Recently I had occasion to take my kids on an all-day excursion, to which they were allowed to each invite a friend. As we cruised the lunch joint we'd chosen, the 12-year-old friend seemed, well, anxious about what to choose. She wanted nachos, she said, but that wasn't healthy. (Sound familiar, anyone?) Her parents, she explained, have a rule about eating fruits and vegetables at every meal. She finally settled on nachos and a container of cut-up fruit. "My father says I don't eat enough for a girl my age," she commented. Gee, I wonder why; could she be learning from them to be afraid of food? If she has the genetic loading for an eating disorder, she's in big trouble.
As we ate, the conversation turned to a new movie, Ratatouille. This girl had seen it. "I really liked it," she reported, "except for all those rats who were so fat!" Then she went on: "It's so disgusting! They had all these bulges of so much fat!"
I was fairly stunned, but only because she was articulating what I know so many people think. I didn't know what to say, honestly, and what came to mind wasn't great: "In our family we don't feel fat is bad. People come in all shapes and sizes."
"But all they have to do is eat less and eat healthy and they wouldn't be fat!" she cried. Out of the mouths of babes, huh? "That's not actually true," I said, and then changed the subject, feeling like a coward. But I really didn't feel like taking it on, especially since I could see she was just parroting what she'd heard at home.
Later in the day, everyone else got ice cream, and so, I was happy to see, did she. The fruit went home unopened. For what it's worth.