My Daughter's DietMelody Pettinelli
I was born in 1947; when I was growing up, we had glamour girls to emulate — Jane Russell, Marilyn Monroe, Mamie Van Doran and the like. If you research these ladies you will find none were a size below 10 or 12. Nobody called these ladies fat. In fact, they were thought of as sexy, the epitome of what was then the feminine ideal. I struggled to have those curves too, as did most, if not all, of my friends.
Fast forward to 1980, when I had my daughter. Somehow, in just twenty or so years, there was a whole new image to emulate, and the bar had been raised considerably.
For the first five years of her life my baby girl seemed to me to be of average weight for her age and height (pictures will bear me out on this). Then, somewhere between 6 and 11, she began to put on weight. At first I wasn’t too concerned; I assumed it was because her father and I were both chubby as kids and that she too would slim down in due time. We had no idea how much she hated herself. Not being as thin as her friends tormented her; other kids tormented her; and I would say that the society she was born into tormented her.
Determined to help my child, I looked into healthy weight loss programs. I found one at our local hospital, and we joined. The program was informative, but the focus was more geared toward families with weight problems. And I was already preparing relatively healthy meals; the problem was that I had 2 teenage boys and one husband who were not interested in giving up anything they liked in the interest of little sister’s self esteem.
So at first we devised our own program. I did everything with my daughter so she wouldn’t feel singled out. If she could eat no ice cream, I ate no ice cream; we ate frozen yogurt and learned to like it. If she needed more physical exercise, I got more physical exercise. We rode our bikes. We hiked 5 miles in Pennsylvania’s Ridley Creek Park several times a week. Then we went to Jenny Craig together and lost weight together. All I wanted was my daughter’s happiness.
I now know that my daughter struggled with disordered eating for years afterward. The thing is, I don’t know what I could have done differently. I was overweight as a child, and my own mother was always on me to slim down, but somehow none of that affected me to the degree it hurt Dara. It’s a cliche by now, but I think the difference is the impossibly thin form held up today as the model of beauty and worth. Today my daughter is an accomplished young woman. She was a good student, her manners have improved (ha ha) and she has become a very productive member of society. But I never doubted for a minute that she would be all of those things. What pains me is the fact that, for all of her academic and professional success, she still feels bad about her body — as, I think, do most women. My intelligent, beautiful daughter should be having the last laugh, but for any normal size woman in this society, I’m not sure that’s possible anymore, regardless of her achievements.