The Skinny on Being Skinny

Last week, in what can only be described as an incredible burst of energy – of gittin’ ‘er dun – I made pre-back-to-school appointments for the children to see the doctor, dentist, and optometrist.  I’m not sure what this says about me as a mother, but I’m always very anxious prior to any kind of medical/dental appointment.  It’s like my self-esteem is tied up with healthy checkups and no cavities.  It’s been this way since the kids were born.  What percentile are they in?  75th?  Yesssss.

So I had a teensy bit of a crisis yesterday when Jake – who, like his brother, and if I’m being honest here, also like his parents, is tall and skinny – slipped from the 25th percentile for weight into the tenth.  THE TENTH.  And yes, I know, intellectually I know that these are just numbers, the real indicator is that he’s happy, healthy, energetic, and smart.  I know that those charts are probably inherently flawed, and I know that one cannot fight genetics.  Still.  There’s something unnerving about having a child who is one stomach flu away from being seriously underweight.  Something that makes me want to explain to random strangers that yes, I do feed him, and no, of course I don’t give him low-fat anything, and yes, he is allowed to have ice cream.

I really have to watch myself so that I don’t accidentally give him some kind of complex about it, watching every morsel of food that goes into his mouth and mentally counting his caloric intake.  No one needs that kind of glaring spotlight on their eating habits.  I deeply resent anyone who watches and comments on what I eat, so I will endeavour to relax, Frankie, and trust him to eat what he needs. 

As a society, we are so focused on weight and body image.  If we’re not griping about childhood obesity, we are snarking about Angelina Jolie’s arms or Keira Knightley’s protruding breastbone.  We mock women who may have an eating disorder and dismiss their illness by saying Just eat a cupcake, Jesus.  Then in the next breath we express deep concern about someone’s weight gain, rudeness masked as worry.  I’m so worried about you, it’s not healthy to be so heavy.  Someone who shall remain nameless but who I believe should be unconditionally adoring of my children said to me I wouldn’t love them so much if they were FAT KIDS.  Yes, really.  This person wouldn’t feel the same about my children if they were on the other end of the scale.

It’s disturbing.  And yet it is perfectly acceptable in our society to disparage others who do not fall into the narrow realm of “normal weight”.  Sure, it’s only acceptable to whisper about the obese behind their backs, or on the front cover of the Swimsuit Shockers! edition of Star magazine, but it’s okay to say directly to skinny women that they are horrifying, and we hate them. 

It’s wrong and we all know it.  We all know that our society’s focus on appearances and our unrealistic expectations and impoverished neighbourhood’s inaccessibility to fresh foods and our busy-busy-busy fast-food lifestyles are wrong.  And yet we can only fix the things that we can fix.

So I take a deep breath and I continue to prepare healthy meals for my kids and to stock up on ice cream and whole milk and protein sources, I will not allow myself to shine the blinding fluorescent torture light on Jake’s plate at dinner.  I will not say things like “Just one more bite” or “You can’t leave the table until your plate is clean”.  I will trust him to know what’s best for his body, and as long as I provide him with healthy, calorie dense foods, I will trust him to do the rest. 

I don’t want him to feel like his worth is tied up in what he looks like or what he eats.  As long as he is healthy, he’s fine.  He’s more than fine.  He’s smart, happy, healthy, and energetic. I have struggled with body image for my whole life, I do not want the same for my children.  It’s idealistic, but there it is.  Now excuse me, I have some cookies to bake.


  1. Two of my kids have fallen into the Underweight category. With the first, the doctor asked for a follow-up appointment, and I made it, and he basically said the same things I’d ignore if the problem were Over instead of Under, and then he asked for another follow-up appointment, and I nodded, and then I didn’t make one. When it was the next child, I nodded-and-didn’t-make the FIRST appointment. The same thing that drives me crazy with doctors (everything drops off their radar the second they leave the exam room) worked in my favor, and no one brought it up again, and one kid is now in The Blessed Realm of Normal while the other is still Just a Little Underweight.

    • I’m considering NOT GETTING THE BLOODWORK DONE. Sssshhhh. I just really don’t think anything is WRONG. Your comment really gives me comfort! Hopefully Jake pops back into that Blessed Realm soon.

  2. BusyMomofTwins says

    A really remarkable post Nicole. You have really captured the challenges with weight and the struggles all of us face. Whether you are underweight or overweight stigmas abound. I think with kids it is even more prevalent and as mom’s we feel double pressure – pressure about our body shape and size, and our children’s.
    Thank you for talking about such an important issue.

  3. Confession time: yesterday when all this was happening on Twitter I was sad for you, but also guilty, because “we’re supposed to take them to the doctor for annual checkups? Really?”

    I’m a bad mommy.

    But seriously, I don’t take nutritional advice from doctors without a large grain of salt, because nutrition instruction in med school amounts to one half-credit in the first year. I’m not anti-doctor, but I think as far as eating & nutrition goes I know my kids better. I think you do, too.

    I’m sorry your burst of organization ended up in a situation that made you feel bad. 🙁

  4. Ha, what Hannah said. I never take my kids to the doctor — mostly because I don’t have one — unless there is dire illness.

    I was an underweight, seriously skinny kid. My dad worried and worried and worried (and worried!) about me .. he is Italian and chub = health. But also, he and I have the same metabolism. It’s Ferrari-like. We can eat eight pounds of pasta at noon and still want a sandwich at 6. (my mom, non-Italian, can not and is almost OK with it..almost) But he never thought of that.
    (I was also a terribly picky eater, whether because of the spotlight on my plate and weight, or vice versa, we’ll never know.)

    So good on you for considering it, and knowing that tall skinny people often make other tall skinny people, and knowing that your kid is OK, and just for thinking it through. I appreciate you for that. You’re good people.

  5. Count me in with Clara and Hannah. We’re suppose to take our kids for checkups? STILL? BUT I DON’T WANNA!, was my reaction when I read your tweet.

    My eldest boy wears a belt with his sweat pants. This is because he has no sense of style and he has no butt. I chide him about both. But kids are resilient and I’m confident he will develop a sense of style and fat deposits in due time.

    Can we guess about the identity of the relation who behaved like a complete and total asshat? Because that kind of nonsense make me want to smack the person upside the head with a butterdish.

    • How does the belt…stay on? With sweatpants? I’m having a hard time getting a mental picture.

      Of course, you are correct about the identity.

  6. Having just spent a lot of time in the company of weight-obsessed relatives, this post speaks to me. I so do not want my kids to have issues about their beautiful, healthy bodies.

  7. By Word of Mouth Musings says

    It is all so hard … as long as your dr believes they are healthy and thriving and energetic and all that stuff – personally, I think you are good!

  8. My ten year old son is super skinny. He hates that his arms are so skinny because I guess most boys his age are bigger.

    My daughter has also been underweight as well. I know they are perfectly healthy though.

  9. My youngest has always been in the 10th-25th percentile for weight. I’ve never worried about it because I know I feed her good food and that she is healthy.

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