Obama Telling Their Obesity Business

Should the First Lady use her daughters’ personal health issues to highlight her anti-obesity campaign? This article has questioned if this is good for the girls’ self image. My questioning the First Lady’s use of her children anecdotally in her anti-obesity speeches is a little like the pot calling the kettle black. I, after all, have filled the spaces of at least three blogs talking about my kids and telling their business. This subject of weight is a serious minefield for girls, however, especially for pre-adolescents and adolescents.

Mrs. Obama said her daughters’ pediatrician gave her a “wake up call” when he told her that her daughters were beginning to become overweight. “In my eyes I thought my children were perfect,” the First Lady said. “I didn’t see the changes.”

I have three daughter, who live and attend school among a population with rampant eating-disorders problems. I am not exaggerating when I say that anorexia and bulimia are rampant here. My girls have not fallen victim, but I am very sensitive to the way I speak to my kids and others about weight and eating and appearance. Having said that, I honestly did cringe when I read that the First Lady said she thought her kids were perfect, as if that perception was no longer true to her.

However, I think I know what she meant to say, that her view of her kids as perfect got in the way of her seeing a possible weight gain problem. I do not believe that she was saying that they are no longer perfect children. Oh, this word perfect is so problematic. We women have struggled with its imposition for centuries. It is likely that her daughters are already grappling with the expectation that they must be perfect. They are the just approaching the age that the fixation with perfection sets in…AND they are the children of the most conspicuous and judged man on the planet.Literally! So yea, they are likely saddled with the biggest dose of perfection expectation of anyone currently their ages.

Part of the trickiness of the eating disorder syndromes is the taboo nature of the beast. Kids (particularly girls) are suffering alone, for the most part, with their skewed self-images. They are struggling with the judgment of other s and themselves. And they are wanting some form of control over their lives. For some, eating disorders are as much an issue of control as it is of being thin. Historically, African-American mothers did not worry so much about our girls making themselves sick in order to be thin. We used to think anorexia and bulimia, et al were White women’s problems. But this has not been true for some time. The rates of all U.S. minorities are similar to those of White women. Back in 1994, Essence Magazine reported that 53.5% of the respondent s to a survey about eating disorders were at risk. Health professional find that African-Americans are disproportionately represented among women who binge and purge, which gets the least attention of the eating disorders.

The First Children are particularly susceptible to the call of the eating disorders. But even still, I don’t think Mrs. Obama’s discussion about her “wake up call” and how her family handled it is not a bad thing. Hopefully, in private she is talking to her girls about eating right and staying active as a way to feel good and live well, not so much about being thin. Hopefully, she is learning and teaching her kids about what BMI (Body Mass Index) means and the fact that it is often inaccurate for African-American bodies. (Click HERE to see study suggesting BMI over-estimates obesity in Black folks ). Hopefully, she will continue to tell her daughters and the world how utterly wondrous her daughters are. Hopefully, for her daughters whenever the cameras are on both Mommy and Daddy, whatever comes out of their mouths sounds like “waa, waa, waaaaa” or a kind of white noise that does not touch them or the real Mommy and Daddy they know at home.

What Michelle Obama is doing is right and good and vitally important. Obesity is a HUGE issue (no pun intended!) What she and the President do well is connect with people through their own stories and experiences. So it’s no wonder that, knowing that people are looking to her and her family as models, she has shared how this issue has hit close to home for them. Maybe she did what I often fail to do with my kids—maybe she actually told them she was going to talk about the doctor’s visit and how they changed their diets. And maybe the girls gave her permission. I’d like to think that they discussed it over a healthy family meal they were having together the night before her speech. They all chuckled at how offended they were that the doctor suggested that they were getting chubby, as they ate their sorbet and fresh fruit dessert. Then they took their multi-vitamins and all went to bed. I’m going to go with that version of things and assume all is good in the White House!

Afternoon Follow-up: Ah-ha, you see, with a little extra digging I find that Mrs. Obama did, in fact, make (in part) this exact statement according to PoliticsDaily.com:

we were fortunate enough to have a pediatrician, as I’ve mentioned, that kind of waved the red flag for me as a mother, and basically cautioned me that I had to take a look at my own children’s BMI. Now, we went to our pediatrician all the time. I thought my kids were perfect — they are and always will be [my emphasis added]– but he warned that he was concerned that something was getting off balance, because fortunately he was a pediatrician that worked predominantly in an African American urban community, and he knew these trends existed, and he was watching very closely in his client population, his patient population.

I personally do not see anything wrong with Mrs.Obama’s statements. I do not think it sets the girls up for future image problems as was suggested by some critics.  The First Lady is risking a reduction of privacy by using her family as examples. But then, she and the President have clearly decided not to follow in the footsteps of the Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, who successfully kept his teenagers out of the public eye until he visited here and the Obama’s outed them online.Clearly, we in America would not afford the Obama’s that level of privacy even if they wanted it.



  1. A little over a month ago my daughter's teacher asked me to watch the class while she ran to the restroom (I teach at the school). While waiting for the teacher to return I scanned the classroom as the 3rd graders transitioned from one activity to the next. I noticed that all the little girls looked so skinny. Then I realized that it wasn't the other little girls who were so skinny, it was my baby who was thicker! This wouldn't be a huge concern except for the fact that my daughter is a whole year younger that everyone else (she skipped the 2nd grade). So, why is it that my baby, being 1 year younger that everyone else in the class is the heaviest one?

    I had never taken note of her weight before this day but now my husband and I are actively researching different sporting activities that she can take part in. Not because I want her to look like everyone else in her class, but because I want her to be healthy. I have also become more conscious of the types of foods I keep in our house. My daughter, along with my entire family need to refocus and begin to maintain a healthier lifestyle. Thanks for the post.

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