Review: Good Girls Don't Get Fat

Good Girls Don't Get FatGood Girls Don't Get Fat
by Robyn Silverman

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Good Girls Don't Get Fat / 978-0-373-89220-4

I was pleased to receive this book from NetGalley for review; I'm a strong believer in HAES (Health At Every Size), and this book is exactly the sort of valuable study that can benefit parents hoping to raise happy, healthy daughters who are not constantly encumbered by the "skinny or else!" messages that bombard them constantly.

Broken into nine chapters, "Good Girls Don't Get Fat" explores the potentially near-constant sources of criticism and denigration that can occur in childhood and can extend detrimentally into a lifetime of eating disorders, self-abuse, and poor self-esteem. Chapter 1 covers self-criticism and the importance of banishing negative internal thoughts and the constant visceral awareness of weight at all times. Chapter 2 covers the impact that mothers have on their daughters, and carefully explains the difference between teaching your child to value good health and just popping off with criticism thoughtlessly (for instance, spontaneously popping off with "Are you going to eat all that?", teaches less good eating habits and more that eating in public will invite judgment and criticism from others). Chapter 3 explores the sometimes-hidden effect of fathers on their daughters: how to be active in raising healthy, happy women, and how not to inadvertently encourage your daughter to remain a child. Chapter 4 covers the impact of the family at large, and how brothers and sisters play an important role in either creating or preventing unhealthy attitudes towards eating.

Expanding from the family sphere, chapters 5 and 6 cover the influences of school - first of the adult officials (in a chapter that will leave most readers outraged at the sheer gall of some people - including a teacher who apparently thought it was a good idea to mention a student's weight in her letter of recommendation for college admission), and then of the children (friends and enemies alike) who play a role in a person's childhood development. From there, the book delves into positive alternatives to all these potentially detrimental sources - how to love your body and teach your children to love theirs; how to overcome inevitable negative outside sources; and how to monitor and improve your internal body image over time.

"Good Girls Don't Get Fat" is a perfect example of a `scholarly' style of work that has a great deal of knowledge and information to impart, yet the writing style is so engaging and flows so well that it reads like a book for pleasure rather than a book for learning. As author Silverman interviews hundreds of young women about their life experiences, the reader flows smoothly over the positive highs (the father who took the time to reaffirm that his daughter looked lovely in the size 12 she'd excessively and dangerously dieted for, but she would have looked equally lovely in the size 14 that she had feared so much) and the negative lows (the teacher who feels that she has no responsibility to her students to help them if they are bullied by other teachers for their weight), and all the learning experiences along the way. The message of this book, too, is a very good one - Silverman repeatedly reminds parents (the intended audience) that their words and actions matter and that it does no good to affirm your children with positive self-image if your own words and actions underscore your own negative one. She also correctly hammers home the importance of not falling into "obesity panic" - she encourages setting and modeling healthy eating habits, but also recognizes the importance of letting young adults start to choose some of their own eating habits (they're going to have to learn sometime, after all!) without the fear of constant and immediate criticism from their loved ones.

If I have to level one criticism at this book, it would be that in spite of all this wonderful HAES doctrine, Silverman sometimes can't quite follow it all the way. Although she does point out at least once that skinny does not equal healthy, she does try to have her cake and eat it too with passages that encourage parents to "be more active" with their kids if they are worried about the child's weight. Since neither I nor Silverman think children are stupid, however, I'm surprised that she doesn't seem to realize that a parent suddenly putting their child on an obvious exercise program isn't likely to instill negative body feelings any less than the same parent suddenly putting their child on a food diet. And while I have nothing against parent-child physical activities, prescribing them as a "solution" to weight rather than as a good in itself is very much against HAES philosophy; and draping everything in a platonic "for their health" statement doesn't absolve matters when the only indication of "bad health" on the child's part is that they weigh more than the parent thinks they should. In all other areas of the book, Silverman recognizes and forcefully acknowledges that parents often have unrealistic weight goals for their children, so it just seems strange to see all that fall down in later chapters with all the "for their health" talk. Another criticism, perhaps, is the "determine your daughter's body image" quizzes at the end of every chapter - again, Silverman recognizes that many eating disorder sites encourage girls to say the "right" things to prevent family suspicion, so grading a daughter based on the things she says and does when her parents are looking may give the evaluator a false sense of security that everything is fine when it isn't.

For its minor faults, however, "Good Girls Don't Get Fat" is a wonderful read and a source of valuable and insightful information, particularly for HAES followers who worry about raising a child in our culture, and who worry about slipping into old self-hating habits in a subconscious modeling of the way we ourselves we raised. I enjoyed this book immensely, and plan to reread it again to ensure that the behaviors I am modeling are safe and healthy for the children around me.

NOTE: This review is based on a free Advance Review Copy of this book provided through NetGalley.

~ Ana Mardoll

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