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Should Michelle Obama Talk About Girls’ Brush With Fat?

michelle-obamaMichelle Obama just became one brave mama with her announcement that her pediatrician had to give her a heads up on her girls’ potential for a weight problem.

But did her attempt to personalize the nation’s childhood obesity epidemic unintentionally send a bad message?

Let’s face it, the Obama girls are adorable. And if you look at pictures of them, incredibly skinny. The idea that they might possibly be “off balance,” as the First Lady said her pediatrician claimed is a tad on the disturbing side.

True, she hasn’t said when, exactly, the doc made these remarks. It could have been during a chunky phase that Sasha and Malia were going through. The inference, of course, is that the Obamas have now righted the course, and the girls are perfectly healthy.

Red state or blue state, you’ll be hard pressed to find people who would disagree that the Obamas have displayed exemplary parenting skills regardless of politics. But I read everything through eating-disordered glasses, and I worry for the Obama girls.

Their mother is trying for the greater good, but she’s taken an extremely touchy subject out into the open. On the brink of teenagehood, Malia Obama is at an especially precarious position. With a naturally changing body, the idea that she has to face the world debating her fat puts her at higher risk for an eating disorder. And let’s not forget what she looks like – tall and svelte, like her mother, she is a gorgeous girl but I dare say she’s on the thin side.

Considering the disgusting things said about a teenaged Chelsea Clinton during her father’s presidency – when no one was actively discussing her body – what does this sort of public attention do a tween? And what greater good does it really serve for Mrs. Obama to be talking about her kids’ struggle with weight?

People have criticized her for hula hooping on the lawn and not getting proactive about the country’s real issues, but opening up your daughters’ medical files is not the way to do it. There’s a reason these sorts of things are made private by federal law. Eating disorders begin at home, where criticism of their weight is taken to mean criticism of their character.

And while we need to be cognizant of what our kids are taking in, the way to fight childhood obesity is through teaching healthier choices and exercise (there’s that hula hoop again), not zeroing in on a number on the scale.

I worry that some of Mrs. Obama’s statements will be taken as gospel by the faithful. The insinuation that body mass index – or BMI – is the key to determining your child’s healthy weight is a dangerous one. Many studies have challenged the use of all-for-one measurements for people’s bodies, many pediatricians are moving away from percentiles. And again, relating Malia’s current (perfectly normal) thin body – it’s largely related to her genetics, and not something that other parents should be pointing to their daughters and saying “you should be this way.”

Does Mrs. Obama’s statement make you relate to her struggle with her daughters or is it a turn off?

Image: rusty darbonne, flickr

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