Let Them Eat … Everything

The sheet-pan chicken and roasted broccoli are out of the oven, and white rice is steaming on the stove. Virginia Sole-Smith, who has spent a decade writing about how women think and feel about their bodies — and how they pass along those feelings to their children through food — is about to serve dinner to her daughters, Violet, 10, and Beatrix, 6.

Sole-Smith tries not to be a short-order cook. “Respect the labor,” is how she puts it, reminding her children that if they don’t like what she has prepared, there’s other stuff to eat in the house. A pullout shelf in the pantry holds Tate’s chocolate chip cookies, Goldfish crackers, pea snaps, and chocolate kisses. There are raspberries and grape tomatoes in the fridge.

What Sole-Smith hopes to model, she said in a five-hour interview at her home in Cold Spring, N.Y., is “that you can be a mom who doesn’t live solely in service of other people.” That “you deserve time to yourself and that you’re a person with needs, that those needs matter.”

She ferries the girls’ plastic plates to the front-porch table, evading the miniature Bernedoodle, Penelope. A year ago, Sole-Smith published “Fat Talk: Parenting in the Age of Diet Culture,” a guide to helping parents grapple with their discomfort and anxiety about weight and food. At the moment when Ozempic-like drugs are enabling people to become thin, Sole-Smith has become one of the country’s most visible fat activists, calling out the bias and discrimination faced by people in bigger bodies, especially from doctors and research scientists.

She asserts her own right to be “fat,” the preferred adjective in her corner of the internet. In Sole-Smith’s house there are neither “good” or “bad” foods nor “healthy” or “unhealthy” ones; doughnuts and kale hold equivalent moral value and no one polices portion size. By relieving herself and her family of rules about eating, Sole-Smith believes she will have a better chance of raising children who are proud of their bodies, trust themselves to enjoy their food and leave the table when they’re full. She serves dessert and snacks, like Cheez-Its, along with the dinner entree; her kids can eat their meal in any order.

“Fat Talk” is, in a way, Sole-Smith’s manifesto of liberation from what nutritionists call “diet culture”: the enormous pressure American women, in particular, feel to be thin and to raise thin children. For many years, she covered health (including for The New York Times), and her reporting on the pursuit of thinness prompted her rejection of it.

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