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