A few years ago, one of my daughter's preschool teachers appeared to be morbidly obese. Only once when I came for afternoon pickup did I observe her on the floor reading to the kids after their nap. When the book ended, she wrestled up from the floor and it was painful to watch—and surely it was physically painful for her to do, judging by her twisted, red face and quiet grunts as she stood.
I occasionally harbored anxiety on field trip days—could she keep up with the kids? Was she physically capable of sprinting to catch up with a wily preschooler? I didn't pull my daughter from the school, but I was eminently relieved when she took another job at an office and not just because of her size, but because she was also demonstrably less warm and attentive than other teachers we'd had in the past.
A woman named Hilary Freeman, though, did actually pull her child from a school with a seemingly obese teacher's assistant. She recently wrote an op-ed for the UK's Daily Mail about how it was, indeed, her concern about the teacher's size that got the best of her. She said:
"The nursery assistant was clearly a lovely woman: kind and great with children. But as I watched her play with my 2-year-old daughter, I felt a growing sense of unease. She was only in her 20s, but she was already obese — morbidly so. She moved slowly and breathlessly, her face flushed. Would she, I wondered, have the lightning reflexes needed to save an adventurous toddler from imminent danger? And what sort of unhealthy habits would she teach my daughter, who would be eating her lunch and tea there each day?"
The hundreds of comments on Freeman's now viral op-ed piece have been strongly worded. Plenty are criticizing Freeman for "fatism." People asked why she didn't use this as an opportunity to teach her own child about healthy eating, about accepting others, about teaching children to get to know people for what's inside instead of outside. And they have a point.
Although, it's just one point.
But the bottom line is if you're paying someone to care for your kid, and you decide having someone more capable of sustained physical activity is a priority, nothing more needs to be said.
I know I already do that with my kids. We talk about how there's no such thing as one-size-fits-most, how it's a person's character that should be the basis for our opinion about them, not their appearance.
And while I don't agree with everything Freeman wrote—such as her fear that kids who see obese role models may then find being larger "desirable"—the fact is, when it comes to who cares for your children, it's 100 percent within your right as a parent to decide whom you're most comfortable entrusting your child with.
After incurring the wrath of online commenters, Freeman backtracked a little, telling US magazine, "I never said I wouldn’t allow a fat teacher to teach my child. I just said that I was concerned that a morbidly obese nursery assistant, not a qualified school teacher, might not be able to keep up with active toddlers and that when choosing between two nurseries, this was one influential factor in my decision. At that nursery, they were eating jam sandwiches ... something I wouldn’t give my daughter. At the other, they have hummus and cucumber and tomatoes.”
Freeman admits to her own weight struggles over the years and has claimed it's part of the reason she was inclined to switch schools. That's not something she should've had to share. The bottom line is if you're paying someone to care for your kid, and you decide having someone more capable of sustained physical activity is a priority, nothing more needs to be said. Period.
If we think placing our kid in someone's care could possibly have a negative effect on their heath and learning—whether it's because of their weight or if they smoke or a myriad of other reasons—and we have other choices, then it's ours to make.
And that isn't something any parent should have to apologize for.