I have very light skin. My husband tans well. Both our boys got the red-headed genes from their grandparents on both sides of the family. Like me, they burn in record time and never tan. I used to hate how pale I stayed through the summer, but I never felt that there was something fundamentally wrong with me.
I wear glasses. So do my kids. My husband does not. It means he's saved some money over the years on not having to buy glasses, but the fact that I've been wearing glasses since I was very young, as have my kids, has not made us feel strange or rejected from society.
What's the point of all this?
While different colours and skin tones, heights and visual acuity are all relatively acceptable (OK, so I did get called midget sometimes at school), weight variations are not. We all know there's a bell curve and that usually, most people in a given country or region fall within the middle of that curve. We all know that without the extreme ends and the "somewhat outside the norm" areas, the curve would not exist. It's just a curve that visualizes the fact that we are not all the same. We are not born the same, we do not grow the same way, we do not all die the same way, nor at the same time.
And yet we're all supposed to be slim if we aspire to be healthy. There is seemingly no bell curve. This assumption means that, when it comes to weight, we are all actually born at a perfect weight and that it is initially our parents' fault and then ultimately our fault if we no do grow up and maintain that perfect weight at all times.
Why do we accept the natural physical variety that exists in terms of hair colour, height or visual acuity yet persist in believing that everyone's weight naturally falls within a certain, highly limited range?
By assuming that we can actually nip overweight in the bud, before it even gets its insidious tentacles into our bodies, children, as the latest front in the war on obesity, have become just as fair game for the current anti-obesity witch hunt as adults are already.
Nothing my parents (both short) could have done for me in-utero or once I was born could have changed my height. Only corrective lenses have been able to make my vision relatively normal (it's still not great). I colour my now greying hair to give it a colour that I think suits me (and makes me look slightly younger!). In other words, with respect to certain aspects of my physical being, nothing could be done to change it. For certain other aspects, mechanical changes enhance my "shortcomings", but essentially I am who I am.
So what about my weight?
I was born to be round. How round? Probably as round as I am today. I do thank my mother for feeding me nutritious food. She was a pioneer in her day, refusing to stock our pantry with processed junk when all the other families were doing it. Had my mother fed me a steady diet of baloney on white bread with liberal slatherings of "sandwich spread", I might be somewhat heavier today. Had I not gone on a series of fad diets, I might have been slightly lighter today, though menopause plays havoc with the body we thought we knew and changes a lot of the rules of the game.
The point is, though, that I have a genetically programmed weight range and this programming is just as strong as the genes that made me so (adorably, some might hopefully say) short, or gave me my hazel, very astigmatic eyes, or my pretty good intellect (which, I admit, was aided by an intellectually stimulating home environment and some excellent schools, teachers and friends along the way).
Assuming that we can ensure that all children will remain skinny kids hanging out by the water hole or feisty, ultra-athletic mini Wayne Gretskys is as useful as howling at the moon. Saying we are fighting childhood obesity means that we are fighting actual children who were born and will remain round all their lives. That's who they are.
We cannot fight heredity and genetics.
So what can we fight?
- Poverty, which forces parents to buy the cheapest food that fills a body up. A fast-food meal, overflowing with sodium, processed franken-ingredients and transfats certainly keeps you full longer than an expensive head of broccoli, an apple and cheese that isn't orange and flat.
- Ignorance. There's a place for all foods in our diets (yes, including fast food burgers), but essentially our diets should be heavily weighted towards fresh, unprocessed (or only lightly processed) products. This means education and awareness and ridding our airwaves of advertising for crap foods. If they could take cigarette advertising off the air, they can do it for ...(insert the name of your favourite junk food here).
- Prejudice. The fact of the matter is, we weren't all born to become fashion models or great athletes. Sadly, a certain amount of fear and hatred of those who don't conform to the norm is probably part of human nature, but rather than fostering this, we must, as a society, stand up to prejudice and just say no.