Monday, March 18, 2013

Guest Post: How a 7 Year Old Boy Came to Ask, "Do I Look Fat?"

One of my Facebook readers sent me a message telling me about the experience she had after allowing her son to watch a few episodes of this season's The Biggest Loser. I asked her if I could repost it as a guest blog.

Meet Tara Newman.  She is a mom, fitness enthusiast, and an advocate for healthy living. She has a Master's Degree in Organizational Psychology and works full time as a Human Resources Manager. She spends most of her time trying to keep up with her active family.
How a 7 Year Old Boy Came to Ask, "Do I Look Fat?"

My son recently told me he wants to be 100 pounds so he can be on TV. You’re probably thinking “What an odd comment,” or “Where did that come from?” Well, you see, I allowed my seven-year-old child to watch The Biggest Loser this season – the first to feature kid participants.

I am not writing to critique the show, give advice, pass judgment or claim to have any answers. I am not a doctor, nutritionist, registered dietitian, exercise physiologist or even a personal trainer. I am simply sharing my experience as a mother, fitness enthusiast, and health-conscious individual.

I know some of you started judging me the second you realized I allowed my son to watch The Biggest Loser. That’s okay, I have thick skin. However, I think you will see that I am a fairly rational being who meant no harm. I might even be a bit like you.

I am a working mom with two kids. Like many of you, my life gives new meaning to the word busy. Aside from my own activities, my husband competes in triathlons, and my kids have their fair share of athletics. Family fun day is always an active experience.

We are conscious eaters. Our diet consists of loads of plants and limited prepackaged items. We steer clear of preservatives as much as possible. And absolutely NO high fructose corn syrup or hydrogenated oils. We participate in a CSA (community supported agriculture) program, which allows us to show the kids where our food comes from. If they’re at a birthday party, they eat the cake. We strive for balance without instilling any body image issues or phobias.

When I let my seven-year-old watch The Biggest Loser, my goal was to expand his worldview by observing people who live differently, have him hear what it’s like to be an overweight child, and (hopefully!) help him understand why Mommy and Daddy work hard to ensure we live the healthiest lifestyle for us. I am not an over-analyzer and have a pretty positive personality; it didn’t even cross my mind that allowing my son to watch the show might have any negative outcomes.

Having kids on the show made it seem more appropriate. Otherwise I would have deemed it adult content. I don't usually watch the show. It’s not representative of our lifestyle or beliefs. It seems strange now that we watched this season at all, let alone as a family.

As my son watched these episodes, he did what I expected. He expressed empathy for the contestants as they shared their life stories. He cheered them on as they faced their challenges and weigh-ins. He was angry when these children spoke about being bullied. He spoke about how he felt lucky to grow up in a house where everyone was “healthy” and had active lifestyles.

What I didn't expect were the random “Do I look fat?” or “Am I getting fat?” or “Can I step on the scale?” questions that started creeping into our daily dialogue. I was blown away the day he said he wanted to be 100 pounds or more so he could go on TV. (For reference, my son is about 58 pounds, medium height with a muscular build.)

I didn't dwell on his desire to gain weight so he can be on TV. Not that I didn't take it seriously, I just didn't think it was something I wanted to “play up.” As a mother, my wish to do right by my children trumps all. I do believe when you pay too much attention to something, it begins to grow into something greater than it might really be – kind of like the boyfriend you kept around too long because your parents despised him.

I like to focus my kids on what they CAN do instead of what they can’t do. As the situations above came up, I continued to redirect him (and my daughter) to our family’s healthy habits: we get plenty of sleep, we drink water, we eat lots of fruits and veggies, we try new things (especially foods), and we get our hearts pumping.

Before writing this post, I spoke to my son about his experience watching The Biggest Loser. Did he really want to gain weight just to be on TV?

My son talked about healthy habits but admitted he didn't learn them from the show, he learned them from Mom and Dad. He also admitted that while he knows he shouldn't want to be over 100 pounds, being on TV would be “really cool.” Alas… the mind of a seven-year-old.

I don’t regret my decision. I take full accountability for my actions. I was able to reinforce the importance of positive body image and discuss healthy weight loss with my son. Building healthy, fit, well rounded, and emotionally well adjusted kids starts in the home and has nothing to do with mass marketed ‘reality’ TV.

Be confident in the life you lead, be present in the decisions you make, and be cautious of how you go about trying to expand your child’s worldview.