This profile on CNN Health turns a sociological eye upon the life of an overweight child named Claudia Garza. Actually, Garza is a grownup now; a citizen journalist who recounted her story for iReport, the section of CNN generated by the public. Then her story was incorporated into a piece by writer and producer Madison Park that expands on this one individual’s biography and looks at the more general implications. Park writes,
… [T]easing about weight is not confined to schools — it can also occur within the home, according to childhood obesity experts… Families often have good intentions to help their children, but some may end up inflicting psychological harm through misguided efforts to help children lose weight…
We’re talking about everything from mean nicknames and constant teasing to subtle bullying tactics. Claudia Garza is not the only one. For some reason, females are particularly stigmatized by family members in this way. It’s all too easy for a young person to be conned into a belief that she or he is irredeemably fat, ugly, and inferior.
As a 140-pound 10-year-old, Garza made it difficult for her folks to keep the grocery cupboard stocked. A treat that was meant to last a week would be snarfed up in a day. Her older brother never let her forget her shortcomings, and within the family she was known as Gordita, or fat girl, which was supposed to be accepted as affection. She calls it ironic that, even though her parents told her not to eat junk food, they would bring it into the house. As an adult, Garza attributes her successful weight loss to religion, exercise, and elevated self-esteem.
When it comes to the causes of the childhood obesity epidemic, Dr. Pretlow is ever alert to what the experts say – the real experts, that is — the kids who are looking for escape from their cages of flesh. On the Weigh2Rock website, a 15-year-old girl, who weighs 173 pounds, comments,
… My mom said to me today, ‘Melissa… if you just lost some weight, you’d be drop-dead-gorgeous.’ Comments like that don’t help one’s self-esteem.
It’s true. In fact, at that time of life, for a fat kid, there is no such thing as a comment that helps one’s self-esteem, if the comment references weight. In fact, if memory can be trusted, I think it’s safe to say that there is no comment of any kind, no matter how helpfully well-intentioned, coming from a grownup, especially a parent, that a teenager wants to hear.
A parent’s best bet is to set an example. It works with little kids, because they naturally want to imitate you. With older kids, it has at least a fighting chance of being effective, because what they despise above all else is when adults seem to be two-faced. When the kids find out you’re munching a secret stash of junk food after they go to bed — and they will find out — it looks to them like just another example of adult hypocrisy. They won’t respect you for it, and in fact might go out of their way to defy you on the junk-food issue (and other issues too). When teenagers seek reasons to resent parental authority, mission creep is inevitable.
It sounds strenuous and maybe even frightening, but we’re just going to have to deal with it: As parents, the best thing we can do for our kids is to clean up our own act.
Your responses and feedback are welcome!
Source: “When parent’s good intentions disparage obese children,” CNN Health, 05/12/10
Source: “My Childhood Obesity,” CNN iReport, 03/26/10
Image by ibanda, used under its Creative Commons license.