March 3rd

theresa albert - my friend in food


social contagion-four of spades


I think I am about to pick a fight with Theresa.  Obviously, I’d rather not – especially since this week’s challenge is all about gathering with friends, hanging out and eating and enjoying one another’s company. But hopefully this fight will be short & sweet and we can make up over donuts apple slices real soon!

So – the reason Theresa challenges us  to get together this week is because of her dad.  “Show me your friends and I will  show you who you are” was a favorite expression he used in her family, much to the annoyance of Theresa.  But as a grown up – as so often happens – she sees the truth in his words.  In fact, there is even a behaviour called “social contagion” that explores this exact theme.  In fact, it is an awesome study and you can read more about it – The Framingham Heart Study – reference so you should check it out yourself here.

Essentially, the study suggests we socialize according to our commonalities. The example Theresa provides is this:

Tennis playing Susan lives next door to chip-eating Lucy, they aren’t’ likely to be friends.  Susan doesn’t want to eat chips and watch movies all the time and Lucy doesn’t want to swing a racquet at the tennis club”.

The thing is, I agree with Theresa. I find I am reading along, nodding frantically.

And then she talks about how “troubling it is to see portrayals of overweight children in kids media.”

Full Stop.

What?? Her theory is that based on the study’s hypothesis,  the result is that the display  of chubby kids in ads and movies  normalizes being overweight.

To be fair, I agree with Theresa (and the study) in theory.  But like so many things about parenting, discussing something in theory does not always translate well into real life.

In theory, you should never, ever bribe a child, especially with food, right? In reality, grocery shopping with two over-tired, grumpy, hungry kids will go waaay smoother with offers (ok, bribes) of  the much coveted sugary cereal.

In theory, letting my dogs sleep on the boys bed is un-hygienic and dirty. In reality, it is just the the gosh-darndest cutest thing to see them all snuggly together in bed and we allow it regularly.

For the record, my boys are both a healthy weight. I don’t think this is a case of me feeling defensive for imposing my weight problems onto my children.

However, one of my closest friends has a son who *looks* overweight. His dad is over 6′ tall and their son will probably grow up an even bigger man. But right now he is husky. He is also strong and healthy and eats way better than I do ( no sugary cereals for this boy). His smile is big and his energy high, always with a twinkle in his eye.  I’d LOVE to see this guy on the big screen – he’s that cool! And yet, at ten years old, he no longer changes for gym with his classmates, and   prefers to swim with a shirt on – this is how aware of how not normal he already sees himself.

I know that this wasn’t really the point Theresa was trying to make – she is kind and supportive and generous – but I do think that this theory deserves to be questioned and it’s merits discussed. Or maybe I have completely missed the mark on this one, I am not really sure….

Do you think that using overweight children in the media can inadvertently compound the problem of childhood obesity or does it promote inclusiveness?



My name is Marci. I run an online clothing swap for women that I started when I realized my own closet contained a range of 6 sizes to accommodate my ever-fluctuating weight. I am also an almost 40 year old mother of two who has decided to stop blaming her *thyroid* issues for making her eat copious amounts of pizza and chips. I have read every book, clipped every article and still cannot seem to make sense of a very simple concept – live healthily. To date, the only things I have managed to *ace* have been my poker face and my love for all things chocolate. I am looking forward to sharing this journey through Ace Your Health. Let’s just see how it goes this time!....


14 Responses

    Theresa Albert
    April 5, 2011 at 4:54 am Reply

    I struggled with that chapter too Marci. And you know I am supportive and not judgmental at all! I too have seen kids in my office whose parents are preemptively worried about their kids’ weight when it is clear that particular child has daddy’s genes and a long way to go before we worry. So we don’t worry about them but make sure that each cell is well nourished with good food and healthy habits.

    My point was that I am troubled by images of kids who don’t have normal lives because they are too heavy to move or too fixated on their ice cream. The image of a child holding quadruple decker ice cream cones doesn’t look cute to me, it breaks my heart. There is a middle ground and each family needs to find it. I feel that, so far, as a culture we are getting C- for our efforts and need to do better. But I am only one voice. I’d love to hear others!

    Theresa Albert
    April 5, 2011 at 4:57 am Reply

    And… funny that you chose that photo…it was my “nickname” in grade school “fat albert” and I hated it. :(

    April 5, 2011 at 7:42 am Reply

    Maybe, I’m missing the point, but I think chubby kids are portrayed in ads and movies because they reflect reality on the playground, in the school yard and in the neighbourhood. There are chubby kids, there are skinny kids, tiny kids and XX Tall kids. Certainly, we all know there are overweight kids. Period.
    What’s of more concern to me is the movies and ads — Kentucky Fried Chicken, for example — that show the ideal, dazzling, perfect-sized family chowing down on garbage.
    The subliminal message there: Chow down, people. If they can eat it, so can you.

      Theresa Albert
      April 5, 2011 at 10:52 am Reply

      Interesting perspective of the flip side. It often looks funny to me too!

    April 5, 2011 at 8:15 am Reply

    I’m going to take a middle ground here. And its because I agree with both of you. I agree with Theresa that portraying an overweight child with a triple decker ice cream creates a caricature/stereotype of a ‘fat kid’ to be laughed at, and almost an instruction manual for bullying. On the other hand, we encourage the media to porttray adults as we are, in all our glorious shapes and sizes. In fact Erica Ehm tweeted a GAP ad the other day saying ‘I’ll shop at your store when you portray real-sized models’. My sister is a larger girl. That’s her size. My Dad was a large man. When he was thin, he looked emaciated and unhealthy. Some people are big, some are small, some are short, some are tall. Its what we make of our differences, how we portray them, that’s important. A ‘fat’ kid is always the comedian, the joker, the pig, or the sad loser, that’s what has to change.

      Theresa Albert
      April 5, 2011 at 10:55 am Reply

      I think that is what I was trying to tease out. Stereotypes are hurtful and unhelpful, the images that we see have an impact and I would hope for wiser choices when creating them.

    April 5, 2011 at 8:20 am Reply

    I guess, I have to admit I got my back up over this issue. Frankly I do see some validity to several of the points made. But I have to respectfuly disagree, and I’ll tell you why. I was a child with a healthy weight who grew up to be overweight. I am fortunate not to know what it’s like to an overweight child, but my son does.

    Here’s how I view it. Let’s just imagine that “Chip eatting Lucy” is overweight and feeling very depressed as result of her poor body image. All the skinny kids stick to each other and she has only other overweight friends. She filps on the tv and is faced with nothing but skinny, “normal” kids. This fuels her deression which then fuels her emotional eating making the problem a vicious circle.

    I’m not saying I’m right, but I think that it’s helpful when the media portrays overweight kids AS normal kids. Rather than as the sterotypical “fat kid”. When you do see ovcerweight kids on tv, usually they are the sidekick, loser, lazy, eatting etc. Rather than as the main character rocking her life, making friends being the trend setters etc.. Why is that? I think because even though they are on tv, people still sterotype and can’t allow themselves to see that people with weight issues CAN ALSO BE NORMAL.

    FTR- I am fat. I am also normal. Why do I wish I was thin? Because the media tells me I should be. The world we live in wasn’t made for people who don’t fit the mould of normal. And while I’m at it, who gets to decide what normal is anyway? I think normal is a word with many different definitions all which are subjective.

      Theresa Albert
      April 5, 2011 at 11:14 am Reply

      You are “normal”! Please don’t take my words out of context. My hope is for every child to feel “normal” but stereotyping the image of a heavy kid as one who can’t take his eyes off the ice cream will not help anyone.

      For context, here is how I end the chapter in Ace Your Health: “We need to choose our friends wisely and use our internal compass to guide them as they guide us. We need to gather with those who inspire us ore often. We need to laugh away some stress, enjoy some social connection, and encourage good eating. The idea isn’t to dump your fat friends but rather to teach them by example. It’s the swapping of ideas and taking the time to follow through that matters significantly to our health. Life is just way more fun when you have a handful (or herdful) of people who enjoy you as you enjoy them”.

    April 5, 2011 at 8:43 am Reply

    I agree with Coleen.

    It’s about how people — of whatever description — are portrayed that is important.

    I believe people of all descriptions — shades, shapes, sizes — should be portrayed and treated with respect on TV, in ads and IRL.

      Theresa Albert
      April 5, 2011 at 11:15 am Reply

      Right you are!

    April 5, 2011 at 11:20 am Reply

    Here’s the problem. Our society has no idea what FAT is anymore. 70% of actresses on TV are underweight, so when our kids watch TV they see a majority of people who are too thin and think that they are “Normal” and healthy, when they are not. Then they look at themselves and feel fat in comparison. That’s a problem.

    My workshop Fit vs Fiction is all about teaching the difference between actually BEING fit and just LOOKING fit..not always the same thing. Fit bodies DO come in all shapes and sizes and the skinny kid isn’t always healthier than the bigger one. We teach our kids from the time they’re young NOT to judge a book by it’s cover, yet so many adults do that very thing.

    My world contains all kinds of should my TV.

    April 5, 2011 at 12:38 pm Reply

    Have to disagree in a way with Fit_vs_Fiction. It’s true that a thin body does not equal a fit one, but I don’t think you can be obese and fit either. I don’t buy that either the stick thin or obese person is ‘happy’ that way. How can you be happy when you don’t respect yourself enough to take care of your body and health? It would be nice to see people of a truly healthy weight in the media, inspiring us by example.

    April 5, 2011 at 9:09 pm Reply

    Tough subject, especially since it so personally and emotionally affects so many people.

    I know I’m not only putting my personal reputation on the line by putting in my 2 cents, but also that of my business. Nevertheless, we have clearly defined stance on this subject.

    We do not support any instance where any body morphology, or family structure, (or a number of other items) are portrayed as abnormal or “less acceptable” than any other. However, we also strongly support healthy kids and healthy families… physically, mentally and socially.

    To directly respond, I’d opine that it is irresponsible for the media to portray positively any person over-consuming unhealthy food, regardless of that person’s shape, but it is similarly unacceptable for anybody to be portrayed negatively based solely on body shape, skin colour, sex, height or back-hair growth.

    April 6, 2011 at 10:55 am Reply

    I have to agree with Theresa here. Not that I think overweight people shouldn’t be visible in the media but it is HOW they are being portrayed that is the problem. I look at the shows my kids watch and am appalled by the representation of the stupid, smelly, pig that is the “Fat Kid”. Just watch “Suite Life on Deck” and pay attention to Woody. If I had an overweight child I would not want them to see that this is how they are represented. I think that it would only do harm.

    However, I don’t think any stereotype is good. The “brainy” kid, the “pretty” girl, the “bully”, none of these are productive or true representations of a whole person.

    Great post and thought provoking topic!

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