweight.
While I stood there trying to come up with an appropriate response, other girls started to chime in as well, making comments about the small size of my waist and wrists. If I wasn’t teaching second-graders, I would have loved to be able to have a frank talk with the girls about body image, but seven-year-olds aren’t ready for that. Instead, I pointed out that my mother is also quite thin and that metabolism and size are often hereditary. I told them about my frequent bike-rides, and pointed out that while I did eat a lot of split pea soup at lunch, it was low in sodium, organic, and homemade. My entire lunch was well below four hundred calories.
I tried to emphasize that being thin doesn’t mean that you are healthy and that you do not need to worry about being thin while you’re seven. I have absolutely no idea if any of it sank in, but I’m glad that I did not allow myself to become part of the silent majority that urges girls to be thinner, thinner, thinner and makes them feel bad about themselves if they don’t look like the ideal girl that the media portrays.
I know that it is impossible for a world to exist where people never worry about body image, but I do know that if whenever possible we all take a stand and model healthy body-image and food relationships, we can create a world where I don’t have seven-year-old students obsessing about their weight. As a still recovering anorexic who started down that path when I was eight (if you want my anorexia story, click here), I know that it is imperative for girls (and boys) to have healthy role-models in their lives if they want to prevent themselves from falling down the rabbit-hole of eating disorders.
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