As President Obama presided over a seven-hour cross-party debate on health care last week, First Lady Michelle Obama continued to make headlines in the advancement of her latest cause: childhood obesity.
In an historic appearance at the annual winter meeting of the National Governors Association on February 20, Obama called for a nationwide program to combat obesity in America's children, stressing as she did that such a plan need not be expensive.
Aims of "Let's Move," the name given to the Obama obesity initiative, include a $400 million annual budget to encourage grocery stores to carry healthier food selections, especially grocery stores in "underserved" areas, according to National Public Radio. "Let's Move" will also beef up (pardon the pun) initiatives to offer healthier lunches in schools, and partner with schools in achieving those goals.
It's no secret that being overweight is unhealthy and that obese children tend to grow into obese adults. And with childhood obesity continually on the rise, according to the latest government statistics, it's obvious something needs to be done. But from the minute it left the starting gate, "Let's Move" has endured some hefty criticism.
Salon's Broadsheet didn't like the fact that Obama said her children "weren't perfect" because their Body Mass Index did not conform to their doctor's ideal. Broadsheet also didn't like that Obama used her children as examples, stating that their privacy in this matter deserved to be honored. Others complained about Obama's use of the word chubby, citing the fragile and complicated relationship between descriptive language, body image, and eating disorders.
Issues surrounding weight are difficult to discuss, in part because weight and body image are so inextricably linked with so many different areas of life. Our health, in part, depends on our weight, but so does our body image and our self-esteem. Talking about weight in any culture is hard, but I think it is perhaps particularly so in the United States, where the tangled mess of obesity and eating disorders is perhaps only surpassed by the mess that is the practice of using sex appeal to sell everything from cars to shampoo. I'm going to voice a hunch, here, and say that there probably wasn't any way for Michelle Obama to launch an initiative relating to weight in this country without somebody getting upset.
But does the fact that it's an uncomfortable topic change the fact that it needs to be addressed?
Her.meneutics has tackled weight and body image issues before, as they relate to grown women. Broadening the discussion to children's weight and body issues in some ways raises the stakes, because now we're not only talking about our own bodies, we're also talking about the bodies of our kids—bodies that may or may not be the way they are because of decisions that we as parents have made.
It's a messy, complicated discussion. But I applaud Michelle Obama for taking on; I think it's high time that somebody did. I just hope the First Lady hasn't bitten off more than she can chew.