When our daughter, Kaia, was born, she was a little big. And she got bigger so fast that before she was a month old she had grown out of the lovely purple tam I had knitted her. At six months old, she has bigger feet than her ten-month-old cousin.
And she is beautiful enough to stop time. (Empirical fact – I’ve experienced it many times.)
Everyone – medical professionals, family members, complete strangers – sees her size as a sign of good health, and praises her for it. She is a big girl, and it’s a good thing.
Her mom is also bigger than average, and also time-stoppingly beautiful. But people, especially doctors, rarely take her size as a sign of good health. Doctors worried about it when we were trying to conceive; they worried about it when we succeeded and started planning for a minimum-intervention birth; they worry about it almost every time she has an appointment with them, whether her complaint is size-related or not.
When does being a big girl go from a sign of good health to a sign of bad health? Why?
This is not just a modern question about human development. It is also an interesting historical question. For much of human prehistory, the most worrying medical problems were malnutrition and starvation – being big was a sign that you were healthy, had a reliable diet, and (probably) that you were well-off. And of course, fertility and sexuality were positively associated with good padding, as figures like the Venus of Willendorf attest. When did being a big girl go from a sign of good health to a sign of bad health? What changed?
Perhaps the health risks of being big were just obscured by all the other difficulties ancient people faced. Today, we’ve all heard that being big puts you at greater risk for heart disease, diabetes, and various other causes of early death. We all know these are established facts. Don’t we?
Fortunately, Deena has a great interest in her health, not just her size, and has done a good deal of research. She has discovered, through a combination of reading and personal experience, that weight-loss diets almost always fail, or provide only a temporary fix and anyway the health risks connected with size are (except at the high and low extremes) almost entirely imaginary. These conclusions are also drawn by Paul Campos, author of The Obesity Myth. He was interviewed (mp3) on the Truth-Driven Thinking podcast by Steven Gibson. In the interview (and in the book itself, which I haven’t read), he explodes most of the common beliefs about obesity and health. The facts are well-summed up in this quote:
“Even if it were true that thin people had better health than fat people which on the whole, except at its extremes, they don’t; and even if it were true that you could show that there was a strong dose response between weight loss and improved health which, again, is not true; it still wouldn’t make sense to be focusing on weight loss as a public health intervention unless you could actually produce it, but here’s the thing: we can’t!”
And he’s not the only one to debunk popular myths about weight. So where does that leave me? I have a big, beautiful, cheerful daughter, who is growing up in a culture where big becomes a liability at some stage in the process of growing up, despite the absence of empirical support for the prejudice.
Will the ignorant assumptions of people around her give her feelings of inadequacy and shame? Will she be driven to try unhealthy diets in a desperate attempt to fit into the insanely limited idea of beauty promoted by media?
Fortunately, Kaia has several things going for her. She has her own natural love of being. She has family who love her as she is. She has parents determined to arm her with the critical thinking skills to combat the culturally-biased spin that the media (and many scientists) put on legitimate scientific research into human health. She is growing up in a world where many people are determinedly combating the irrational preconceptions of the wider society – the size acceptance movement, as well as a quietly successful fact-based, government-sponsored health sector focusing on a balanced diet and a sensible amount of exercise.
And there are plenty of people who celebrate the diversity of the human form. Kathryn of A Mindful Life posted not only this exuberant and sexy video of Mika’s song “Big Girl, You Are Beautiful”
(it’s now one of my favorite songs), but also a photo of her lovely, swimsuit-clad, pregnant self – a charming celebratory affirmation of big beauty. And when it comes to big affirmations, she’s not the only one. Not by a long shot.
So finally, here’s a picture of the two most important, stupendous, heart-flutteringly delightful women in my life.
Big girls, you are beautiful!