Sunday, March 10, 2013

Feminism vs. Health: FIGHT!

I found a very interesting article the other day about the messages we send children.  The article was written by a mom who found a list her 7 year old daughter had written.  The list was a bunch of healthy foods to eat and exercises to do and was titled "Diyet"; there were no end of other cute misspellings.  The mom freaked out and went on a tear criticizing our society for telling her very young daughter that she was fat and needed to lose weight.

My take on it is pretty different.  The list wasn't entitled "I am too fat" nor was that implied anywhere.  All that was on it was a list of healthy food and activities like push ups, jumping jacks, and bicycling.  Moreover the words healthy diet are used quite regularly in education and even on TV.  Does a 7 year old who eats healthily and who has a high activity level need to have such a list?  No.  However, teaching kids that they should think about what they eat and try to get lots of exercise is a great idea.  Elli's school has a big book for each kid they use as an organizer and record.  Each of these books is packed with advice on getting exercise and eating healthy food as well as other 'be nice to people' type messages.  This seems to me to be a fine thing as encouraging a healthy lifestyle is a useful thing for schools to do.

There is no denying that unrealistic models of attractiveness are a particular problem our society struggles with.  We are making strides towards basing our valuation of women on who they are rather than how they look but by no means are we there yet.  It is important to do our best to make children, especially female children, understand that being extra thin is *not* necessary.  Obviously the issue isn't limited to women but there is no denying that they are judged more harshly and pressured more on that front.

I have a lot of mixed up feelings on this whole issue.  I generally find runway models to be way too thin for my preferences and I just think "Eat some cake or something..." and though Wendy oftens feels like she would like to be thinner I look at her and think "Do not lose those curves!"  Not like my approach is objectively better of course; saying to women that their breasts are too small is just a different sort of unfair standard than telling them that their thighs are too large.

In the end I think I must side with the health advocates on this one.  Telling children to exercise more and eat healthily is going to send a message that slender and athletic is better and round and soft is worse but I don't think we can avoid that.  Those habits need to be reinforced and as long as we are always careful to emphasize that this is for health rather than beauty we will be doing the best we can.

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