I published this post last year on the CocoaMamas blog. In light of the controversy over teen tennis sensation Taylor Townsend, whom the USTA benched for “fitness” issues until controversy caused them to change their minds, I decided to revisit and update the post.
I took my kids to the pediatrician for their back-to-school checkups recently. Health-wise, both kids checked out just fine.
But as is the case every year, my kids’ doctor pulled me to the side to mention my daughter’s weight.
“She’s gained 12 pounds,” her pediatrician mentioned in a whisper. She showed me the height/weight charts for my daughter’s age, showing her weight hovering slightly above the top line for her age group. Oh, she said in passing, the child I was told would stop growing at 10 because of early onset puberty, also grew an inch.
I did my best not to Kanye shrug. “Did she mention to you that she’s doing yoga?” I asked.
“Yes,” the doctor said, then gave me the name of a nutritionist. She also ordered some blood work to check my daughter’s blood sugar/insulin and cholesterol levels, among other things.
Everything came back normal, as it always does.
My daughter is a muscular girl. She always has been. She is extremely strong for her size and age. I outweigh her by a good thirty pounds, and she picks me up like it’s nothing.
My daughter has always been active. She has taken gymnastics and acrobatics classes, off and on, since she was three. For about four years, she was training to reach competition level in gymnastics. She has tried every sport from soccer to softball. She swims, ice skates and bikes. At 12, she took adult aerial acrobatics classes. She occasionally goes to adult yoga classes with me. Last year, she made her high school’s cheerleading team.
And did I mention she’s a size 6-8? Hardly a size worn by the clinically obese.
Yet, ever since she was a baby, doctors have plotted her weight on graphs and told me, in hushed tones, that her weight was in the upper percentiles for children her age.
Her plots on the height/weight graphs have remained remarkably consistent since birth. She’s of average height and above-average weight, according to the “official” weight charts.
For some reason, her doctors have equated “above average” with “abnormal” and ”weight problem.” This infuriates me. Humans come in a range of shapes and sizes, heights and weights. The fact that my daughter’s height and weight have plotted consistently on the height/weight graphs since birth strongly indicates that this is just how she’s built, period.
I always feel like there’s some implicit indictment of my parenting involved in these discussions. Every year, the doctor grills me about what the kids eat. “Do they drink soda and processed juice? Do they drink milk? Do they eat vegetables? Do they eat fried foods or fast food? Do they eat sweets and candy?”
My answers always seem to surprise her. The kids get soda only when we go out to eat at restaurants. The only juice I buy is orange juice, which they drink mixed with seltzer. My daughter drinks fat-free milk, and my son prefers rice milk. They love vegetables, especially spinach. Fried foods are rare, and they mostly can’t stand fast food. You’d have to force-feed them McDonald’s, which they’d promptly regurgitate.
The doctor looks at me like she doesn’t quite trust these answers, even when the kids give consistent responses. For many years, I was also overweight. In these questions, I see the assumption that here we were, this fat black family, greasing it up on Popeye’s and ribs and fries with nary a veggie in sight.
Except the kids weren’t, and still aren’t, fat. The reality that we have a healthy diet, that we generally don’t eat “soul food,” and that my kids are quite physically active, doesn’t jibe with the chronic-obesity-in-the-black-community stereotype.
Before we left the doctor’s office, I told my daughter, as I do every year, not to worry about the doctor’s comments about her weight and to just keep doing what she’s been doing.
I said to her, “I know how and what you eat. You have a very healthy diet. You eat very little junk food, and only as an occasional treat. You work out. Whatever your weight, you haven’t gone up in size at all in the last two years. Don’t worry about what they’re saying.”
I am trying to raise a teen black girl with a healthy body image. If my daughter were in fact in danger of having a real weight problem – whether too fat or too thin – I would be on the case. I have taught her about proper portion size and calorie count, to honestly assess her food intake and balance her calorie consumption against her activity level. Thanks to cheerleading, she gets plenty of daily exercise. Her body type is what it is. The last thing she needs is to become insecure and anorexic because she’s not tall and thin. She will never be tall and thin. And that’s OK.
As long as she remains within her own range of normal, I’m not worried about her weight. In my opinion, as long as that remains the case, her doctors shouldn’t be worried, either.
Originally published on CocoaMamas.com