Age at interview: 47
Brief Outline: Sara is the mother of Josie, 15. She believes it's important to feel happy in your body and while she wants to help her daughter to learn to control her appetite, she also wants to help her accept and be happy about her curves.
Background: Sara is a self-employed gardener and a married mother of three children aged 6, 13 and 15. Ethnic background: White.
Sara is the mother of Josie, 15. She says Josie’s build is unusual in their slim family. Josie started to gain weight aged 12, which Sara puts it down to Josie’s large appetite.
Sara says she feels responsible for her children’s health. She finds it difficult at times to manage Josie’s appetite and diet, and feels guilty about trying to restrict how much she is eating. She says finding the right balance can also be difficult, especially because she doesn’t want to make too much of an issue about food and as Josie doesn’t want to be told what to do. Sara likes being able to prepare her daughter’s packed lunch because she can control what goes into it, even though her children complain when she refuses to put crisps or chocolate in their lunchboxes. Sara says, however, that she doesn’t believe in labelling foods as bad, or restricting what she buys for the family, because they could always get those foods elsewhere anyway.
Sara says they’ve always eaten healthy foods and grown their own vegetables, and she’s pleased that Josie is learning to cook from scratch at school – and sometimes cooks at home too. She thinks schools should do more to teach children to take responsibility for themselves when it comes to making decisions about eating and exercising – because young people are not often encouraged to think for themselves.
Sara also has another daughter who is of slim build and very active. She says the two girls have groups of friends who have similar body shapes to themselves. She thinks that girls these days seem to be more preoccupied by their size and diet than when she was a teenager, and she thinks this is partly due to the skinny images of women portrayed in the media.
Sara says she’s tried to encourage her daughter to find a form of exercise that she likes, and currently takes her to pilates, but she says Josie would much rather get on with her homework. Josie cannot walk to school or cycle anywhere on her own because they live near a dangerous country road. Josie has a problem with her posture, which Sara believes affects her ability to exercise and is affecting her weight gain and weight distribution. She approached her GP and a physiotherapist, but they told her not to worry about it. Sara was relieved to finally got some advice from her pilates teacher (who is also a trained physiotherapist), because she says Josie would be more likely to take notice of someone other than her mother.
Sara also feels bad for her daughter when she gets upset about not being able to fit into clothes when they go shopping. Although she wants Josie to learn to control her appetite, she believes it’s important to feel happy in your body and she wants to help her daughter accept and be happy about her curves.
Sara was called 'a little fatty' as a child so always avoids this kind of language with her...
Also I know, I hear in my head still things that my mother used to say when I was a teenager. And I look at, photos, I grew up thinking I was quite fat and I look at photographs of myself as a teenager and there’s no way I was ever. And my mother always felt she was doing it with love and therefore it was fine but she’s German and she would call me ‘Dickerchen’ which basically means ‘little fatty’.
If it was sunny she’d say, ‘Have you got sun cream on your ‘speck’. Well speck is like the white fat on ham. And I was never fat, you know [laughs]. And I’d, but the, I was getting these words used and it, I was wearing big baggy clothes to cover up all my fat but I wasn’t fat [laugh] and I was worrying about food and about my weight and my fat, you know, what size I was and I didn’t need to. And it’s taken me a long time as an adult to actually just relax.
And, you know, there are times when I’ thinking, you know, got a bit of a roll there. I’d rather not have it but I’m ok [laugh]. It’s ok [laugh]. And so I never ever have used words like that. I’ve never called her ‘chubby’ or, you know. It’s just… But I don’t know sometimes when you become too conscious about these things maybe you do it all wrong because you’re trying to overcompensate the other way. I don’t know.
Sara thinks the BMI is a ‘flawed’ way of measuring if someone is a healthy weight.
It’s very difficult when I think one thing that I notice is that you’ve got statistics. You’ve got things. One of the worst is this BMI, this body mass index which is so flawed and yet they still rigidly stick to it. And when I just recently took up, changed life insurance I was quizzed at great length because my BMI was too low. But I mean if anyone looked how fit I am and strong I am and, you know, it’s not a problem. And then, you know, we have these famous instances of athletes and things whose BMI is off the scale. Officially they’re obese but they’re not, there’s not an ounce of fat on them. They’re just rock solid muscle and heavy bone from all the exercise they do. And I think with, within the healthcare there is this sort of, oh height this, weight this, oh well that sounds alright, that’s alright. But that’s, that’s not it. And people, there’s a huge variety of things that are perfectly healthy and right and there are also plenty of people who are, the numbers will say that’s ok but if you actually look at them it might not be. I mean my daughter, I don’t think my daughter’s weight is very high but you look at her and you can see it’s not in proportion and there’s too much fat and not enough muscle. And it’s got to change for her future health.
Sara thinks parts of the media give very conflicting messages to young people.
And the stuff that Jamie Oliver’s doing now I think that’s very exciting and good on him that he’s trying it. I think he’s being very brave the way he is quite openly, you know, telling people this is terrible. You should change and I’m going to change you and we’re all going to improve. But then you get the other thing where you look at magazine covers and of course they like buying their little teen magazines and the Sunday supplements have got their fashion sections and so forth. I feel so sorry for anyone who is in the public eye. You get on the front of the same cover it will be, “Ooh Keira is getting too thin. J-Lo is getting too fat.” And nobody can just be them, that you’re criticised whatever you are. Nobody is ever perfect. Nobody’s ever just nice. Nope, either too thin or too fat. And they’re looking, you know, my daughters, that’s part of what they see all the time. And it’s constantly, “How I lost, you know, three stone. My bikini shape-up diet.” That’s always what’s on the front of all these magazines on the shelves. And it’s, it must have an influence on what they think.
And I know my younger daughter, not her herself but one of her friends was talking about people being a size 0 and I was just thinking, and she is skinny. I mean if she was my daughter I’d be panicking because she’s too thin [laugh]. And I’m just thinking this is terrible. We’re talking about pre-pubescent little girls talking about wanting to be a size 0. That’s just scary. Because this is also the trouble that you’ve got girls in that build-up to puberty and their nutrition is terribly important. You want them to be eating sufficiently and off the right foods. You don’t want to be curtailing what they’re eating because that is their future strength, it’s their future ability to have children, everything is building their bones, everything is building there. And it’s exactly that stage when they’re just get so aware of it and they get so many conflicting, mixed up messages.
Sara hopes that as children become more aware of the environment they will get healthier.
I just briefly said oh because we have the garden, we grow a lot of veg. I think that’s one thing that is coming up in schools a lot more which is tremendous. We have school gardens where children are growing vegetables and they are growing even things like sweet corn and seeing it doesn’t come out of a tin, you know. And to get children involved in that level I think is really, really useful. And it’s a good progression - they’re so ecologically aware now as well in a way that we [never were] - because it never was an issue when we were young. And the whole issue of pesticides and stuff. They are aware and they know about it and they know what’s better. So that’s a good thing that is happening, and hopefully will slowly feed through for the future generations.
She wishes her daughter wouldn't follow fashion and wear things like skinny cut jeans because...
But I don’t volunteer my clothes or anything anymore. I don’t want to do anything that’s going to make her feel bad. The going shopping bit is more difficult because obviously the sizes fit, but I think she looks at herself in the mirror, and what she sees is the shape of her rather than whether she’s a 10 or 12 or a 14. (That’s an irrelevance because people come in all sorts of sizes, you know somebody can be a size 16 and look absolutely gorgeous because it’s in proportion and it’s not just rolls of fat globbering around the place. It is their shape. It’s fine.) But poor [name] at the moment is whatever size she is because there is the extra and it distorts her shape.
Then of course I think it’s difficult think being a teenager because she wants to be in fashion and so if it’s low-waisted skinny-cut jeans, it’s not really the most flattering shape for her at all but she insists on wearing it because that’s in fashion. And then of course actually you’re constantly aware because you’ve got this muffin top and you’ve got this zip that’s struggling to stay up, whereas if she just wore combat trousers like me she’d be fine! Who knows when the fashions change? I do think how you feel in your clothes affects how you feel about yourself. And if the fashion is against you it just makes you actually feel bad about your body image even though your body might be perfectly fine just because it doesn’t go with whatever is supposed to be the shape now.
Sara hopes her daughter will learn to wait until she feels hungry before she eats rather than...
I would like my daughter to learn to listen. I think a lot of it’s about listening to your body and what you really want, rather than thinking, “Oh I’ve had supper. Now I have something sweet.” Or, “I’ve come in from school now I eat something.” My mother jokes about her friend and she’ll say, “Are you hungry?” And he’ll look at his watch. It’s got nothing to do with what time it is. “Are you hungry?” was the question. And I think that is what I’d like to see is that she learns to listen and say, “Well it’s only 11 o’clock but I am hungry so I’ll eat one of my sandwiches now.” Or “I know its 4 o’clock and I’ve just got in from school but actually I’m not hungry I’ll just have a drink.” And, “I know I’ve just had supper but I don’t need anything else. I’ll stop.” Or, “Actually I’ve had enough thank you. I won’t finish everything on my plate.” It’s difficult. We live in a... we’re now being criticised as a nation for throwing away so much food - we hardly throw anything away in this house as it happens - but that again is this thing, don’t waste, don’t waste, you must eat everything. And it’s about, we are very privileged. We don’t have to eat everything on our plate. What we have to do is listen to our bodies and learn what we really need and go with that and actually block out a lot of the other stuff.