Writing at the intersection of motherhood, feminism and my Latinidad

10 August 2010

Early puberty is a great chance to fat shame girls

For the record I got my first bra at age 8 or 9. It was kinda cool but quickly went to kinda embarrassing. Along with being the attention of a few of the boys, I started to gain weight. I went from the skinny tomboy to a round tomboy. Of course I wasn't fat, but I felt like it. Especially compared to the girls in my class who hadn't been smacked by puberty.

Thus when I read and hear all the talk about girls being fat as the number one cause for early puberty, I am skeptical. I'm mostly skeptical because the impact of all the chemicals in our environment and hormones in our food chain are pretty much blown off. BPA? We jumped all over that baby. Why can't we do the same with all the other crap we're been ingesting since we were in our mom's wombs?

I'm not saying that we don't have an obesity issue with our kids. They are eating too much, staying inside too much and not getting enough exercise. But for many of our kids, that's a systemic problem (violent neighborhoods, environmentally toxic neighborhoods), not so much a personal failure. So why must we blame girls and their families for something that just might be out of their control?

I also fear the trickle down effect of blaming the girls for early puberty. Does that mean we can blame them when older boys and men glare at them? When they dress 'age-appropriately' in a hypersexualized society but still look slutty? And what if they do develop breast cancer later on?

Puberty is tough for everyone, much less for an 8-year-old who just might have it in her genes not her fat that her boobs start budding, but will nevertheless be examined by her pediatrician and society to see if she's too fat and caused it all.

As Dr. Walker on NPR noted yesterday, girls "know" that their weight can lead to onset of puberty and try to restrict their diet in an effort to keep puberty from happening. I fear that this news will only cause an increase in eating disorders that are self-inflicted as well as inflicted by parents fearing their daughters' growing breasts.

What to do? Talk to our girls about their bodies and the changes that are pending. Talk to our boys about respecting those changes and the ones that they will soon be going through. And get to studying the impacts of all the crap in our ecosystem!

10 comments:

I think the original error is what I heard on the radio once - that overweight is a "disease of choice", right there by lung cancer. Until the medical profession realizes that that is just not true, and that overweight is as much, if not more, a result of genetics than one of behavior, we will not progress out of this modern day negritude (said with utmost respect and consideration for Black people, and against which the sad prejudice of yesteryear continues to this day, though fortunately now unacceptable) that is obesity, the disease that you "had coming to you" and "should be ashamed of yourself" for not getting rid of with a few weeks of dieting and a trip or two to the gym every week.
We can't laugh at cripples and blind people anymore, and we can't criticize our ebony-skinned brothers and sisters for physical characteristics that are part of their identity. Not so with obesity. If you're obese, it's okay to make fun of you, it's okay to make you the bad guy in a movie, and boy is it hilarious and a little bit creepy when you go and fall in love with a nice girl.

I dare 80% of the guys in my office who enjoy bearable seating in the airplane and fitting into the clothes they can buy off the shelves at walmart, to keep up half the physical activity I go through day by day, weighing twice as much as any one of them.

This is interesting because most of what I've seen about early puberty has been in the context of malnourished children under 3 who then become healthy, often because they were adopted as infants from orphanages.

Personally, I got my period when I was 9. I wasn't fat then, but I am now (and I have PCOS). And I wasn't adopted from an orphanage but when I was six months old I spent weeks in hospital with bacterial meningitis. I really hope they do more research into this, and not in the blind - omg it must be obesity - kind of way.

Thanks for the comments.

If we could talk about weight gain and healthy eating without the shame, this whole issue would be much easier to discuss.

Girls "know" that obesity can lead to early puberty? I can't imagine many 8-year-olds know that! Many factors can lead to early puberty, and it's definitely getting younger - you're right, blaming it on girls is a really bad idea.

It is scary to hear that girls are going through puberty younger and younger. I wonder what research has been done about when boys go through puberty and if that age is dropping, too.

Thanks so much for your thought provoking post. Please grab the badge and check out the other link-up posts.

I had a friend in 4th grade who needed a bra-- definitely a genetic thing, as all of the women in her extended family were the same. She spent a lot of time feeling ashamed, and called herself a 'freak'. I find the idea that girls are starving themselves to delay the onset of puberty terrifying (osteoporosis risk, anyone). We need to talk to them, to tell them things no one told US: that all women are different, and all bodies are different, and that is OK. Fat-shaming should not be happening, and it is hardly the fault of a 9 year old girl, no matter how she is dressed, if some older boys or men make comments or offers. Gross, gross, gross. Enough blaming; find some ANSWERS.

I got my first bra in grade 4 which means I would have been something like 9 going on 10. hehehe I was actually a chubby kid and grew into a lovely fatty woman. Puberty, fat and boobs weren't linked for me as far as I can see. I didn't start bleeding until I was 12. I really wish they'd keep their wacko science off our bods and admit that they really don't understand any of what wimmin's bodies do from puberty to the childbearing years to menopause. It's all goddess magic, wildmagic as far as I can tell. Noone can control it, begin it or stop it. Though it seems that they can invent many estupido theories around it.

My older sister started developing in 3rd grade...a full year before our school started sex ed and now school don't even like teaching sex ed....it is such a difficult time in our lives as is, the younger the child is when they start puberty the more adults need to remember how crazy it felt for us.

Jill: I think what girls "know" is that breasts look like just fat. My daughter has asked if breast size is related to our body size.

Thanks Melaina for organizing this!

myshorterstories: BRAVA! Excellent comment. Right on!

DD: Amen!

Allyson: Oddly, I think some of the padded bras for 7yos come from women who remember feeling odd during this growth period. I saw someone explain them away as saying, "When I was young, my left one grew faster than my right on, so let's give them padded bras!" I say, let's just talk to our girls & boys about that awkward stage of life we all go thru.

Thanks everyone!

I lnow this is a few years late, but I can relate. I was underweight and had precocious puberty. My mom took me to so many doctors, trying to figure out what was wrong with me. All the doctors said it was normal for me and there was not much they could do. A few years later, I gained a tremendous amount of weight one summer. it made no sense because I was very active, ate healthy and rarely snacked on junk food. At this time I started to sprout weird wirey hair under my breasts. My mom took me to an endocrinologist who totally fat shamed me in front of my mom. My mom kept trying to explain that I did not over indulge, that I was very active all day, but he would not hear it. It was all my fault for being fat. Basically, pcos was a disease of gluttony and if I wanted to look like a real girl, I needed to lose weight.

That was not true.

Today, I am 33 years old. Very active, still eat very healthy and I run several miles every day. I still have PCOS. I have excess hair on my body, thinning hair on my head, a protruding abdomen, acne, enlarged ovaries, night sweats and a host of other pcos symptoms. It goes beyond weight. More and more studies dispel the weight theory, but doctors still use weight shaming on pcos women and it isn't right. I still have pcos. I am not fat. I exercise. I want to be treated like an individual with a problem, not someone who made themselves sick through gluttony. Pcos is an endocrine disorder that can cause weight gain for some women. To make a woman feel bad about herself because her body does things beyond her control is wrong.

DOCTOTS, IF YOU DON'T KNOW WHATS WRONG, IT IS NOT OK TO BLAME THE PATIENT.