There are a lot of factors that go into choosing the right nursery school or preschool, but one mom made up her mind when she saw the nursery assistant.
Hilary Freeman, a London-based mom and author, publicly admitted for the first time that the reason she chose not to enroll her 2-year-old daughter at a certain nursery was because the assistant was obese. Uh, yeah, she just went there. Instead, she said she sent her daughter to another nursery "where the staff are all a healthy weight."
Sure, the assistant was kind and great with children, Freeman noted, but the mom felt a growing sense of unease when she watched her play with her daughter.
"(The assistant) was only in her 20s, but she was already obese—morbidly so. She moved slowly and breathlessly, her face flushed," Freeman wrote. "Would she, I wondered, have the lightning reflexes needed to save an adventurous toddler from imminent danger? What sort of unhealthy habits would she teach my daughter, who would be eating her lunch and tea there each day?"
Really? Instead of asking the school about their safety rules and history or asking the assistant about her experiences and skill set, Freeman seems only to be able to see the assistant for her obesity, as if physical size was more important than a person's care-taking and teaching abilities.
Her reasoning (besides the "teachers should have lightning reflexes" thing)? The mom was worried that having a constant "extremely overweight" presence would be sending her daughter and the other children the wrong message: "That being very fat is normal and—when children adopt role models so readily—even desirable."
Freeman knows she would be accused of discrimination and fat-shaming, but she's sick of having to be so "politically correct" that she can't say anything negative about obesity.
"Fat positivity—also known as fat acceptance—has gone too far. Originally a response to discrimination against those who aren’t slim enough to fit into society’s beauty ideal, it's now an excuse for the severely obese to celebrate their bodies, the consequences be damned," she argued. "Telling a woman she should think about losing weight for her health is, apparently, now ‘anti-feminist.'"
The mom cited her own lifelong struggle as a reason she feels so strongly about this topic, saying that as "a slim person with a fat person inside," the only reasons she's slim and a size 10 are because she never eats more than 1,500 calories and exercises at least 30 minutes a day. Other reasons Freeman doesn't sympathize with people who "blame their genes or hormones for being fat": The mom said she also has an under-active thyroid, a hormonal condition that can cause weight gain and her grandmother was morbidly obese.
"If that nursery assistant had been chain-smoking, everyone would have condemned her. But as a public health concern, the only real difference between smoking and obesity is that you can’t passively get fat," the mom wrote, also pointing out that research shows obesity as the cause of many major diseases such as cancer, heart disease and diabetes.
Friends can have as much impact on a person's size as genes, she said, because the familiarity changes one's perception of what is an acceptable weight.
It's clear that Freeman wants to protect her daughter. But when your solution is to remove your child and curate the spaces around her, where do you draw the line? Should all future teachers and friends stand on a scale or send in their BMIs? And what does the obsession with and judgment of others' physical bodies say to children?
Look, in reality, the jury is still out on whether obesity is "contagious," both through social networks or more literally through the spreading of certain microbes.
But what is certain is that there’s more than one reason why someone might be obese, Diana Thomas, a mathematician at the United States Military Academy in West Point, New York, told Science Mag. And not all of those reasons are in their personal control.
Gross, absolute statements, pushed by a fear of contagion like Freeman's, adds to an already highly stigmatized condition. Obese people are often discriminated in jobs and housing (plenty of data show this), and fat-shaming among women and children is still all too common. Clearly shaming (and making all overweight teachers everywhere feel ashamed) hasn't been doing a lot of good and isn't the answer.
Freeman offered a pretty vague solution at the end: "Discrimination is never good. But neither is obesity. So let’s stop celebrating it and instead offer a bit of tough love."
But after all she wrote, it's kind of hard to see the "love" part in "tough love."