Plus Size Uniforms For Kids Are Causing Concern About the "Childhood Obesity Epidemic" — But What Does Said Concern Do to the Kids' Body Image
Let me propose something to you: Clothing companies making apparel in sizes that people actually are. The concept doesn't sound like a reason for adults to start acting all concern troll-y, does it? Except that's exactly what they're doing when it comes to a company that is making school uniforms for children up to a size 5X. Today The Daily Mail released an article featuring "shocking photographs [that] lay bare the extent of obesity in Britain, with school uniforms being sold in super sizes to fit overweight children." A follow-up article in the Gloucester Citizen then highlighted the UK-based plus-size children's line Sturdy Kids as being quite indicative of the ever-skyrocketing childhood obesity epidemic. The statistic-oriented story lay under a not-so-clever pun, with a headline playing off of the word "ballooning." Vanessa Fowler, the founder of Study Kids — and a mother herself — told Gloucester Citizen that she designed the line due to a lack of options in a growing market, "We speak to parents on a daily basis who have struggled to find their children clothing. A trip down the high street for a plus-size child often leaves them feeling upset and disheartened." It breaks my heart that kids who are just trying to wear clothes are feeling this excluded, and as though there was something intrinsically wrong with them. Fowler says that she believes giving children well-fitting, comfortable clothing, regardless of their their size, "makes them feel more confident and happier."The response to both articles, however, has me feeling as though Fowler and I are some of the only adults out there who would rather see their children "confident and happier" than self-deprecating and self-loathing because of the way they are made to perceive their bodies. I'm all for tough love, and not helicoptering children into believing that they're the most special snowflakes in the universe. But teaching kids not to hate their bodies isn't helicoptering; it's simply right.
We have reached a point where discussing the need for larger sized kids' clothing is impossible to do without discussing the "increase in overweight and obese children and adolescents in developed countries." When you consider the rate at which mainstream media is becoming more and more accessible to kids through technology (not to mention the pervasiveness of advertisements), it becomes important to realize that being concerned for the emotional wellbeing and life-long health of children is necessary. And at the end of the day, this means that sometimes we have to be a little less concerned what the scales and their pant sizes are saying, and more concerned with their emotional and mental health as well as the purely physical. Studies show that age 10 is when children are likely to start dieting these days. So just let that sink in for a second.
The truth is that I am of the opinion that if any person (including a child), feels unhealthy in any way, it becomes important for them to do whatever is necessary to improve their lifestyles. If someone has a broken leg, you can bet I'm going to send them to the hospital! But let me ask you: Can you tell that someone has a broken leg by looking at them? Usually. Can you determine a person's blood sugar levels, cholesterol, blood pressure, and other determinants of health by looking at them? Not usually. And that is what distinguishes the two. The fact remains that it's generally impossible to know if someone is healthy or not just by looking at them. And it's time that we stop conflating health with size 100 percent of the time the latter gets brought up in conversation.
So now that you've gotten the, "I'm just concerned for the health of the children! Won't someone think of the children," thing out of your system, it's also time that we talk about conflating health and worth. When I first learned of the book/philosphy Health at Every Size (HAES), it felt like a revelation. Even when I was an elite athlete as a teenager, I still had stretch marks and a soft tummy. At the time, I was maintaining a daily yoga practice, riding my bike everywhere, and was eating a grain-free vegan diet — and I was still a size 12/14. I knew bodies could be healthy at every size. I knew that my doctor's suggestion that I "try harder" to lose weight by prioritizing hiring a personal trainer (with what money as a 20-year-old?) and doing at least two hours of cardio a day was condescending. This philosophy just confirmed it.
The problem with HAES, however, is that it's an incomplete theory when it comes to inclusivity in the size acceptance movement. Plus, we know that extremes aren't healthy in any direction (weight-related or otherwise). But bodies shouldn't have to be healthy for them — or the people living in them, rather — to be worthy of love and acceptance. Do we need to be teaching kids that their bodies can be healthy at every size? Absolutely. Do we need to also teach them that if they're not healthy, they're still worthy human beings? Without a doubt.Society also often understands the concept of health to be singularly physical. It's a shame, considering there are so many factors that determine what health is, but the experts at this little group you may have heard of called The World [Freaking] Health Organization break it down for you:
Health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.
They also explain certain social determinants of health:
The social determinants of health are the conditions in which people are born, grow, live, work and age. These circumstances are shaped by the distribution of money, power and resources at global, national and local levels. The social determinants of health are mostly responsible for health inequities — the unfair and avoidable differences in health status seen within and between countries.
With this definition of health, it would be nearly impossible to expect that kids preserve their health in all aspects of their lives and states, whilst simultaneously being taught to hate their bodies and feel ashamed for needing "generous size" pants.When we ignore the social constraints that potentially prevent parents and their children from accessing health care, fresh whole foods, and physical activity, we're also doing a disservice to the conversation about health. Sports are expensive, y'all. And if you're a single parent who's trying to raise kids and work while being paid a less-than-living wage, chances are that some things are going to fall off the radar or be almost impossible to do. Blogger Wiley Reading explains many of the barriers that prevent food access in an article for Everyday Feminism entitled "Why Judging People for Buying Unhealthy Food is Classist:"
"It’s very comforting to think we’ll be able to solve America’s nutrition crisis by building more grocery stores in low-income neighborhoods and educating low-income families on how to cook healthy, nutritious meals. But the unfortunate truth is that more grocery stores and nutrition education (while helpful to some people) doesn’t address the larger problem — which is that eating is expensive."
To put it simply, I think it's about time that we stop projecting our shitty attitudes and insecurities about our own bodies onto children (and this especially applies to children we don't even know — although the Internet trolls will probably never cease to chime in), and start taking stock of why we feel compelled to voice our opinions of what size our kids are. If you are really, truly concerned about the children, then you can work toward food security and other community health initiatives. Personally, my New Year's resolution for the world in 2015 is to leave fat kids alone, unless it's to give them a hug or teach them that their body is beautiful.Images: Sturdy Kids; Giphy