Bowlderizing, Weight Issues, and The Berenstain Bears

Add together a big bowl of upsetting ingredients: girls & body image, nutrition, obesity epidemics, the Berenstain Bears.

Mix well.


OK, maybe not exactly like that, but here's the thing: as a parent of two girls, I have a healthy fear of eating disorders.
From the day they are born, everyone has to obsessively talk about how
pretty little girls are. And hey, the ARE pretty. But please!

One mother pointed out to me that whenever grownups talk to little
girls, 90% of the time they start out with "What a pretty dress." With
boys they try "Hey, what are you doing?" And once she said it, I
realized that I was doing that ALL THE TIME.

Add to that a lovely period of time where a little boy in preK would
express his aggression by screaming "You're fat! You're FAT!" at all
the little girls to make them cry. And it worked. Add to that how many times since the
issue has come up—and we're still only in elementary school—and you
will see why when we used to read this, it just pissed me off.


Now, I know (or at least I've been told enough that I more or less
believe it) that there is an obesity epidemic among children in the
U.S. right now. And there are all sorts of problems with nutrition, and
corporate control of food, and a whole slew of things that are
profoundly upsetting. But I think that the focus on what people's
bodies look like doesn't help matters. Because some of us are big, and
some of us are small, and the object (I think) is to be the healthiest
version of you that's possible. Or, as my former aerobics instructor
used to exhort, "It doesn't matter if your butt is big or small, just
so long as it is nice and tight!"
Now, while a nice tight butt might be out of all of our reaches, I
appreciate the sentiment. And I'm fine with having a whole
Berenstain-Bear-style book on: eating the right food! And how brother
and sister like to snack on crisp crunchy carrot sticks anytime! And isn't salmon great?!

I know many parents really detest these books, but sometimes
it's nice to be all didactic and issue-focused, especially when they're
so up-front about it. You can just find your issue—Mama's New Job,
Manners, Homework Troubles—get your book, and call it a day.

However, with eating, I think it's more complicated, especially for
girls. So when I used to read this book (which was in those happy
ignorant days when my kids didn't know how to read so I could say
whatever the heck I wanted), in the place of "Mama Bear noticed that
she was seeing a lot more of them lately. From the front. From the
side," I would substitute something fairly lame along the lines of,
"Mama Bear noticed that the bears were really tired that day!"

It was tricky, particularly when Doctor Bear (or whoever she was, maybe
Dr. Grizzly? I don't remember, and I am blissfully far away from these books right now)
sadistically pinches Papa Bear's gut to show him how fat he is and your
kid is trying to figure out how that picture makes sense with the
story. But hey, it's a positive thing to be forced to be

Anyway, we made it through years of reading that book without ever
saying the word fat. And I like to think we are all better for it.

12 thoughts on “Bowlderizing, Weight Issues, and The Berenstain Bears

  1. Oh, I am conflicted on this book as well! We have it in our massive BB collection, every single one of which I hate. But that one, I hate with a little extra bit of venom! (Note that these books were handed down to us, and I just can’t get rid of them because my 3yo loves them too much. It’s a pickle.)
    I like that it talks about exercise and healthy food choices. I’m always telling him that no, he can’t have a granola bar for a snack, but he could have some carrots or an apple! And if I reference the BB book, he is much more likely to accept this gracefully.
    I hate the way it says that the cubs were chubbier from the front, from the back, and from the side, with accompanying pictures of their bulging butts. (BTW, don’t bears have tails???)
    Really, I should just get rid of it. Surely there are better picture books out there that model healthy food choices?


  2. We never read it, but we’ve seen the ep. on TV. Man, I hate that show. I particularly hate the end when they have something to celebrate, and Papa Bear starts to suggest that they go out for ice cream, and then realizes that’s not very healthy. So I think they have veggies instead.
    I’m sorry, but there is absolutely nothing wrong with having an occasional celebration involving ice cream. Sure, every day is a problem, but if you have something to celebrate, just do it and don’t obsess over it!


  3. Yes, yes, yes, and yes. I am one of those parents who cannot STAND the BBs, and this one is definitely one of the worst. I too try to redact the more offensive parts about being fat, etc., but it is difficult. And when I’m reading aloud, honestly… sometimes I go on auto-pilot and I read the part I detest before I realize it. Oops.
    And yet, who doesn’t want to read to a willingly listening child about healthy foods and exercise? Who hasn’t felt just like Mama Bear about the junk food habit (though, WHO would tell their kids they’re getting fat??)?
    Just, ick.


  4. That sounds awful. We have a possibly even more annoying book someone bought us called “The King, the Queen, and the Jellybean” ( which tells the story of how a royal family, failing to subdivide the kingdom’s only jellybean (it turns into mush, which mysteriously grosses everyone out, even the dog), becomes addicted to all the varieties of healthy beans. The end proposes a nauseating series of choices such as “portion control? or the remote control?” Truly gagworthy and we still quote it but managed to hide it somewhere before the kids got old enough to understand more than the pictures.


  5. I just hate all the Berenstain Bear books now – at least all the lessony ones. Bizarrely, I also just did a post about it on my blog – I won’t read them to the kids anymore because *all* the lessons are so wrong! Also, they’re like the exact same stereotypes as the Simpsons. Ugh.


  6. When my daughter was 3, someone gave us “BB and the Stranger Danger.” NO. We hid that puppy immediately. Oddly enough, she escaped from her dad and sprinted off inside a public building that very day. But we choose to go with the Sesame Street Book “Ernie Gets Lost” which is more about how *sad* you will be if you get lost, and that you should stay with your grownup.
    My daughter almost never wears dresses, so no one gets to start their random conversations with her with “What a pretty dress!” But she’s had a book in her hand since she was about 5, so they usually start with “What are you reading?” instead. I don’t remember what people said to her before that.
    And now! I have a book recommendation for you. Snuggly Girl and I both really enjoyed “Savvy” by Ingrid Law. It’s a coming-of-age-with-magic story, and it is funny and sweet and ends with the 13 year old deciding she doesn’t want to grow up too fast. Now that’s a theme a parent can get behind.


  7. Oh, I loathe BB too. Although I remember loving them when I was a kid, and my kid loves them now, so I guess there’s some whistle there that only small children can hear.
    You know, this also reminds me of something I read in some magazine–an advice columnist’s answer to a parent asking what to do when their kid says things like “Why is that lady so fat?” The advice was something like, tell them matter-of-factly, “Some people eat too much junk food and that makes them gain weight.” What??? Why not just say, “People come in all different shapes and sizes”?


  8. PS I do the revision thing too. A relative gave my daughter the book version of Disney’s Cinderella, which she adores despite my attempts to get rid of it. I skip all the parts about how Cinderella dreams about how falling in love will solve all her problems.


  9. indeed, i bought this book for my daughter who is also fun of eating junk foods, and guess what she doesn’t want to eat junk food anymore. nice! thanks to this book! yay! i would like also to recommend this book to other parents out there who are having trouble on there children of eating junk foods very much.


  10. What do people do when they redact read-aloud books and then the kid gets old enough to read to herself – and discovers the deception? I’m almost at that stage.


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