If your mother told you that you needed to lose weight, would you freak out? Would it destroy your self-esteem? Would you ever forgive her?
Charlotte Alter, a journalist with Time magazine, said that when she was a 12-year-old middle schooler, her mother told her she could stand to lose three to four pounds.
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At first, Alter said she had a meltdown, but then curbed her dessert intake and started a jogging program. She is now grateful for her mother’s honesty, she said.
In the recent essay she wrote for Time.com, Alter said of that long-ago discussion, “Pick your jaw up from the floor and put away your pitchfork, because this nugget of real talk was one of the best things my mother ever did.”
Alter, who lives in Montclair, N.J., said the conversation was the first of many candid exchanges she had with her mother about her weight. She believes her mother’s willingness to face the problem of weight gain head on makes a lot more sense than a “Zen-like acceptance of my body.”
“Eventually, it becomes too exhausting to maintain total acceptance of the way we look, and the ‘self-love’ gets drowned in a wave of self-doubt fueled by everything from the media to the kids at school,” she wrote in her Time piece.
Those talks, Alter said, didn’t seem like a condemnation. They seemed like a reality check, one that set up a lifelong healthy relationship with her body, her weight – and her mom.
“Good for her. She’s lucky,” said Lynn Grese, the president and CEO of the National Eating Disorder Association. “She’s one of those people who isn’t susceptible to an eating disorder.”
Criticizing a young girl about her weight can send her spiraling into an eating disorder, especially if she is already depressed, anxious or sensitive about her weight, Grese said. Also, because girls tend to gain one-third of their adult weight between the ages of 11 and 14, it’s difficult to know whether a girl has a weight problem or passing through a baby-fat stage on the way to womanhood.
“Parents should always focus on health rather than weight. If a child truly does have a weight problem, it should be addressed with the help of a medical professional,” Grese said.
Alter, who could not be reached for comment by ABC News, conceded that her mother’s approach wouldn’t work for everybody.
“But being frank about weight loss has helped me stay sane about my body even into adulthood,” she wrote.