Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Children, Body Politics & Exercise

Reflecting on some conversations I've read about Michelle Obama criticizing her "Let's Move" campaign as not focusing enough on body acceptance I think that perhaps people are generally overcritical when it comes to children, exercise and weight. While there are campaigns that are intentionally body shaming, “Let’s Move” is not one of them. 
There is nothing wrong with promoting exercise to children in a way that is fun and entertaining by infusing Beyonce songs and spotlights on exercise into favorite children’s tv shows. When people talk about the fact that there also needs to be a component of body acceptance, I agree, but I think MOST important is offering exercise as a choice to every able child.
As someone who has worked extensively with children and seen the various ways that children are continually shamed and mistreated by parents, students AND teachers I know that the need is real for some sort of comprehensive health programming (but then again when basic needs for education aren’t being met let’s be realistic about the chances of that happening).
Exercise for children is about much more than simply their weights or BMI, it is about promoting a lifestyle which many children do not actively see, it is about engaging them in an activity when many low-income and urban schools have cut all gym programs. Have you ever seen how a child behaves when they have gone through a full day of school without any exercise? I’ll give you a hint: everyone suffers. Exercise is a fundamental part of childhood that is increasingly being replaced with screen time. 
Anyone who has started (or maintains) an exercise regimen can attest to the fact that it is more than just about their body. Exercising releases endorphins and regardless of your weight/size can make you feel more positively about yourself. This is especially true of children. Exercising is mental as well as physical. 
I completely understand the fact that people are unhappy with the execution of “Let’s Move,” but there is nothing wrong with the message that exercise is an important life tool that is necessary for children.

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