Yesterday I blogged about a terrible program designed to give kids a grade for their body size. Unfortunately this is not the first experiment foisted upon children. I think that some of the people behind these programs may actually care about children’s health, but that doesn’t excuse their irresponsibility. Still, I don’t want to criticize without offering suggestions. So if we really care about kids health here are some things that we could do:
Foster Healthy Relationships Between Kids and Their Bodies
Someone told me today that their school weighed kids and wrote their weights up on the wall. When the kids with low and high weights got (so very predictably) bullied, they were told that the bullying shouldn’t bother them because they were too young to worry about their weight. That’s exactly what we don’t want to do. It’s time for school to stop creating situations that enable bullies, and then blame the victims and excuse themselves by saying that bullying shouldn’t happen.
Health is a complicated thing, it’s difficult to define and difficult to measure. That doesn’t make it ok for schools to ignore those facts and just lazily and inaccurately substitute body size for health. Kids don’t take care of things that they hate, and that includes their bodies. Helping kids have a healthy relationship with their bodies helps them see those bodies as worthy of care. Trying to get kids to hate themselves healthy (or allowing other kids to “bully them healthy”) isn’t the way to go.
Foster Health Relationships between Kids and Movement
I work a lot with people who are trying to repair their relationships with movement after a messy breakup with exercise. Typically this came at the hands of gym class (dodge ball, the President’s Physical Fitness Test, and asshole PE teachers I’m looking at you.) Wouldn’t it be great if people weren’t pushed into hating the whole idea of movement from the start? Nobody is obligated to exercise, but everyone should have options for joyful movement made available to them as kids. I’m for physical education that comes with tons of options, where kids are encouraged to try and then if they don’t like something try something else.
I’m for having competitive sports leagues as well as non-competitive leagues where kids who want to play for fun can do that. I’m for exposing kids to “non-traditional” movement – video games, larping, marching band, swing choir, gardening etc. I think it’s important to understand that some people never really enjoy fitness and that’s totally fine, we won’t convince kids who hate it to love it by creating a situation where they feel like failures and are ridiculed and are taught to hate their bodies, or where they are made to believe that exercise is punishment for their body size. We won’t make kids healthier by continuing to insist that what we are doing works while actively ignoring tons of people who are saying “Gym class was fucking terrible!”
Foster Healthy Relationships Between Kids and Food
First of all, I think our focus should be on making sure that all kids have enough food to eat that nourishes them and that they enjoy, rather than trying to manipulate the height/weight ratios of kids. Again, I work with tons of people who are trying to fix a relationship with food has been really messed up, and it doesn’t have to be that way. We could help kids try a wide variety of food, and learn to trust their hunger and fullness signals. We could stop food moralization, we could give kids good information, and support to make choices that take care of them.
We could stop defending that completely ridiculous idea that it’s not stigmatizing or damaging to tell fat kids that the world will be better when kids who look like them don’t exist. We could look at the results of the experiments that have been tried and we could make the informed decision that what we are doing not only doesn’t make kids healthier but, in fact, is damaging their health. The people involved in implementing these programs could find a way to care more about their kids than about saving face by insisting that it’s anybody’s fault but theirs that programs that are supposed to be about making kids healthy are leaving them with deeply held body shame, hating movement and terrified of food. We can do better, and we should.
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