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A Chubby Kid in the 50’s

As a baby boomer, Denise and millions of others are becoming senior citizens. She explores what it means to be over 60 today.

Okay, I was a Shirley Temple type of girl.

Okay, I was a Shirley Temple type of girl.

What is Healthy

The pediatricians have charts to gauge whether a child is grown and maturing in the “normal” range according to height and weight. But who is to say what is “normal” and what isn’t? The charts change from year to year. People are generally taller today than they were in the 1930s, 40s, and 50s. When I was born I weighed 7 lbs 6 oz and was just 14.5 inches long. But that was pretty average back then. When my daughters were born in the 1970s they weighed about 8 lbs 10 oz and 19 inches long. Is that because I was better nourished as a mother or is my birth weight more normal?

“More babies are overweight today than 20 years ago – up from 3 percent to 6 percent for babies younger than 6 months old and up from 6 percent to 10 percent for children younger than 6 years of age. Experts suggest that early eating habits are crucial in establishing and maintaining a healthy weight later in life.”

— Dana Dubinsky, health and science editor for BabyCenter.com

Exercise doesn't seem to help.

Exercise doesn't seem to help.

Healthy Children

Well-fed children were considered healthy in the 50s and 60s. We didn’t start hearing about obesity until the late 70s and by then the damage had been done, not only for me but from my children as well. I taught them what I had been taught: clean your plate. Eat it all even if you think you are full. The idea of stopping when you were full was such a foreign concept that it never even occurred to me.

We were rewarded with dessert only if we finished everything on the plate. Wasting food was considered a sin. It is interesting that gluttony was not mentioned ever and simply skimmed over when reading the Bible. We were expected, even rewarded, to overeat regularly. It is no wonder that America has an obesity problem.

So I was a chubby kid. Mom felt sure I would grow out of it. I did start to pick up some height but not enough to overcome my girth. It took a lot of work and determination on my part to lose that extra poundage and slim up some. I still go up and down in my weight and have probably lost a couple of hundred pounds in my lifetime so far. As I get older it is much harder to lose it than when I was 20. Let me tell you, pleasingly plump is depressing.

Age 16 feeding the horses.

Age 16 feeding the horses.

Heavenly Endowed

When I was 16 I finally began to look curvy and not just lumpy. For some reason, my breasts grew much more than expected. One night at the dinner table dad looked over at me as though he hadn’t seen me before and mumbled something like “heavenly endowed.” I took this as a real compliment and thanked him. Then he said I had misheard him. He didn’t say I was “heavenly endowed,” he said I “HEAVILY endowed.” He said I looked like a “dead man’s drop.” That hurt. Anything that involved the word “heavy” was an acknowledged failure on my part. The bra size was really outside of my control. I could work on my weight but that has always remained on the “heavy” side. Dads have a big impact on their daughters whether they know it or not.

My dad and mom are on the right. I'm at the end of the table.

My dad and mom are on the right. I'm at the end of the table.

Thanksgiving

The Thanksgiving meal and Christmas as well were events where you were supposed to become so engorged that you couldn’t do anything more constructive than losing your belt and getting horizontal. We came from a culture where to compliment someone’s cooking was to go back for seconds and thirds. I only see now what a waste that was. Pie was more than a dessert, it was more than a treat, it was a reward, and the more pie the better the reward.

There were six of us counting my parents and together we could nearly finish off a whole roasted turkey, 2 pheasants, all stuffed, a can of cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes with gravy, green beans, a jello salad, and then clean up an apple pie, pumpkin pie, and cherry pie. That is a lot of food. It makes me ill to think of it today.

The Clean Your Plate Club

I was a card-carrying member of the Clean Your Plate club like my mother before me. Unfortunately, I taught all this to my children as well. However, luckily for them, I was divorced from their dad when they were only one and two years old. This meant it was just them and me on a very tight budget. Having extras was really not an option. We couldn’t have desserts. If they didn’t want to finish, it was just too much trouble to fight them on it. So I retreated into my loneliness and finished it off food for them. This didn’t help my weight but it may have helped theirs. I often served what they wanted rather than what might have been healthier. My oldest was often asking for hotdogs for dinner. And she would eat it without the bread. Fine with me. I didn’t have the energy for a battle of the wills.

Preparing food is one of life's great joys, but a lot of times, parents ask their kids if they want to cook with them and then tell them to go peel a bag of potatoes. That's not cooking - that's working!

— Guy Fieri

The four of us around the table.

The four of us around the table.

A Typical Dinner

My dad was a “steak and potatoes” kind of guy. A typical dinner with my family in the ’60s involved potatoes, usually fried, meat of some kind, usually fried, and a vegetable in small portions. A family of six, we could devour a whole fried chicken. Dad was from Indiana and those Hoosiers always had fried potatoes. Fried cut in discs, cut in cubes, mashed and then fried in pancakes, or baked and stuffed with bacon, cheese, and onion. Often the fried potatoes came with gravy. Even I can see that adding gravy on top was unnecessary but dad loved it.

I’m now in my mid-sixties and have to work at keeping my high cholesterol down to normal ranges. Is it any wonder?

Mom and me.

Mom and me.

Final Thoughts

It has taken me two years to lose these last 40 pounds. I’m still 60 pounds overweight but losing is a better trend than gaining, so I will reward myself with a new top.

What do you think the solution is to the Clean Your Plate Club dilemma? Were you raised like that? Is the latest generation healthier or not? I’d love to hear your thoughts on the issue. Leave me a comment below and we’ll discuss it.

Comments

Denise McGill (author) from Fresno CA on July 22, 2021:

Peggy Woods,

I agree with you. I always wanted to send my cooked carrots and beets to those starving children then we would both be happy. It was a strange logic, all right. Thanks for commenting.

Blessings,

Denise

Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on July 22, 2021:

I think that growing up shortly after the Great Depression was still in our parent's minds. We were also told to clean our plates and that people in other parts of the world were starving. It is a bit crazy that type of logic, or should I say lack of logic? You were a cute child and youngster.

Denise McGill (author) from Fresno CA on July 22, 2021:

I think we are plagued with the media idealizing the thin and slim woman as ideal and the normal range woman as chunky. What's a Raphaelesque woman to do. Remember who Raphael painted women? The ideal back then was round and plump. There is my problem. I was born in the wrong time! Thanks for commenting.

Blessings,

Denise

Denise McGill (author) from Fresno CA on February 28, 2021:

Devika Primić,

I know you are right. It has made me more diligent and stronger to have to constantly monitor my eating and my weight. Thanks for commenting.

Blessings,

Denise

Denise McGill (author) from Fresno CA on December 27, 2020:

DDE,

I'm happy you haven't had this kind of challenging upbringing to overcome. I never thought of it that way but I bet I am stronger because of the constant fight with my weight. Thanks for commenting.

Blessings,

Denise

Devika Primić from Dubrovnik, Croatia on December 27, 2020:

Denise I have not experienced anything like what you have described here. However, your growing up times must have been challenging in that time. Thank you for sharing your side of it. Sounds like you have had many challenges and that is what makes you stronger.

Denise McGill (author) from Fresno CA on December 20, 2020:

Pamela Oglesby,

Actually, I'm not on a diet per se, but a portion control regiment. I gave up meat 2 years ago for my health and I've been slowly losing since then. But I eat whatever I want, I just make sure the portions are small and only eat when I feel "hunger" that is, the growl that my body is calling for food. If my head says "wouldn't it be nice to eat" I resist and wait for the growl. It's hard but it seems to be working for me. After 2 years I have lost 44 pounds and counting. As long as I don't gain it back I'm happy.

Blessings,

Denise

Denise McGill (author) from Fresno CA on December 20, 2020:

Lora Hollings,

Parenting is about the hardest job I know of in that just about anything you do or say can have a profound impact on your children for the rest of their lives. What an awesome responsibility. I remember one time my husband lovingly referred to the girls as "Heffer" only because he was raised in a culture that used that term for all the girls. But the girls took it negatively thinking he called them cows. I told him he shouldn't use that term again and he didn't but the girls still talk about it. It is scary enough to make you rethink parenting at all.

Blessings,

Denise

Lora Hollings on December 18, 2020:

Your article is very revealing, Denise, about a mindset during this era. Many parents would reprimand their children for not eating everything in their plates or make them feel guilty by saying, "there are those that are starving, and you won't even finish your dinner." So, how is finishing everything in you plate going to help those that are starving? My parents didn't scold me for not finishing all of my food but we were certainly ridiculed by my father if we were slightly overweight. As a result of this, some of us became almost anorexic and would go to bed hungry just so that we would look slim. He almost had an obsession with this that effected our self-image quite negatively. Today, I'm a little underweight for my height but I eat a very healthy diet and walk daily for exercise. You make a very profound point in your article that parent's beliefs and attitudes can effect a child for the rest of their lives. As parents we really need to think about this and ask ourselves about what we are teaching our children and are these beliefs really based on what is best for them? Thanks for sharing.

Denise McGill (author) from Fresno CA on December 18, 2020:

Mary Norton,

You are very lucky you were so picky. If only I had been I wouldn't be struggling so much now. It is so much harder to lose weight after 60 than before. Thanks for commenting.

Blessings,

Denise

Mary Norton from Ontario, Canada on December 16, 2020:

I was a picky child, I hated fatty foods, and my parents were worried then, but I think this accounted for my good health today.

Denise McGill (author) from Fresno CA on December 16, 2020:

Marie, I paid the price too. I had very few friends in high school, but the few I had didn't care how I did my hair so I figure they were true friends. Today, however, people who wouldn't even speak to me in school, come up to me and greet me like we were best of friends in high school. It's amazing how petty those times were. To me, it is like an elephant in the room that they never acknowledge that they snubbed me then but are greeting me now. Hmmm.

Blessings,

Denise

Marie Flint from Jacksonville, FL USA on December 16, 2020:

Good for you, Denise. So many young ladies want to be different--if the hair is straight, they want curly and vice versa. I'm proud of you to be happy with who you are.

Denise McGill (author) from Fresno CA on December 15, 2020:

Carb Diva,

I'm glad you liked my curls. I was always a bit contrary. When the rest of the girls were ironing their hair in high school in the 70's, I was still sporting the Shirley Temple look and proud that my hair could do that naturally. I had one friend offer to help me iron my hair and I gasped. No way. I like my curls. I didn't care that it wasn't popular. Thanks for commenting.

Blessings,

Denise

Denise McGill (author) from Fresno CA on December 15, 2020:

billybuc,

It is interesting, isn't it? I can totally see my mom's point of view having lived through the Depression. But I hope I have curbed some of that wastefulness with my children and grandchildren. Thanks for commenting.

Blessings,

Denise

Denise McGill (author) from Fresno CA on December 15, 2020:

surovi99,

I enjoyed the photos you shared of your childhood as well. It gave me the idea to share some of mine as well. Thanks for commenting.

Blessings,

Denise

Denise McGill (author) from Fresno CA on December 15, 2020:

RoadMonkey,

What a great compromise your mom gave you. There was no compromise with my mom. If we were too full we could skip dessert that was all. Thanks for commenting.

Blessings,

Denise

RoadMonkey on December 15, 2020:

As a child we were told to clean our plates too but it was hard for Sunday dinners, so our mother asked what would be better? She had always plated our meals (5 kids) and gave us too much. We asked for the veg to be put in dishes so we could help ourselves. If we wanted more, we could have it after we had finished what we had. We took less and had clean plates, so everyone was happy.

Linda Lum from Washington State, USA on December 14, 2020:

Denise, I grew up in the same era as did you (a bit older but things really didn't change from the 1950s to the 60s. We were always encouraged to "clean our plates." In my family, wasting food was like breaking the 11th commandment. Thankfully, I was a premie baby and have always been small. Thanks for sharing your story (and BTW those Shirley Temple curls are adorable).

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on December 14, 2020:

Thanks for sharing part of your story, my friend, and blessings to you always. It is so interesting to study and societal norms of different times, and compare them to today.

Rosina S Khan on December 13, 2020:

Denise, my family also encouraged to clean the plate during our childhood but we were advised to take as little as we can absorb and consume, rather than filling our plates and wasting food.

Now in my adulthood, I find eating smaller portions of food, eating fish rather than chicken or beef, a 10-minute daily walk and cutting off carbs and sugar from my daily diet help to keep my ideal weight stable.

I enjoyed your side of the story. I really like your chubby photo as a kid. Thanks for sharing this article.

Denise McGill (author) from Fresno CA on December 13, 2020:

Peggy W,

Giving away food and not keeping "trigger" foods in the house is a good suggestion. I rarely buy chocolate because it is my trigger food. I think we are kindred spirits. Thanks for commenting.

Blessings,

Denise

Denise McGill (author) from Fresno CA on December 13, 2020:

Rochelle Frank,

You are what my children would call "a lucky duck." I've heard about people like you but meet very few of them. You should rejoice with such a metabolism as yours. Thanks for commenting.

Blessings,

Denise

Denise McGill (author) from Fresno CA on December 13, 2020:

annart,

I always wondered if there was a different culture that didn't have the clean your plate club like here in the states. I always thought it was a left-over from the Depression that made people really despise waste of any kind. You ate what was cooked... all of it. Thanks so much for your comments and insight.

Blessings,

Denise

Denise McGill (author) from Fresno CA on December 13, 2020:

Robie Benve,

You are so right. I have found food tastes better when I am actually hungry for it. Maybe we should let the children get good and hungry if they are picky eaters. Anything is good if you are really hungry. Thanks for commenting.

Blessings,

Denise

Pamela Oglesby from Sunny Florida on December 13, 2020:

I was taught to clean my plate also. Your upbringing sounds a lot like mine. I grew up in Ohio. I loss weight in high school when I discovered I did like boys. I have been off and on diets throughout my life.

Losing 40 pounds is terrific, Denise. Are you on a paticular diet? I really enjoyed your article as it sure brought back memories.

Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on December 13, 2020:

As children, growing up in the same era as you, we were told to clean our plates. Desserts were often served at the end of a meal. So we have that in common. I was my thinnest during my college years, but have fought excess weight for most of my life. Now, when I make desserts, other than a taste, we share them with our neighbors. We don't keep ice cream or other goodies in the house.

Rochelle Frank from California Gold Country on December 13, 2020:

I was one of the skinny kids, growing up in the 50's, though I was always encouraged to eat more. We didn't have desserts on a regular basis and I was the oddball kid who didn't care much for ice cream. In high school I drank a glass of 1/2 and 1/2 with dinner instead of milk to keep my weight up. Married in '62 at 5'8" I weighed almost 120. by the time I was 35 I weighed 135 which is what I am now--- in between I got up to 170, but slowly that came back down over the past 10 years. Never have really been on a "diet".

Ann Carr from SW England on December 13, 2020:

We were encouraged to clean our plates if at others' houses - as you say, out of respect and thanks, a compliment to the cooking.

However, having the choice of the quantity of food that went on my plate, and then being asked to eat what I said I wanted, is a different thing. That's what I passed on to my children and it seems to work. In fact, it gets passed on to their own children now!

We didn't eat to excess (there were only 3 of us most of the time), nor do I remember any of my friends' families doing so. Maybe it's the difference in cultures at that time, I don't know.

Now that we're all encouraged to eat more fruit and veg and more eco-friendly and chemical-free foods, it seems that we can save the planet at the same time as saving our health. I'm reading a book by Ruby Wax at the moment, called 'And now for the good news'. It's a revelation and gives hope for the future, in all sorts of aspects, including the production of food, what we eat and the way we eat it. It also has a refreshing view on education.

Love all your photos. They bring back similar scenes of my home and my family's meal times, with grandparents etc. All was homely and we had discussions round the table - no eating off a tray on your lap in front of the TV!

Great hub, Denise, and you bring up some important issues.

Ann

Robie Benve from Ohio on December 13, 2020:

We have this conversation often, as kids some of us were forced to eat beyond our hunger level because it was perceived as what good, caring parents should do for their kids. Most chubby kids end up fighting to keep a healthy wait for the rest of their life. I don't know the science behind it, but there is surely something there that should become advice to every pregnant woman on how to handle picky eaters and no-so-hungry kids.

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