While I’m not busy trying to take over the world (i.e. post-bacc work, fulfilling a fitness internship, writing a blog, working out, eating, sleeping and showering, probably in that order…), I also work full time at a busy restaurant in NYC because #bills.
With many customers crossing my path on a daily basis, I’ve collected quite the repertoire of characters, life-altering tales, and/or confidence-boosting encounters. I’ve had job offers, date requests, doggy bags packed up literally for dogs, I’ve witnessed a female escort throw a martini in a customer’s face and I’ve even experienced a customer who was so incredibly disrespectful that he reduced me to tears at his table. But today, I experienced a true first.
I was waiting on a family of seven: three young children, a set of parents and grandparents. At the end of the meal, dessert menus were handed out per request by the father, and almost immediately the young girl at the table looked up at me and excitedly asked what flavors of gelato we had. I animatedly described the gelato of the day and instantly her eyes lit up over the banana chocolate chip.
Suddenly, her dad dryly interjected “I think you should pass on the gelato. You’re watching your weight, remember?”
Her entire face fell. She look humiliated in front of her whole family and in front of me. She looked up completely embarrassed, almost apologetic of her father’s comment and said “I guess I won’t have the gelato.”
I gave her the most reassuring smile I could, though my heart broke for her little spirit that was crushed. I also wanted to punch that SOB in the face.
“I mean, it’s just that you’re watching your weight. I am too. We all are.” Then, to me, “Anyway, I’ll take the check.”
I desperately tried to say something funny to lighten the mood but I think I just made things more awkward. I spun and got the check.
As an advocate for healthy lifestyles, I am aware of the need to establish well-balanced eating patterns in young children from an early age and I also value parental guidance toward these healthy choices. I recognize the epidemic that childhood obesity has become and the need to put a halt to these growing rates. Childhood obesity has more than doubled in children in the past 30 years and tripled in adolescents. So I absolutely condone eliminating extraneous sugars and harmful foods from your child’s diet. But what I absolutely cannot stand behind is the way in which this father attempted to parent his daughter. How will this little girl, of only 6 years old view herself from this moment forward? With such negative admonishment, she is likely to associate eating sweets with shame which could create anxiety, insecurity and control issues when faced with the idea of food, including self-loathing toward eating and her own self-image.
This father’s words, as flippant as they may have seemed to him, have encouraged his daughter to judge herself, feel insecure about her body, and refer to herself as fat. At age six.
The way I see it, this father is laying the perfect groundwork for his daughter to develop an eating disorder as early as the age of ten. Studies have shown that female subjects who dieted at a severe level were 18 times more likely to develop an eating disorder than those who did not diet. It is also important to note that the predominance of eating disorders in females is largely explained by the higher rates of earlier dieting and psychiatric morbidity (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC27789/). Therefore, early dieting is the greatest harbinger to eating disorders.
Instead of chastising this beautiful little girl, who was so genuine in her excitement over something so simple as banana chocolate chip gelato, he could have eliminated that temptation from the start and turned it into a positive parenting opportunity. Instead of replying ‘yes’ to dessert menus, he could have said ‘no’. No one else even expressed interest in dessert at the table. Or if others were having dessert he could have prompted her with excitement to share a fruit or berry plate.
Hasn’t she already been dealt a difficult-enough hand, growing up as a female in a society that glorifies perfection?
I know firsthand, it is not easy to overcome those demands. Although I was fortunate enough to personally be raised in a positive environment that encouraged healthy eating habits, I myself was not immune to insecurities over food. Being prone to perfectionism and growing up with strict Russian ballet teachers who glorified stark thinness, a perfect storm clouded my relationship with eating and eventually spiraled out of control during my college years. I was lucky enough to have incredibly loving friends and family who intervened before it was “clinically” a problem, but my obsession over calories shrunk me down to 99 pounds at my worst. It is a scary and consuming pattern of thinking, and overwhelming for even an adult to deal with, let alone a child. Although this blog is not about me and my specific past battles with this issue, I do want to use this opportunity to say that it can be conquered and it feels incredibly empowering to break those cycles of thinking.
To celebrate every inch of your body; or rather, the beautiful, intelligent, funny, compassionate soul that your physical body encases is the most empowering thing a female can do for herself in today’s society. To recognize the strength it takes to wake up and say, “I love and accept myself. I AM ENOUGH”.
I hope we can all use this story and stories like it to arm ourselves to encourage younger generations toward healthy minds and healthy bodies. We need to be mindful of the lives we are shaping. Each one of us has an immensely important role in this. No one is exempt.
Congratulate someone you know who’s recently made the enormous decision to change their life for the better. Take time to find something to compliment about them, whether it’s the radiance in their face, or the fact that they are rocking a new dress, or how strong they look. Empower one another. Life is far too short to do anything but uplift.
And as for that little girl, I hope she knows how strong and how confident she has the potential to become. I hope she finds a strong and confident role model who helps her to rise up. But even before that, I hope she has the chance to enjoy a scoop of gelato without guilt or judgement, and fully enjoy the freedom of the vast and beautiful youth that lies before her.
With light and love,
Also, if you or someone you know is battling an eating disorder, please do not hesitate to seek help. Loving people are here to support you every step of the way.