Would you tell your pre-teen or teenage daughter that she’d put on a bit of weight?
It wouldn’t surprise me if most readers would now be inclined to a resounding “no!” followed by a rant on the disastrous effects of such a manoeuvre – including eating disorders and body insecurities. This would probably be my initial reaction too.
But then I read a recent Time article by Charlotte Alter, whose mother did inform her when she’d gained a couple of pounds. As she put it, “This nugget of real talk was one of the best things my mother ever did… I have a good relationship with my body and my mother, partly because she told me when I was getting a little plump.”
Charlotte recounts how her mother mentioned her weight loss in a tactful (and never insulting) way, how she helped her devise a two-week change to her eating and exercise habits, and encouraged her along the way to better health and renewed self-confidence. Rather than tiptoeing around the issue in the hope it would go away she addressed it simply and directly, in the same way that she might tell her daughter if her clothes were ripped or her hair was messy. And she took more of a health-related approach rather than a weight or looks-related approach.
I think that Charlotte’s mother did a great job of it. However, as mentioned at the end of the article, Charlotte did have a normal build and metabolism, and access to healthy food. I assume she also had a healthy enough self-image, meaning that this suggestion did not drive her to an eating disorder or negative thoughts. Not all young girls these days are in the same position, in a culture so fraught with body shaming and unrealistic ideals of beauty.
Even with all these factors to consider however (and they definitely should be considered before broaching such a subject with an impressionable teenager), I think that sometimes as a society we tend to ignore big issues. On one side, it’s a little bit selfish: because we’d prefer not to know if there are deeper problems going on. And on another side, we’ve become too soft on our kids – our desire to not hurt their feelings means we lose opportunities to make them tougher and to help them grow as a person (in more ways than looks, of course).
I guess there are three ways to approach the situation. In an ideal world, the child would have a decent self-image and so parents could tell them the truth tactfully, and work with them to improve their health. The in-between option might not be a conversation but rather a subtle lifestyle change: perhaps making the whole family’s diet healthier and introducing more vigorous family activities.
But what do you think? Is directly telling your child about their weight gain the right approach? Or is it not an important topic?