Click here for shortcuts to regional language blogs and city-specific events.
Last week, we took the baby to the paediatrician's clinic for her DPT and HiB vaccinations (both due in the 5th month). Our experience with the baby so far has made us realise that it is very important to consult an experienced and baby-friendly doctor, especially until the baby is old enough to speak and clearly let us know what is bothering her. Until that day, we will have to rely on the expertise of the doctor. As obvious as that sounds, no parent would deny that it is an extremely daunting task to find a good doctor. We had to change a couple before we zeroed on this gentleman. He is the Head of Department of a well-known hospital and seems experienced as far as handling babies is concerned. The thing that we really appreciate about him is the fact that he treats children with respect and love (and not just as tiny bearer cheques!).
All the kids that were present that day were little girls. Most of the kids seemed to be less than 1.5 years old and, therefore, we assumed that they were all there for their vaccinations.
Amidst the frolicking cuties, who seemed totally oblivious to the presence of the injection monster lurking behind the closed door, we spotted a young girl (about 10-years old) waiting for her turn. She was accompanied by her mother, a seemingly well-educated lady.
Now, the usual practice at the clinic is that kids are called in first by the assistant who checks their weight and height (and head circumference, too - in case of infants) and notes these details down before forwarding the file to the doctor. The young girl was next in line to us. The assistant noted down our baby's height, weight and head circumference (The baby strongly disapproves of so much human contact – the assistant may have realised that after the baby gave her a piece of her mind as the head circumference was being measured).
While my husband and I were going through the baby's file and discussing her growth this month, the young girl was called in to get her height and weight measured. She was apparently down with a stomach infection. A few minutes later she came out, all smiles. Her mother asked "You must have lost weight? You haven't been able to eat properly for the last two days." To which the already-quite-frail kid replied "I have lost 2 kgs." and added "I am so happy!!!"
We couldn't believe what we had just heard. A 10-year old was happy that she had lost 2 kgs. When did the world come to this?
I remember when we were kids, our mom would get us to finish our food saying "At this age you can even digest stones, so eat properly!" and we would – without protest (well, mostly!). And given the fact that our generation was not exposed to so much junk food, the food that we had was usually healthy. Plus, we used to spend so much time running around and playing outdoors that we would be forever hungry. Of all the things that crossed our minds, gaining weight was certainly not one of them.
So what happened to this generation? Where did they get this twisted notion that being thin was acceptable?
No doubt, the major contributing factor is how girls (or even boys!) are projected in popular movies and TV shows. The thin girl always gets to wear pretty clothes, she excels at everything, she is popular, and everyone loves her (even if she has a mean streak). The fat girl, on the other hand, is the butt of all jokes, is constantly ridiculed, is always "friend zoned" and goes unnoticed even if she is a good human being. And for the fat girl to get noticed, she must lose weight and become thin! (The situation is pretty much the same for boys.)
Another major factor is the treatment meted out to kids in their peer group. Children are quick to tag friends according to their physical attributes. Every peer group has a jester (who is inadvertently always the fat kid!). Making fun of that poor kid is the best form of entertainment that can exist. No kid wants to be in that position.
What about us? Parents and family members? Are we contributing to this in any manner? Is it possible that we may have been giving them wrong signals about how to perceive obesity?
Is there anything we can do as parents to let kids know that being obese isn't the end of the world?
- When we meet old friends and say "Hey! Looking good. Have you lost weight?", are we telling our kids that to look good one needs to lose weight?
Should we try "Hey! You are looking so fit" instead?
- When we describe people as "the fat guy" or "the plump (or thin!) lady", are we telling kids that weight of a person can become his/her identity?
Should we try not to describe people by their weight (or any other demeaning physical characteristic, for that matter) instead?
- When we keep repeating "I am on a diet / I need to lose weight" in front of our kids, are we telling them that weight (and not health) is something that we constantly need to keep in check?
Should we say "I need to exercise more / I am trying to eat healthy" instead?
- When we say "You will become fat if you eat all this junk", are we telling them that we are only worried because they will put on weight?
Should we try "All this will make you fall ill / This food is so unhealthy" instead?
- When we say to them "You need to lose weight", are we making them feel judged?
Should we try "You need to eat healthy/you need to exercise more" instead?
I may be worrying too much too soon. But I would rather mend my ways and my approach towards others as early as possible so that I don't send out wrong signals to my baby. I don't even know if all this would help. I am no expert. I am just a mother who is worried about waking up one morning and hearing "Mom, am I looking fat?" from her little cupcake.
Would I like all typical Indian mothers end up saying "Nah baby, you are just a little healthy"?
Only time will tell.