May 5, 2023

Fresh Take: Virginia Sole-Smith on Parenting in the Age of Diet Culture

The stigmatization of fat people shapes how we think about our health. Virginia Sole-Smith, author of the book FAT TALK: PARENTING IN THE AGE OF DIET CULTURE, invites us to question what it means to be “good" regarding weight, diet, and exercise.

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Once we know what anti-fat bias is, it's easy to see it everywhere: in our schools, our doctors' offices, even in our own parenting. Virginia Sole-Smith, author of the new book Fat Talk: Parenting in the Age of Diet Culture, explains the perniciousness of anti-fat bias and how we can start to move away from its toxic messages.

Virginia Sole-Smith is also the author of The Eating Instinct: Food Culture, Body Image and Guilt in America. Virginia's reporting on diet culture, health and parenting has appeared in the New York Times, Scientific American, and many other publications. Virginia also writes the popular anti-diet newsletter Burnt Toast and hosts the Burnt Toast Podcast.

Virginia, Amy, and Margaret discuss:

  • What anti-fat bias really is— and why it's everywhere
  • How anti-fat bias shows up in parenting
  • How we can identify and navigate anti-fat bias as people and as parents


Here's where you can find Virginia:


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Margaret: [00:00:00] Hello, everyone, and welcome to "What Fresh Hell: Laughing in the Face of Motherhood." This is Margaret.

Amy: And this is Amy. And this week we are talking to Virginia Sole-Smith. She's the author of the new book "Fat Talk: Parenting in the Age of Diet Culture" and "The Eating Instinct: Food Culture, Body Image, and Guilt in America."

Virginia's reporting on diet, culture, health, and parenting has appeared in the New York Times, Scientific American, and many other publications. Virginia also writes the popular anti-diet newsletter Burnt Toast, get it every week, and also hosts the Burnt Toast Podcast. Welcome, Virginia.

Virginia: Thank you. It's great to be here.

Amy: So in this book, you are asking us to talk about fat and fatness differently than we ever have before. Beginning with not using the words overweight or obese. Why do you think that we should make those linguistic choices?

Virginia: It's such a great place to start with this conversation. We all grew up with this [00:01:00] sort of knee-jerk assumption just baked into how we move through the world, that being fat is bad.

It's something you wanna avoid, something you need to manage, always be in pursuit of thinness. And what we know is that mindset, that anti-fat bias, has caused a ton of harm to folks who live in bigger bodies. Specifically, my work is focused on parents in terms of how we're raising our kids.

That negative message about body size is incredibly destructive. So one of the most important things we can do is to reclaim the word "fat." Recognize that it's just a neutral body descriptor. People are short and tall. People are fat and thin. People have different colored skin, different colored hair.

These are all just physical traits that we don't need to assign value to. That is an incredibly powerful way to start to undo and unlearn this bias. And the reason I use "fat" and so many activists use "fat" instead of "obese" or "overweight" is because [00:02:00] those words have been weaponized against fat folks for decades by doctors, by the diet industry, by public health systems, all these large institutions that have told us our bodies are problems to solve. And particularly with obesity,

I think it's worth knowing that if you trace it back to its Latin root, it's a word that actually means "to eat oneself fat." So right there, you understand that this is a word that has a stereotype about body size and behavior embedded into it. And so for us to use that in the way we do as a medical diagnosis, but also as a slur, it's just incredibly problematic.

And anyone in a larger body can tell you it does not feel good to have that word applied to you. So I think stepping away from the "O words" as we call them, and making peace with fat is just a great place to start in unlearning a lot of this.

Margaret: I think for ourselves, our audience, we've talked a lot about this topic and I think that the [00:03:00] idea that fat is not bad, that the word fat is not a bad word, that in fact the shape of your body is completely morally neutral, is a very radical idea.

Yes. I'm middle-aged, and I definitely grew up in a world and a home where being fat was not morally neutral. It was not only unattractive and undesirable, it was morally, you've done something bad. And so I just wanna start by really dialing in and presenting it to people.

'Cuz I think there are still people listening who have never been introduced to the concept that there is nothing wrong with being fat. So can you talk about that a little bit from your writing and your journalism experience? Because I know for myself, being introduced that concept was extremely radical.

Virginia: Yeah, it is radical and it shouldn't be [00:04:00] but it still definitely is. And this isn't surprising. Anti-fat bias has been around for centuries. This is not a new concept. And you can trace it back to the ancient Greeks, who had really rigid ideas about body size. And so this is not a new thing , but it really comes into play in a major way in the United States at the end of the 19th century with the end of slavery.

And so at that point we started to see beauty ideals centering in on a thin and very controlled body. And this was a response to the fact that white supremacists were trying to retain power, and black folks were free and so now their bodies had to be demonized and controlled, and so there's a long history to that.

I would recommend folks check out Sabrina Strings' "Fearing the Black Body" if they wanna do a deep dive into that whole conversation. But the important thing to know is that we've had this baked into our culture, into the air we've been breathing for decades now, [00:05:00] that fat is bad. So yes, it is radical to say. Actually it's not.

But that means that bias against fatness has also been baked into all of the research and all of our sort of intellectual understanding about how fatness happens. And so the reason you think that fat is "bad" is because you probably grew up thinking that your body size was something you should have total control over, and that if you were becoming fat, or if you were fat, it was because of a failure of willpower.

It was because you weren't trying hard enough, you weren't being good enough. It's also very intertwined with religious doctrines and morality and all these other ways. When what we actually know about body size is that it is at least 60% genetics. You can't control that. You didn't decide that, you didn't do anything right or wrong.

It's just genetics. And then the other largest drivers of body size are also things we have no control over. It's things like our socioeconomic [00:06:00] status, our access to food and walkable neighborhoods, experiences of chronic oppression. So that can include, if you're marginalized in terms of race or gender identity or anything like that,

women in particular, we are walking through the world all the time being told that our bodies are our value. And so this is a chronic form of oppression we experience. And then, diet, lifestyle, personal choice is maybe 5% of it. So we have been taught to focus on that 5%, the tiny sliver of the pie that are the things you can control.

And we have been told that if we focus all our energy on how we eat and how we exercise, we will have the perfect body. And we know from decades of research that will not happen, right? That dieting fails for up to 95% of people who try it. And yet, because we have this whole moral hold on: our body size is a sign of our how disciplined we are and our willpower and all of this,

we [00:07:00] blame ourselves when the diets don't work. Instead of saying: wait a second, this whole system is rigged. There's no chance. We have no chance here. And we come

Amy: by that anxiety, honestly, as you say in the book so eloquently, this isn't like: you're a bad person if you think this, you've been taught this very carefully, right. And how it comes into play with parenting. There's just so much I wanna talk about because this applies to us for ourselves.

Margaret: We're gonna do a seven hour podcast today. Amy and I have quite a list.

Amy: But then there's the parenting thing. And this fearmongering starts when our children are very young.

And the childhood obesity epidemic, and there are more fat kids than there used to be. And you talk about that in the book, all the reasons that is and isn't true, but that's laid at the feet of their mothers to worry about fix and change. Yes. And so if we're feeling anxious about that, that's because we're being told to be, even though we shouldn’t be.

Virginia: Oh yeah. And by [00:08:00] people you should be able to trust and who should support you, like your pediatrician. This is coming at us from all angles, and mothers in particular are carrying the biggest burden. We are told, if you're a biological mom, from the time you get pregnant, even before you get pregnant, yes, you're probably told that your body size will dictate your fitness as a mother.

We know that lots of countries won't let you adopt if your BMI is above a certain number. Lots of fertility clinics won't take you on as a patient unless you lose weight first. So again, anti-fat bias is baked into the whole premise of motherhood. We think only thin people will be good moms, which, just sit with that for a second and how messed up that is.

And then once you do have a child, how you are feeding that child is... We are socialized for mothers to do the majority of feeding, particularly in the first year if you're breastfeeding. But then even after that, women are socialized to be the caregivers, the feeders of our families. And so we are again held responsible for [00:09:00] anything that's going wrong with our child's growth.

Too high, too low on the growth chart, but particularly too high. And so this is coming at us from all sides and it's so important to let yourself off the hook for the blame there. It is not your fault that you've bought into this system. You were never given any other choice. This was the roadmap we've all been given, but to understand that there is real harm caused by putting that pressure on mothers and by mothers, then putting that pressure on our kids to maintain thinness or to pursue thinness, that comes with an extremely high cost.

Margaret: Because another point that you make that again, was a revelation to me, is that thinness and health are completely equated by our doctors, our society. And I had a friend who had a terrible disease and we lived in L.A. At the time, and she said everywhere she went, people were like: "What are you doing?

You look amazing." She's like, "I'm dying actually." And she did [00:10:00] not die, thank God, but the big trick is get this horrible disease and you too could be 25 pounds underweight. But I find with kids, I have a kid who struggles in an eating area, but because it manifests as thinness it's not taken seriously in a way that friends of mine who have perfectly healthy kids who are fatter, are told they need to lose weight. It's like that kid is much more healthy than a kid presenting in a thin body. And so where does our control piece come into that? Is it in understanding this and just synthesizing it for ourselves?

Is it making it visible for medical providers? Where do we have some agency?

Virginia: That's a great question, 'cuz it can feel like: oh my gosh, I'm so powerless against this whole system and exactly as you say, starting to untangle the relationship between thinness and health can feel really tricky for folks.

One [00:11:00] example I'll just throw out quickly is a story from the book of two sisters, one of whom was extremely ill. Her family couldn't figure out what was going on. She was frequently hospitalized, they were on this sort of year-long odyssey trying to understand her symptoms.

And in the process of that, she was losing significant amounts of weight and everywhere they went, she was praised for it. People said: oh my gosh, she's so cute. Look how cute she is in these clothes, she's such a pretty little girl. And her younger sister who was in a bigger body with absolutely no health problems whatsoever, the pediatrician was like: we really have to look at, we really need to consider doing something about this.

Turned out the older sister had type 1 diabetes. She was extremely ill and the younger sister perfectly healthy, but her body was the one everyone worried about. So that's just one example of the many ways in which weight and health usually have nothing to do with each other, or even when weight does influence health, it might be weight loss, not necessarily weight gain, and focusing on the weight will not fix the underlying health [00:12:00] problem. So we just approach it in this really narrow-minded way where all we do is think about the scale. So as parents, I think one of the most powerful things you can do is look for ways to remove weight as a problem, any discussion of weight as a problem from your family's vocabulary. So that would include, and this one is a big one and hard for a lot of people, but if you have a scale in your house, can you get rid of that scale? Can you at least put it in a closet where it is not the first thing your kids see when they go in the bathroom in the morning and is stepping on it the first thing you do in the morning?

And is that something you can step away from? And then it'll also be things like having a conversation with your pediatrician and saying: I don't wanna talk about weight in front of the kids. Happy for you - you know, there are times where we have to know: is my kid big enough for the booster seat or the car seat?

There's times where you need to know your children's weight in terms of dosing medication or a few times a year or, every few years, it's useful to have those touchpoints. [00:13:00] But can we not discuss it in front of the kids? And if you have concerns, can you pull me aside and we'll have a sidebar conversation out of the exam room, just so that the kids don't have to hear a pediatrician saying their body is a problem.

Because I can tell you from interviewing dozens and dozens of families, that's one of the most common eating disorder origin stories, is the pediatrician making a negative comment. And I just wanna also say it's not that your goal is to make sure your kids are never exposed to this stuff because that's impossible, right?

We live in this world, but it's to look for ways to turn down the volume and also to be thinking about how you can engage with your kids on these issues so they can start to develop the skills they need to navigate those.  

Amy: We’re talking to Virginia Sole-Smith. Her new book is "Fat Talk: Parenting in the Age of Diet Culture" and we'll be right back. Virginia, I wanted to ask you to talk a little bit about correlation and causation, because if you [00:14:00] haven't been introduced to this topic before, like Margaret was saying in the first segment, you might be like: but being fat is unhealthy! And you really drill down on the studies in this book that show that there is maybe correlation, but there's not causation, which is what we have been led to believe.

Can you explain the difference?

Virginia: Yeah, so causation is when you can say very definitively that this behavior or this action, this trait, causes this health condition, and the way science works, we can almost never say this, right? There's very few health conditions where we can say this is the cause of this.

So what we have is decades of research showing a correlation where folks in larger bodies are more likely to have certain, what we consider weight-linked health conditions: diabetes, heart disease, et cetera. But that doesn't mean that the higher body weight is the reason they have those health conditions.

It's not necessarily the root cause. So it could be that the weight is simply [00:15:00] another thing that's happening, right? This population tends to be in bigger bodies and they also tend to have this health condition, but the two things are totally unrelated.

It could also be that there's some shared root cause that's contributing to a larger body weight. And the health condition, we think this might be going on in something like PCOS, maybe, where you see body size go up sometimes and you see the PCOS, but it's not that the body size itself is causing it, it's that there's some underlining hormonal things going on that are driving both pathways.

There's a couple different ways this can play out, but in every scenario, lowering body weight will not solve the health issue because body weight is not the cause of the health issue. So what's important to understand is what we have done as a culture in our entire medical system is anytime there's a weight-linked health condition, the doctor says lose weight and your health will improve.

And what's probably happening when they see some of those benefits is that people changed lifestyle habits. Maybe they [00:16:00] started exercising more, which we know does have a causal relationship with improving lots of health outcomes, but you can get the benefits, those health benefits, of lowering your blood pressure, your cholesterol, et cetera, et cetera, by exercising, even if you don't lose weight.

If we were only to say it was successful if you lost weight, you might stop exercising, right? Because you'd be like: I didn't lose weight, because most people won't lose weight exercising, and so it's not worth doing. But actually you're missing out on the true health benefits of that lifestyle change because you're making it all about weight.

So this is where it's just, it's really about understanding that body size is one trait. It's one thing going on with us. But it is not the whole story. And when we keep focusing there, we're actually underserving our health because we're missing the whole larger constellation of issues that we're likely dealing with.

Margaret: We've talked about this before on the podcast, but I want to put the chip in people's heads and be like, [00:17:00] really guys, we're not joking. This is actually true. Go ahead.

Virginia: Oh, I was just gonna say, the other piece of this is there's lots of research showing that there are times that higher body weight is good for your health.

And we don't hear about that enough. In the research they call it the obesity paradox, which right there you see the stigma embedded. Because they're calling it a paradox 'cuz they can't imagine –

Margaret: It’s a paradox 'cause one of the things is bad.

Virginia: But what we see is that being in a larger body, you're less likely to get osteoporosis. People in larger bodies do better after heart surgery. They do better with cancer treatments. There's a couple different things that are really powerful in life-sustaining health benefits, not just a little mild change. A major change. And again, this is a correlation, right? So it could be that the body weight has nothing to do with these benefits, or it could be that weight is sometimes truly protective. Either way, putting people on diets is not going to do anything to promote health in those scenarios. And

Margaret: realistically is not going to change anyone's [00:18:00] weight. That's the other thing that I think is pretty radical, and we did an episode a long time ago called "Let's Not Care What We Weigh" and can we just get to a point in our lives where this is no longer a factor?

This is a number we no longer think about. Yeah. And I think it's been a journey, but I know for myself that it's something that I'm just...the amount of hours that I have spent thinking about my weight, if only I could have them back and I have kids and now obviously this is, I want to break some of the patterns that I have been exposed to.

And so let's talk a little bit about how anti-fat bias shows up in our kids and in our lives. And I think many of them are fairly obvious. We were definitely raised with good foods and bad foods, and good eaters and bad eaters. Yeah. Good eaters and bad eaters. And as you said, one of the things that I've become conscious of [00:19:00] in my middle age is that I try not to greet,

I try not to make appearance part of any greeting that I have with another human being. I try not to start conversations with: "You look great," because translation in my life has always been, as my weight has fluctuated throughout my life, "You look great," it's someone just saying to my face, "You finally look thinner." And I know there are certain things about not talking about food as having moral values and trying not to greet people and talking about weight. But what are some other ways that anti-fat bias is creeping into our language and our interactions with our kids?

Virginia: I think the family dinner table is a great place to start. You mentioned the good foods and bad foods thing, but it's also stuff like, if one of the parents is dieting and not eating certain foods, kids pick up on that even if you're not telling the kids they can't eat carbs. They know if Mom or Dad isn't eating carbs, and [00:20:00] that is something they really notice.

It also, in terms of our kids' lives, it shows up in school. Unfortunately, most of our health and nutrition programming in schools is based around an obesity prevention model. So kids are gonna start learning very early - I just got a note from a parent today saying: my daughter's in high school and she got a calorie counting assignment in health class.

This is really common, that they give kids calorie logs and tell them to track everything they eat for two weeks and count, this is literally teaching children eating disorder behavior.

Amy: 40-year-old eating disorder behavior, right?

Virginia: Counting calories. Exactly. Counting calories is not necessary for anybody's health. And to give this to middle schoolers and high schoolers who are the most at-risk group for eating disorders, it just blows my mind.

Margaret: That's why I'm a fan of pushback behavior. We talk about homework for first graders, I would just send it back and be like: no, thanks, we don't need to be doing an hour of homework. My kids are outside playing. Thanks. Yeah. Calorie-counting [00:21:00] goes back in our household and says: no thanks. We don't do this kind of behavior. And also the doctor who told me that one of my problems would be solved by losing 25 pounds, I was like: no thanks.

No, thanks. It's not gonna happen. Yeah. I've been working on it for 35 years now. Spoiler alert: it's not happening.

Virginia: It's not happening. Yeah.

Margaret: So what's the other option? I think that's another piece of control is being able to say: we're not gonna participate in this.

Virginia: Yeah, definitely with the assignments, I encourage parents to opt out, opt out of the BMI screenings if your school does those, weighing kids in gym class is a barbaric practice that we need to be done with. Is that still happening? In at least 26 states, yes. No. Yeah, so that's when, if you have to keep your kids home that day, do it.

But the other piece of it I wanna emphasize is we should recognize that it is easier for some of us to push back and opt out than others. Absolutely. That's such a good point. And if you are someone who's in a straight-size [00:22:00] body, meaning you don't wear plus-size clothes, right? Even if you have your own personal struggles with weight, which again, we're all in this culture, we all have it, it is easier for you to say to a doctor, I'm not gonna get on the scale or to say to the gym teacher, my daughter's not gonna complete that assignment, because you are not being judged in the way that a fat person is being judged. So what I would encourage folks with straight-size privilege to do is not only do that pushing back, but also think about:

What can you be doing in your community to make sure it is more size-inclusive all across the board? A big one, if you coach any kind of sports team or are involved with your kids' sports teams, ask what size uniforms they carry. We have this stereotype that fat kids don't play sports, that fat kids are lazy - fat kids often can't get a jersey in their size. So how are they supposed to join the sports team? How are they gonna feel welcome and part of the team if they're having to wear some extra t-shirt that the coach found in the back of his car or whatever, that doesn't match what everyone else is wearing?

So thinking a little bit about: how does our school [00:23:00] community work, how does our church, whatever community you're in, how are we making people in larger bodies welcome here? Do we have chairs that fit everybody? Do we have uniforms that work for everybody? Are the coaches paying only attention to the thin kids who have the quote "right type" of body for the sport?

Or are they actually making time and space to encourage everyone to play? These are just, once you start looking for it, you're gonna see it everywhere, is an unfortunate truth with anti-fat bias, but it also means there's no end to the ways you can start to just look for small shifts, ways to push back a little bit.

Amy: Let's take a break. When we come back, I wanna talk a little bit more about how we address anti-fat bias in our own homes, at our own dinner tables. We're talking to Virginia Sole-Smith and we'll be right back. Virginia, I wanted to make sure to allow some time to talk about in our own homes how this plays out.

Because we do get so much guilt as parents, that we have to get this right, that our kids have to be eating the [00:24:00] rainbow, and that we have to be eating dinner together every night, because somehow that's been, that's the bugaboo the child obesity epidemic has been laid at the feet of. We're not feeding our kids at home anymore. So moms: have a wonderful dinner table. More mom blame.

Margaret: It must be the mom's fault. We don't know, but whatever it is, it must be moms.

Virginia: We'll find a way to blame them.

Amy: It's Mom's fault if the growth chart is starting to look a little off. There's a lot of pressure on us. There's a lot of pressure to be the parent of a kid who gets remarks that their size is not what somebody else thinks that it should be. And so what do you do in your home with your own kids to readdress some of this stuff?

Virginia: One of the biggest things I talk about in the book and that I think about a lot in my own parenting is: how can I make sure that I'm centering body autonomy in more of my parenting decisions? And particularly around meals and feeding kids, we are told that nutrition matters most - that we should be working on eating the rainbow, getting lots of [00:25:00] vegetables in our kids, getting picky eaters to expand their palates and try new foods. And it's not that nutrition doesn't matter at all. Of course, we all benefit from eating a vegetable every now and then, but what we know from research is that what kids fundamentally need is enough calories to grow and thrive.

And so getting your kid enough to eat every day is your biggest goal as a parent. And if they're getting enough to eat, the nutrition, the nuances of how many vegetables or are they eating a fruit or fiber, all of that can work itself out over the course of a few days, a week. You're gonna see that kids will naturally gravitate to those food groups.

So I think there's good reason to put the nutrition piece aside a little bit. Let ourselves off that hook because that's really tied up in diet culture and perfectionism and all these expectations heaped on moms. And because the other thing is, when you're overly micromanaging nutrition with your kids, you're actually depriving them of a lot of body autonomy at the dinner table.

You're saying to them: I know your body [00:26:00] better than you. I know how hungry or full you should be right now. I know what you need to be eating. And what we wanna do is raise kids who know that they can trust their bodies first and foremost. They can listen to themself. And if you think big-picture about your goals for your kids as a parent, even if it is frustrating to me that I spent 40 minutes cooking dinner and my children are eating two bites and running away from the table, which is a true story in my house many nights a week -

Margaret: I was gonna say: true story every night.

Virginia: Yes. Even if it is frustrating in the moment to see that they are once again passing up the salad bowl, big picture, I want my daughters to know that they can listen to their bodies first and foremost. I want that to follow them into dating, into employment situations, into sports, into anything else they're doing with their bodies.

I want them to know that they can trust that voice that says: this doesn't feel okay to me. And so if that means letting them say no to eating broccoli, that feels so worth it to me in the big-picture sense. And I think that's one of the most [00:27:00] fundamental gifts we can give our kids in terms of fighting anti-fat bias, too.

Because if they can trust that their bodies are good no matter what, if they can know that they can listen to themselves, and that's separate from whatever size their body happens to be, whatever changes they're going through during puberty, bodies change constantly, right? But if the through-line can be: you can listen to yourself first, that's such a powerful gift we can give them. And it really takes the pressure off. It makes dinner way more pleasant too, 'cuz now you're not battling over the three bites of chicken or whatever. And you can just say, I'm raising a kid with body autonomy. I will tell you though, there's one downside to this, which is: last week we were traveling and we took our kids misguidedly to a very fancy restaurant for a very fancy dinner for my mom's birthday.

The worst feeling, the worst. You just know it's gonna go badly, right? And it turned out when we got there - All you hear is the clinking of the silverware. My kids are five and nine. I just want you to know.

Margaret: No, that was misguided.

Virginia: And we got there and it turned out it was a chef's tasting menu. And so we had to [00:28:00] explain to my five-year-old that she wasn't gonna pick what she got to eat for dinner in a restaurant, which is her experience as a restaurant is a diner where of course she gets to pick what she wants, and she turns to me and she goes: "But if the chef picks what I eat, he's trying to control my body!"

Margaret: Slow clap, Mom.

Virginia: And I was like: I am both so proud and also - how will I survive this evening?

Margaret: Wait a minute. How did you survive? You are still alive because you are on our podcast right now. What did your children eat off of a chef's tasting menu?

Virginia: Amazingly, they did have a kid's version and it was chicken fingers and French fries, and I wanted to marry that chef.

Margaret: Love that. I wanna go to that restaurant. It worked out.

Virginia: Chef's tasting menu. Wow. But yeah, they did have a separate menu for the kids. Obviously the fancy adults did not eat that. Amazing. But yeah. But when she was like: "But you can't control my body like that!" And I was like: you're not wrong. But also, okay, another time I'll explain to you how nice it is for someone else to decide what's for dinner. 'Cuz that's a whole separate thing.

Margaret: I think of a lot of [00:29:00] guests we have had on to talk about racial bias, to talk about differences, neuro-differences, limb differences, and that I think that there is some hesitation for moms to introduce the concept. That somehow we are overstepping or involving a conversation that: oh, why would I put this in front of my kids?

They don't need to know about this. They just love everybody the way they are 'cuz that's how kids are. And I assume with anti-fat bias, there's this same kind of disconnect sometimes of: I don't want to talk about this because either I feel it doesn't apply to me, or I feel it does apply to me and I feel strange about that, or that I'm somehow introducing a foreign concept to our kids. So what would you say about that?

Virginia: Unfortunately, your kids already know. This is a common fear, I hear this from parents all the time: "I don't wanna teach her not to love her [00:30:00] body. I don't wanna teach him to worry about weight." By introducing this - we have studies showing that between the ages of three and five, kids start to learn that fat means bad.

So unless you're parenting a two-year-old, okay, you're off the hook for a few months, but the rest of us have to start doing this work, and it's important to be doing this work for a couple of reasons. One is: yes, if you're raising a kid in a bigger body, believe me, they know. Believe me, they are picking up on the messages from the rest of the world.

And your home needs to be their safe space. It needs to be the place where they know their body is unconditionally loved and accepted, and that you're gonna work with them to support them and give them the tools they need to navigate this, because this is something they have to deal with and that they are already dealing with, and so you need to show up and support them.

So that's one piece of it. If you're raising a thin kid, you may be more likely to be like, it's not really a concern yet, and I don't have to deal with this. But here I draw the parallel with racism. If white parents don't talk about racism, we raise kids with racist beliefs. If thin parents don't talk to [00:31:00] thin kids about anti-fat bias, we raise kids who perpetuate anti-fat bias.

And even thin kids need to know that their body is not their value, right? You may have the kid with the perfect ballerina body or the perfect runner body, and the coach and the dance teacher love them, but that's teaching them that's their value and that's something they need to hang on to.

And I'm here to say I was a thin kid. I had thin privilege. I still benefit from thin privilege, I was thin until college and now I'm a small-fat adult. That refers to someone who's in plus sizes, but at the lower end of that spectrum. And It was a really, it was a lot of work for me to understand that I could let go of thinness and still be myself. And just think: if we could teach our kids that it's okay that your bodies change because that's not your value, that's gonna help them.

You can't guarantee thinness to anybody. You can't guarantee able-bodiedness or health or any of these things. So if we're attaching our worth to those things, then kids are gonna have a much harder time. Yeah, it is really [00:32:00] necessary to start talking about this because they're already learning it.

They need the counter-programming from you, and every kid, regardless of their size, needs to know that their body is their body and that's not their value.

Amy: I really loved this book, Virginia. It's one of those books that you just fill up with so many notes and dog ears and everything.

Margaret: Amy got her sticky tape going.

Amy: Yeah. Exactly. It's a good one. No, I just love that there are so many things. I want to give you one sentence to close on, 'cause this blew my mind when I read this: "We want our kids to love their bodies," you wrote, "but we take it for granted that fat kids can't do that." That sort of just like: yeah, you're right.

Virginia: Yeah. And they all deserve to be able to do that. Yeah.

Amy: Yeah. We all - adults too, right? Yeah. I absolutely, I made the assumption, I have made the assumption that you need to look a certain way to feel happy in your body, and then I'm thereby increasing the likelihood that, that is true. I know. So I learned a lot from this book.


Virginia: Oh, I so appreciate that. Thank you.

Margaret: Yeah, there is something for everybody in this book and it's full of Amy's beloved research and stories and it's very accessible and this is the kind of work that I think is really challenging for especially people,

I have had it in my own life, weight struggles and feeling very emotional, I'm finding myself teary, just having this conversation, it just, this stuff goes really deep. Yeah. And I think it can be really easy to just be like: I'm done. I'm not weighing myself anymore. Let's put that topic away because I think it's important to say that this topic can be really hard for people.

But we want our kids to have the benefit of our knowledge and our age and our calmness. And I think that this book really helped me, and I think it can help a lot of our [00:34:00] listeners who are really trying to find a new way through this topic. So Virginia, thanks so much for being with us today.

Virginia: Oh, thank you for having me. That means so much.

Amy: Will you tell us, Virginia, tell us where our listeners can find you. Your podcast, your book, your newsletter, all of it.

Virginia: So the book is "Fat Talk: Parenting in the Age of Diet Culture," and you can get it anywhere you get your books or audiobooks. I narrated the audiobook, so that's fun too.

You can subscribe to my newsletter Burnt Toast at You can get the Burnt Toast podcast wherever you are listening to this podcast. And you can follow me on Instagram, Twitter, and TikTok @v_solesmith.

Amy: Thanks, Virginia. We'll put the links to all of that in the show notes.

This was a great conversation. Thanks for being with us today.

Virginia: Thank you so much.

Margaret: Thanks.