The XX Factor

Can Girls Escape the “Fat Trap”?

Peggy Orenstein, writing in Sunday’s NYT Magazine , describes her studious attempts to avoid inflicting her complicated relationship with food and her body on to her young daughter. She wants to promote healthful eating; she doesn’t want to encourage an unhealthy focus on “good” foods and bad. She’s aware of the “perils of obesity and those of anorexia.” She eats now, she says, with “studied unconcern,” and never, ever talks about weight. I’d have guessed she was doing everything right, or, at least, she was doing exactly what I do. I happen not to have a complicated relationship with food, but I share Orenstein’s complicated relationship with my daughters’ relationship with food-I obsess, not about what I eat, but with raising them not to obsess about what they eat.

I never once, growing up, remember my mother commenting on my weight or hers. She did not diet (my father did, once) or watch what I ate, other than to encourage me to eat something other than Doritos occasionally, and the result was good-I have plenty of issues, but food isn’t one of them. I once asked her she managed to teach me to have a healthy body image, when so many of my friends didn’t, and, sadly for my girls’ upbringing, she said she didn’t know. “You looked fine,” she said, in essence. “You ate what you ate. I didn’t worry about it.” Not worrying about it, of course, being the one thing neither Orenstein nor I can manage. Her daughter told her not to get fat; one of mine, at 5, informed me recently that if she ate too many Oreos, she’d get fat herself. I told her she had nothing to worry about it-but clearly, I still do.