Saturday, April 10, 2010

Too Thin?

This post is participating in the Body Image Carnival being hosted by Melodie at Breastfeeding Moms Unite! and MamanADroit who will be posting articles on themes pertaining to body image all week! Make sure you check out their blogs everyday between April 12-18 for links to other participants' posts as well as product reviews, a giveaway, and some links to research, information and resources pertaining to body image.

I am a naturally skinny woman, daughter of a naturally skinny mother, and mother of an apparently naturally skinny toddler.

So what? Is that a problem? Isn’t that the ideal? Well yes, and no. Yes for the obvious reasons. I have never known outright societal discrimination. I have never been called hurtful insulting names. I cannot begin to imagine how hard it is to be a person of size in this culture.

No for the following:

Being thin is considered an asset. Being skinny is not necessarily. And certainly not when you are the skinny mother of a skinny child. Being skinny puts you at risk of eating disorder/mental disorder stigma. Being skinny with a skinny toddler puts you at risk of whispers, “That woman has an eating disorder and body issues and she’s pushing her neurosis onto her child.”

A little background…My mother grew up during the post WW2 1950s, in a predominantly Jewish neighborhood in which there were so many holocaust survivors, my mother grew up thinking that all old people got tattoos on their arms as a matter of course. My mother was chastised regularly by my grandmother that she was so skinny, she looked like she just got out of a concentration camp. Add the fact that the ideal of feminine beauty at that time was the curvaceous, decidedly non-skinny Marilyn Monroe, and it is safe to say my mother had body image issues growing up. Body image issues she did not want to pass down to me. So she never said a word to me about my weight. If I wanted to eat nothing but fruit and cottage cheese for lunch, that was fine by her. I knew I was thin, but by the time I was growing up, thin was “in”. I was lucky I could eat whatever I wanted and not gain a pound. That is, I was lucky until I started being accused of having an eating disorder. When I was 18, I got my first position dancing with a professional ballet company. I shared an apartment with another young dancer who in fact did struggle with anorexia (among other things). People would ask her if I ate, what I ate, and if I kept down what I ate. They didn’t know that every night when we got home, she would lock herself in her room and chain smoke while I cooked and ate dinner, coming out only after I was finished cleaning my dishes.

Fast forward over a decade later, my ballet dancing days long passed, I am still thin thanks to the high metabolism I inherited from my mother. Oh dear, what that high metabolism did to me while pregnant! It totally went into overdrive. Some days I couldn’t go more than a half hour without putting something into my stomach, lest I become painfully, violently ill. I was actually looking forward to keeping about 5 pounds of baby weight on. I wanted my figure to look more womanly and less 12 year old boyish. I was thrilled when breastfeeding caused my breasts to swell large enough to require something more than a training bra (although I have been known to, ehem, indulge in a bit of padding now and again, pre-kiddo of course. What? It helps to fill out clothes, which are designed for women who look like women and not boys, you understand). However, breastfeeding also helped every pound I had gained disappear quickly. By the time my 3 months of maternity leave ended, I was back to my pre-pregnancy weight. Within the next few months I was 10 pounds below my pre-pregnancy weight, where I maintained for over a year. I was so concerned about the weight loss, I went to my doctor to have my thyroid tested. Turns out my thyroid is fine. Everything is fine. I just have small bones and a high metabolism, just like my mother, and my body was (and still is, although to a much lesser extent) burning extra calories creating milk.

I will admit, when it comes to my son I have much more fear and insecurity than I ever had about my own size. Although self conscious about my ribs prominently stickling out, in my dancing days I was vain about my shapely legs and derrière. Plus, as we all know, in general women are rewarded in our society for being thin. Men and boys, on the other hand, are generally not. Skinny boys are called “weak” or “sissy” and are considered easy targets for bullies.

I think I’ve done a good job at nurturing my son’s taste for nutritious food so far. A little too good a job I fear sometimes. I blame it on the daily spinach and kale salads, and daily gallon of super greens I consumed while pregnant. If my little guy is offered a plate with macaroni and cheese with carrots and peas on the side, he might taste a noodle before proceeding to finish off all the carrots and peas. Grilled cheese sandwiches have been tossed on the floor in favor of sliced cucumber and apple. Thank goodness he likes nuts and doesn’t have allergies; otherwise I don’t know how I would get any fat into that kid!

From a nutritional standpoint, this is good (if not somewhat unusual, what toddler doesn’t like mac n’ cheese?!) This might be fabulous were it not for one thing – the nagging worry constantly pulling at me that he is too skinny. I see his ribs standing out clearly and my stomach turns. At every visit to the pediatrician, I wait with anxiety as his weight is compared against other children his age and his percentile read to me. Lowest tenth percentile.

I fear what would happen if his weight would drop even lower on the scale. I fear the words “Failure to thrive.” What would happen? Would they call Child Protective Services and accuse me of starving my child? Of failing to meet my child’s most basic physical needs? And what would I say if that happened?

Can you just imagine me crying, “I try feeding him buttery mashed potatoes and whole milk yogurt! But all he’ll eat is raw vegetables and fruits!”

It sounds ridiculous. I know. Especially coming from me, his skinny mother, who loved snacking on celery as a kid and whose favorite lunch growing up consisted of canned peaches and cottage cheese.

For a lifetime of good health, I think some key things I can do for my child is to encourage both healthy eating habits and a healthy body image. So, I know I need to let go of my too-skinny body hang-ups. My pediatrician is not worried about my son’s weight, as he has consistently gained proportionally since birth, so I shouldn’t worry either. I am starting to relax more when I see my toddler fill up at dinner time on raw sugar snap peas, baby carrots and grapes, pushing away the avocado and hummus wrap or throwing the stir fry as far away from him as his little arms can throw it. I am learning to take a deep breath and try to trust that he knows what his body needs, just as my mother trusted that I knew what my body needed. And when I see his little ribs under his skin, I need only look in the mirror to remind myself that a person can be skinny, healthy, and undeprived all at once.


  1. Wow our situations are veeery similar (as you wrote in your comment to my post)! I was super clumsy, so I went the modeling route when I was a teenager and young(er than I am now) adult. We just came back from my bb's six month check up and she is as long as a 9mo old and the weight of a 6mo old...long and skinny. Just like me and her dad.

    I applaud your conclusions, and I agree. I actually wrote a letter to my butt on my blog because I am so sad that it has departed so soon after the Snoot's birth!

    I'm adding you to my blogroll! GREAT blog!


  2. My daughter, too, is a thin, thin, toddler. At her 12 mo check-up, she was 95th for height and 3rd for weight! She doesn't eat a whole lot of variety (try as we might, veggies Still make her gag!) but loves fruits, dairy, and carbs.

  3. Interesting.

    My sister-in-law and I had babies spaced 5 days apart. Her's has consistently been in the bottom 5 percentile for weight since birth and mine in the top 95. They are now 4 and a half and still in the same weight categories give or take here and there along the way.

    I think she worried about her baby more (doctor's and health centers were always making sure she was feeding her properly while no one worried about mine getting enough to eat...) but now they've stopped harassing her and it's my turn to worry.


    I feed my daughter well though she would definately choose to eat only ice cream sandwiches if left to her own devices.

    There's not much I can do except encourage healthy eating habits and supply lots of activity.

    Anyway, I think they are just different and have different genes. It's really hard not to compare them though and worry.

    I don't loudly vocalize to them about how "skinny" their daughter is, even though she feels like a twig in my arms, and I really really wish they didn't vocalize as if they were lifting a half-ton truck up every time they cuddled my girl. But that's just manners, I think.

  4. My son is in the 97th % but all he eats is healthy things. The WIC office said that he was obesse which made me so upset I don't think they believe me when I say he eats small portions through out the day. He loves his carrots raw that is. He LOVES salad and doesn't eat the little bit of cheese on it just the veggies. He loves his "trees" and also doesn't like mac and cheese! I think what kid in the world doesn't like mac and cheese? My son and yours! LOL. He doesn't like cakes and cookies and chips. That is my fault I know. When I was losing weight I starting eating VERY healthy at the time he was 11 months so that was all he knew. My husband doesn't eat healthy and there is now junk in the house. My son will not touch it. When I was little if someone put a bag of chips or cookies in front of me I would eat all of them seriously. 30 cookies without blinking. I put a bag in front of him and nothing I even tell him just take a bite its good. He refuses.
    My son isn't fat at all he is very muscular. He is 48 in and 47 lbs he is almost 4 1/2 yrs. He is bigger than some 5 year olds and a tiny bit of 6 yr olds. He loves peanuts and nuts in general yogurt only vanilla that's where he has to get his fat from since he doesn't like whole milk.

    My daughter is in the 3rd % she is 3 months and is 7lbs 11oz now. She was term and was born at 5lbs 11 oz she got down to 4lbs 13 oz before she started gaining weight. I don't like when people say that my son is huge nor do I like when they say my daughter is way too little. I breastfeed her and they ask me if I eat enough. Yes I eat every 3hours and I do eat enough and drink pleanty of water. This little girl is always eating and I even pump since I have pleanty of milk.

  5. I love reading everyone's body image posts becasue we all have different body types and it just shows we all wish we had something else. lol I wish media wouldn't influence our thinking so much. then maybe we wouldn't have these issues of how we are "supposed" to look.

    great post!

  6. I am a small woman too. My daughter just had her 15 month check up and she weighed in at 17lbs 11 oz (0.62%ile) and 28 IN (2.25%ile) her doctor almost ordered blood tests to make sure nothing is failing. I told her that i'm small ( 5'1" and 103 lbs) and so is dad ( 5"5' and 125 lbs) what do they really expect. They always ask me if she eats more than BF and i said yes, ALL THE TIME. More than her 4 yr old Brother most days. I'm not worried but her doc and wic has always said stuff about weight, even during pregnancy. I wish they would quit trying to fit everybody into the same mold and realize people all grow differently. I'm not gonna have a big kid.

  7. Thanks so much for sharing! I am short and curvy, but all the women in hubby's family are really tall and thin, and it looks like my kids may be also (Baby was 95th for height and 75th for weight at 6 months, which was down from being 90th in both at 1 month, and I think that trend is likely to continue). I'm a little worried my pediatrician might say something if he keeps dropping percentiles of weight so drastically. But I know Baby is healthy-he eats ALL the time!!