PREAMBLES AND DISCLAIMERS: If you read the title of this post and are thinking that I am about to advocate judging others on the basis of their health status or whether they engage in healthy behaviors ….I want to make it clear that I am not. One’s health status and/or lifestyle does not make anyone morally superior or inferior to anyone else. To quote Ragen Chastain, “health is not an obligation, a barometer of worthiness, entirely within our control, or guaranteed under any circumstances.“
Also, there are very few people who are role models in many areas of life at the same time. So even if someone is not modeling a healthy lifestyle by any one person’s definition, it is possible that they are kicking ass in another area of life. Maybe they work tirelessly to support their families or pursue their passions. Maybe they go above and beyond in helping others. Maybe they create beautiful music or art or literature. Maybe they contribute to new scientific discoveries that make life better for others. Maybe they are present for their kids. Maybe they are bravely facing life in the face of an illness that may be physical or mental, visible or invisible. Maybe they are great at uplifting people and making them laugh, or making them feel accepted no matter what. I do not consider it my job (or anyone’s job) to ask “what’s your excuse for not prioritizing the same things I do?”
Conversely, the fact that I model what I consider to be a healthy lifestyle does not mean I believe myself to be a role model for my kid in all areas; in fact, I definitely do not. And I know that is okay, because no one person can be everything to their kid. That is why they say “it takes a village to raise a child.”
And without further ado….
One of the ways I see the pursuit of thinness being marketed to mothers (and fathers, to a lesser extent) is by playing to one of their deepest insecurities: their fear of being considered unfit as a parent. By telling them that they cannot be considered a role model to their children if they are not thin.
I’ve heard this messaging in several places. I used to watch The Biggest Loser back in the day, and many contestants said they wished to lose weight so they could be a role model to their kids.
People I know in real life have expressed this sentiment as well. You know how when you “like” a page or a post on Facebook, some of your friends can see that? When my son was an infant, before I knew what body positivity or fat acceptance or Health at Every Size was, I “liked” a page called “Plus Size Mommy Memoirs.” A friend who happens to be thin, and who I know for a fact is a well-meaning and kind person, saw that I had liked the page. She sent me a message and brought up the concern that the woman behind Plus Size Mommy Memoirs might not be role modeling a healthy lifestyle for her kids.
I responded that I had a lot of opinions about that, having been plus-sized for most of my life despite living a healthy lifestyle, and that I would be happy to discuss with her later.
Of course, it rubbed me the wrong way and it hurt me, but at the time I did not have the knowledge or the self-awareness or the words to articulate why.
Fast forward to three years later. The other day I saw a post on another page from a woman who wrote all about her weight loss efforts, and the fact that it was really hard, but that she was committed to losing the “extra” weight before her kids were old enough to remember her being a fat mom. She wrote about some of the lifestyle choices she was making, and that she felt that “being a good role model is so hard, but worth it.”
A few thoughts came to mind when I read this post: that there are many ways to be a good role model, and that it is sad that this woman thinks that if she was a fat mom who was not working on being less fat, she would not be a role model. That it sounded like she was indeed modeling some healthy behaviors, and that would be the case regardless of whether her size changed as a result of those behaviors. That I hoped she could see the value in some of what she was doing, even if her size did not change as a result of those behaviors, or even if she lost weight and then regained it while engaging in those behaviors. That even if those behaviors do not result in weight loss (lasting or otherwise), they are likely improving her health anyway.
Also, I felt resentful. Because if you think you can’t be seen as a role model as a fat mom, the subtext I hear is that fat people like me are assumed not to be modeling healthy behaviors. It was yet another reminder that there are people out there who judge an aspect of my parenting by the way I look. (Man, I gotta stop caring about what other people think. Working on that….)
If someone were to say that I am not modeling a healthy lifestyle for my kid, I would know that is not true. Here are some values and behaviors I am modeling for my son these days:
- A healthy relationship with movement that I enjoy for the way it makes me feel
- Treating mental and physical health conditions without shame or stigma
- That self-acceptance and self-care are worthy pursuits at every size
- A healthy (not perfect!) relationship with food: eat when you are hungry (most of the time), stop when you are full (most of the time), eat mostly balanced meals, all foods have a place in a healthy diet
- Respect for size and body diversity
- Treating people with respect regardless of their size and health status
- Helping our family in times of need
- How to cook delicious and nutritious food
- Self-awareness and expressing feelings are important
- Empathy is important
- Asking for help when needed is a strength
- Rest is important and worthwhile and necessary for physical health, mental health, and injury rehabilitation
- Preserving physical function is more important than doing impressive things
- Patience is worthwhile
- It is normal to be scared of doing new things, and that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do them
- Love is hard, and rewarding
How sad it would be if I thought I was not a good role model for my son because I also happen to be fat. How sad it is that some people see the fact that I am fat and assume I do not model a healthy lifestyle for my kid.
If you are fat and feeling guilty about not being a good role model for your kids, please consider that if you wish to, you can model healthy behaviors even if your size never changes. (And if you happen to be modeling a healthy lifestyle for your kids, it doesn’t make you superior to those who, for any reason, cannot or choose not to do so. ) Despite the fact that our culture tells us otherwise, modeling healthy behaviors is important and worthwhile for those who choose to do so and have the ability to do so….regardless of whether these behaviors result in the body size that our culture currently associates with these behaviors. We do parents a grave disservice by suggesting that they cannot be role models if they are not thin or trying to get thin.
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