Treadmills, Ice Cream and Bikinis

Here’s a little story I’d like to share about the world in which so many of us live.  I was shopping the other day, and walking by a swimming suit display was a woman, perhaps in her 30s or 40s, and a girl, I assume her daughter, who looked to be about 10 or 11. I was minding my own business, but then had to look up as I heard certain key words that piqued my interest. “That’s two months every day on the treadmill and no ice cream!” the mother exclaimed to the daughter. The daughter, who had been smiling as she held up a white sparkly bikini, dropped it with a frown and a sigh. “No ice cream?” she looked up expectantly at her mother. “No!” the mother repeated sternly, “and the treadmill every day.” The girl sighed again, followed her mother down the aisle, staring at the floor the entire way.

Now I can’t comment too specifically on the situation because I don’t know anything about these people. I don’t know what they’ve been through, or what they truly think and feel and believe. I can only offer my observations and raise questions.

The first thing to point out – which I purposely omitted in my initial recap – is that the woman and, I assume, her daughter, are both overweight.  Yet the girl did not let her body shape prevent her from eyeing and admiring the beautiful sparkly bikini. She simply saw something she liked and held it up. I have no way of knowing – and neither does her mother – if the girl was wanting to purchase the bikini and wear it, or if she was just taking a moment to appreciate its beauty.

But then what happened once the woman noticed that the girl was holding the bikini? In my observation, the mother, for lack of a better phrase, “shut her down.” And I don’t think that the act of  “shutting her down” is necessarily the cause for concern. We’ve all seen parents out with their kids and the child wants something and is dilly-dallying and finally the parent says, “No – come on!” That is totally understandable. What concerns me is how the mother shut her daughter down, what it implies about their current beliefs, and what impact it will have on both of them – especially the daughter.

From where I was standing, and again, I may not have seen the entire exchange, the daughter did not ask to buy the bikini. She was simply looking at it and smiling. The mother could have simply said, “Come on, let’s go.” What prompted her rather aggressive response? Was it simply the fact that she, herself, is overweight and would probably not wear a bikini? Does the mother fear that her daughter does not understand that she is also overweight and therefore “should not” wear a bikini? What generated all of this emotion?

Emotion aside, let’s take a look at the message: bikini equals two months of daily treadmill and no ice cream. Toss in the emotion behind the message, and now we get bikini equals pain. This is the message that the mother reinforces for herself and the message the daughter will probably carry with her throughout her life.

Does the mother believe and perpetuate this message because she is heavy? Or is she heavy because she believes and perpetuates this message?

I try to imagine the same scenario with a mother and a daughter whom are of average size or thin. Does the mother still respond with the same forceful emotion? Does the daughter still respond as if all hope is lost? Does the fact that this particular mother and daughter happen to be heavy have any impact on my response to the situation? Absolutely not! I think its interesting to ask myself these questions, but when I hear a diet and exercise myth being perpetuated – especially as it relates to a moment of joy a little girl may be experiencing – I have the exact same response. First, I feel the pain of the people in the situation. Then, I am so grateful that I no longer ascribe to that belief system! Bikini does not equal pain. Bikini equals alignment! That is what we need to come to understand and that is what we need to teach our children.

I cannot help that little girl (although I was very tempted to hand the mother my business card). I can only help myself. I can write. And then hopefully, someday, that little girl will read and learn to help herself as well.