It’s been awhile since a packaged copy of Stover — a fitness-focused children’s book — wound up in my mail slot at the Edmonton Sun offices.
Upon a cursory glance through the brilliantly illustrated hardcover (circa the summer of 2011), I was excited.
Afterall, I’m not just a fitness columnist and blogger. I’m also a dad who’s ever mindful of the perpetually worsening childhood obesity epidemic.
I couldn’t wait to take the book home and share it with my then toddler daughter.
I wanted her to love this book.
I wanted it to be among her favourites, occupying prime real estate on her vast bookshelf.
A book about a cute little pig’s pursuit of health and fitness, I figured, was certain to help cultivate positive feelings about exercise and healthy eating.
And such a positive imprint on her psyche at such a young age, I thought, would help set her up for a lifetime of being strong, happy and healthy.
And then I read it to her.
It certainly lived up to my high expectations — at first.
Stover believes in eating a healthy breakfast before heading to the gym, where he’ll do everything from cardio, strength training and yoga to the occasional step class, stretching and swimming.
So far, so great.
But it’s what Stover does after showering and going home that threw me for a loop.
Stover stands in front of a full-length mirror and pinches the flab around his waist.
“Hooray! I pinch less. I feel so terrific. I’m such a success!” he says.
What the … ?!
There’s also a large foreboding image of a tape measure below the text.
Um … yeah, no.
Suddenly, this book lost all its charm.
Two lousy facing pages ruined the whole story for me.
You see, the “strong and healthy” message that I want to impart to my daughter doesn’t include fixating on belly fat in front of a mirror.
Sorry, but girls these days — and boys —have enough trouble dealing with body-image issues.
Stover’s preoccupation with trimming his waistline is the WRONG message to send to children. It’s downright unhealthy.
Yes, looking good is a byproduct of health and fitness. But the focus of fitness — especially for children — should always be about feeling good and having fun.
Accentuate the positive. Don’t fret about pinching an inch … or two inches … because that causes anxiety and stress, which raise the body’s cortisol levels. And, as research has shown, cortisol (also known as the “stress hormone”), leads to craving so-called comfort foods, overeating, fatigue and packing on weight.
Pretty self-defeating, eh?
One of the questions in the “fitness” questionnaire at the back of the Stover book also irks me. It reads: “How can you tell if you’re a good size and weight for a healthy person your age? If you aren’t — what can you do about it?”
Well, if you want to increase a kid’s likelihood of developing an eating disorder later in life, go ahead and urge Junior to gauge whether he’s “a good size and weight.” Whatever that is.
In my not so humble opinion, obsessing over kids’ weight and clothing size is only gonna shrink their self-esteem.
It’s up to parents to encourage their kids to move. And there’s no better way than leading by example. In fact, make it a family-bonding experience. There are lots of physical activities that can be done as a family: walking, hiking, cycling, kayaking, playing soccer, skiing, skating, swimming … OK, you get the picture.
But let me just say that methinks the family that exercises together stays together. Sorry, couldn’t resist.
It’s also up to the parents to lead by example when it comes to good nutrition. Kids, of course, don’t do the household grocery shopping. The parents do.
OK, I’ll get off my soapbox now. My point is that much can be done to encourage children to embrace a healthy lifestyle. But I firmly believe that showing them it’s OK to obsess over their body’s imperfections is not the way to go.
I really wanted to love Stover.
Maybe that’s why I put off reviewing it for so long.
Author Kathy Brodsky wrote an otherwise splendid book.
But I can’t, in good conscience, recommend Stover to other parents because my wife and I agree that this book has no place on our daughter’s bookshelf.
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