We see a lot of criticism of children’s leading “sedentary lifestyles,” because that “makes children fat.” Our criticism is a very different one: while active and healthy children can be any size from skinny to fat, sedentary children of any size have less opportunity to learn to enjoy their bodies, the pleasures of movement, the sensations of running, jumping, dancing, tumbling. It’s far, far easier to fall into self-hatred of how your body looks if you don’t like, or are not aware of, how it feels.
I grew up with surprisingly little body hatred regarding how I looked, even though I was always told that I was fat. It just didn’t seem to be that much of a problem.
On the other hand, I didn’t fare so well with how I moved, and how I lived in my body. Neither of my parents, as near as I can tell, enjoyed their own bodies. Both led sedentary lives (for that time) and I hardly remember seeing either of them dance or move for movement’s sake. This caught on quickly with me, and helped make me the book-obsessed indoor child that I was. That, in turn, led to troubles at school.
One story that has stayed with me my entire life is of a gym teacher, perhaps in fourth or fifth grade, saying, “Now one of the things you should try and do in basketball is make your teammates look good. I know if Debbie’s on your team that’s not easy, but do the best you can.” It stung then, it stings now, and I can identify all sorts of experiences in later life that were darker and less pleasant than they should/could have been because of the overlay of that moment.
About two months ago, I was in line for popcorn at a movie theater, when the woman in front of me said to her no more than seven-year-old daughter, “Oh, no! We don’t want to get candy! Do you want a fat ass like mine?” She was in her 30s, I’d guess, and was on the small end of midsize. I really had to restrain myself from saying something, because my experience is that nothing a stranger can say in a moment like that is helpful. But I know that child, along with tens of thousands of her counterparts, is growing up ready to hate her own body.