Part of Michelle Obama’s agenda will be to stress the importance of healthy eating and to encourage Americans to provide fresh, unprocessed and locally grown foods to their families and the families of the neediest in their communities. Reports the New York Times:
White House officials say the focus on healthy living will be a significant item on Mrs. Obama’s agenda, which already includes supporting working families and military spouses. As the nation battles an obesity epidemic and a hard-to-break taste for oversweetened and oversalted dishes, her message is clear: Fresh, nutritious foods are not delicacies to be savored by the wealthy, but critical components of the diets of ordinary and struggling families.
The First Lady’s emphasis on healthy food consumption and Victory Gardens is a great one, although I wonder if she plans to put any kind of oomph behind the rhetoric to ensure that this actually happens. Like, oh, convincing her husband and Congress to make changes in the Farm Bill to help eliminate food deserts and subsidize locally-grown fruits and vegetables so that they are both more affordable and accessible to people at all socio-economic levels.
Ever the role model, Michelle Obama invited cameras into the White House kitchen where only fresh food — nothing canned or processed — are prepared by the First Family’s chef. And in the November issue of Parents magazine, she and her husband described their decision to ditch juice boxes and processed foods. Their motivation? Malia was getting fat.
“A couple of years ago — you’d never know it by looking at her now — Malia was getting a little chubby,” Mr. Obama told the magazine.
They took action, Mrs. Obama said, when “her doctor — he really monitors this type of thing — suggested we look at her diet. So we cut out juice boxes, sweets and processed foods.”
Ruth Reichl [editor of Gourmet magazine] would like the White House kitchen to issue regular news releases that describe what the first couple and their daughters are eating. (Then parents across the country could tell their children, “You know, Malia and Sasha were eating salad yesterday. …”)
I’m sure that Michelle Obama equates fat with unhealthy, especially since the family doctor seems hypervigilant on these kinds of issues, so it’s possible that the First Lady’s concern was for the health of her child and family. Nonetheless it strikes me odd that these so-called health concerns and nutrition advice did not arise until OMG, MALIA IS GETTING FAT!! If you eat a steady diet of fast-, junk- and processed foods and yet are genetically blessed to remain thin, does this mean you’re healthy?
Improving the family’s diet is great — all families should be so lucky as the Obamas to be able to eat such a healthy diet, not to mention, have the luxury of a personal chef. Still I wonder how little Malia felt after her mother drastically changed and restricted the entire family’s diet all because she was getting a “little chubby.” I know from personal experience that being singled out in a family for weight is an emotionally crushing experience for a kid. My mother once announced at the dinner table that she was putting me and me alone on a diet, despite the fact that most of my family, including her, were (and still are) fat. I would find out much later that my mom was also teased about her weight in school and that she was probably just trying to shield me from the same harassment, but at the time, it had the opposite effect: I was determined to eat even more of the things she placed off-limits in a show of rebellion and bodily autonomy.
Add in a national spotlight and I can’t even begin to imagine the anvil-like pressures. How will these girls feel in having their diets broadcast in official White House press releases* to a global audience, in effect, involuntarily thrusting them into the spotlight as anti-obesity role models? Has anyone even asked them what they think or feel about this? Will they be able to indulge in a cheeseburger without fear of judgment and condemnation from public food purists? Will tabloids and gossip mags turn their voyeuristic eye to them next, splashing their images on magazine covers while speculating on the perceived dips and spikes on their digital scales?
After the Obama girls were invited to star on the Hannah Montana show, HuffPo blogger Casey Gane-McCalla pointed out the dangers media intrusion can hold for child stars and children of presidents and politicians:
Undo media attention and the pressure of the spotlight has negatively affected many children who have sought or been thrust into the media spotlight.
Sasha and Malia should receive media attention for being part of the first family and not as separate entities to themselves… Let the kids be kids… They should be sheltered from the media not thrust into it.
The Obama girls will have plenty of challenges and obstacles to overcome in having the most normal childhood as possible. Let’s not add disordered relationships with food and body to that list.
* Sadly, “What’s For Lunch at Sasha and Malia’s School” has already made headlines.