To my Preteen Daughter
Advice from a Former Chubster
Meatballs and Pitches
I’m at a networking event. A slap-on-a-nametag-and-a-smile affair, where I belly up to the hors d’oeuvres to crunch away nerves, munch because it’s dinner time and graze because maybe someone will talk to me while I guard the food.
I chew and cover my mouth while commending meatballs – “Try one; they’re really good,” or forecasting chicken skewers – “There’s a chance they’ll return…they disappeared pretty fast…”
Suddenly, the action stops for a word from our sponsors.
The sponsors are two health-related businesses, trainers offering to help us ‘slim down and tone up.’ I finish my meatball and reach for a carrot stick. I bet you could bounce broccoli spears from these people’s abs. One trainer touts a new, exclusive-to-the-area machine designed to ‘reduce the appearance of fat.’ In fairness, both business owners talked of fitness, of reaching goals, of fostering good health and a sense of wellness. I’ll raise my glass of nonalcoholic grape juice and drink to that.
But certain industry buzzwords make me want to throw meatballs rather than eat them. I can feel my left eyebrow creeping towards my hairline when I hear “tone,” (a word too vague to mean much). Mention, “slim down,” and my teeth clench. Say, “target your trouble spots,” and my c-section scar starts to mambo. That’s almost a workout in itself.
Fitness-speak has been boxing our ears for decades, but lately, my patience for buzzwords has grown thinner than a fat-free, wheat-free, soy-and-dairy-free sandwich wrap.
I lay blame for this language intolerance at Fiona’s feet. My ten-year-old has started sprouting the odd zit – a taunting whiteheaded precursor to adolescence. At puberty, formerly reedy girls like my daughter often sprout taffy tummies and marshmallow thighs. The development of their bodies, combined with media messages and the language adults and even their peers use sow seeds of body hyper-consciousness. So, I catch myself rehearsing scripts in my head. What do I tell my daughter about weight, size, strength and appearance?
Mom's Four Tips
- Hon, it’s not all about looks. Oh, sure, who doesn’t want to be told she’s beautiful? But the older I get, the more grateful I am for what my body can do. It can chase children, swing a racket, run a marathon. And if I lose those abilities, I’ll line dance, walk, and perform chair exercises with the retirement village gang. How I look won’t matter thanks to our failing eyesight.
- Fitness is about performance. How fast and how far can you run? How well can you kick a soccer ball to a teammate? Swing from monkey bars? Throw a basketball through a hoop? Backhand a tennis ball and enjoy a decent rally? Can you swim freestyle, breaststroke, backstroke and even butterfly? Someday, when you’re older, how much can you bench press? Can you dance all night? (like my Mom). Your body allows you to perform these feats. Congratulate it. Celebrate it. Forget about fixing, toning or targeting.
- Plan to be active the rest of your life. This is not a sentence, but an opportunity. It’s not someone else’s program, it’s your plan. Sure, a trainer or coach can teach you the basics, provide a re-start after prolonged periods of inertia or injury, or help you prepare for an event, but those sessions are spendy. Ask yourself if your plan is sustainable. Most of my fit friends who are forty or better have found a sport they can’t live without. They’re hooked. Instead of making excuses, they make time to play.
- Don’t let anyone (including media) tell you how you’re supposed to look. It’s much easier to stick to a healthy weight because you love (and eat for) your sport rather than getting skinny because you hate (and starve for) your body to meet someone else's ideal. I was a hopeless dieter in my teens, not because I couldn’t see my two chins, but because I hadn’t yet found my mojo ignition switch – running. I remember overhearing a friend of my parents, when I was 15 years old, say, “Dawn has such a pretty face. It’s too bad she’s not 15 pounds thinner.” While I was a chubby teen, I wasn’t fat enough to break furniture. Still, I ingested the critique faster than a packet of after-school Ho Hos. That first-remembered ‘fatty’ comment has stayed with me longer than my first home, first husband or firstborn… for 28 years. You are marvelous, my dear. Gorgeous to your core, regardless of its shape.
I appreciate and admire many folks who work in the fitness industry. I’ve joined gyms, have engaged in the odd session with a personal trainer and am considering pooling resources with a couple friends to hire a running coach before my next marathon. But the next time someone from the local gym calls my home, asking whether I’d like to ‘tone anything,’ I’ll tell him the only thing I want to tone are my pelvic floor muscles so I can bounce on a trampoline with my kids.