Whats Wrong with a 9-Year-Old on a Diet?Madeline Holler
When Big Love star Ginnifer Goodwin told the press last month that she had been on Weight Watchers since she was 9 years old, there was outrage. In People, she defended her tween dieting — and the fact that her mother got her into it. In it, she says she’s surprised that there was any uproar at all.
Today, an editor at Babble writes about joining Jenny Craig in third grade. Her mother, in a follow-up essay, writes about why she joined Jenny Craig alongside her kid.
Third-graders learning portion control or eating pre-packaged meals? Is that really an outrage? I’m honestly surprised that so many people act shocked when they hear of 9-year-olds dieting or that their mothers approve. The reality is, young girls have been on mom-endorsed diets for generations. My concern with it, though, is that it never really works out. The diets start to make the kids happy, but in the end, they’re just kicking off a life-long battle against their bodies.
Babble’s Dara Pettinelli, writes about joining Jenny Craig when she was in third grade. She had already tried diet and nutrition counseling through a medical facility, but she didn’t get results and plus, there was homework. Jenny Craig, with its pre-planned meals, worked like a charm. She got skinny!
Ahhh, but you know the drill. The weight came back. And Pettinelli tells us, her body has been her issue her whole life long.
Blame the mom? After all, she did Jenny Craig with her young girl. Melody Pettinellis writes in a follow-up to Dana’s piece, what she was trying to accomplish. Her daughter was getting teased. Her daughter, so young, hated her appearance. Was the mom nagging the girl? No, the opposite. She just wanted to support her. She just wanted her kid to be happy. The elder Pattinelli writes in “My Daughter’s Diet“:
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.
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.
The Pattinellis are candid. Though the younger Pattinelli spent years, as the mom says, struggling with disordered eating, she doesn’t know what she should have done differently. The daughter harbors no resentment toward her mother — in fact, Dana praises her mother for showing her she had the power to change.
Ginnifer Goodwin also defends her mother and praises Weight Watchers in the meantime. It taught her portion control and calorie counting. But how well did it work if she’s still a member of WW today? Did she really learn life-long lessons at a young age or did she just become a life-long member?
I’ve seen the world of girl dieting from the kid side and now, as the mother of two girls, I worry about having to face it from the mom side. I’m with Pattinelli’s mom — I know already I’d do what I can to protect my daughters’ feelings. I can only imagine how helpless both mother and daughter felt, especially without getting support from the other members of the family. But my strategy is one that avoids diets and weight-loss at all costs.
I am very consciously teaching them to love the body they’ve got and not worry about the one they can’t have. To feed it right and treat it right. Will that work? Is it enough? Who knows. The thing is, I won’t be the one hinting to them that, yes, I’ve sized you up and a little something here and there and you’ll be better. I won’t be the one to echo some mean kid’s sentiments, even if I would use nicer language. I just won’t.
However, I am willing to talk about their feelings, positive, painful or otherwise. I’ll talk about the whole thing! Food, marketing, bodies, marketing, girls, clothes, diets and marketing. I’d like them to understand that they are barraged with messages that hope to break them down so that they can be built back up again, one product at a time. That sometimes those messages are delivered in the form of a flesh-and-blood person and that yes, oh, man is it painful.
I don’t think it’s an outrage for 9-year-olds to go to Weight Watchers or Jenny Craig. It’s too common to be an outrage. But I also don’t think it’s helpful. The weight might come off, it might even stay off, but the fear of fat — once it’s there, it’s never, ever going away.
What do you think? Should mothers let their young girls go on diets?