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Opening Dialogue

February 20, 2012

I know that FFFs has had an influx of readers lately (waves!) and that a big part of that is the discussion surrounding Strong4Life’s disturbingly brutal campaign against fat kids. I’ve actually not involved myself too much into this discussion. It’s seemed bigger than I had the energy to take on, and the people on the front line are doing such an excellent job. But yesterday I finally hopped on the Strong4Life Facebook page and took a good look at what was going on.

What struck me was the insistence by the Strong4Life folks that all they wanted to do was open a dialogue about the whole fat-kids problem. Some supporters call the graphic bullying billboards “daring” and compare it to anti-smoking campaigns that opened dialogue about the whole lung-cancer problem.

It goes without saying that I don’t believe there is a fat-kids problem. There might be a kids-spend-too-much-time-playing-passively problem. Or a getting-nutritious-food-into-kids problem. But those problems affect kids of all sizes. Fat kids aren’t a problem. They’re children for fuck’s sake. Human children, with human rights.

So, I thought I’d write today something for parents who are concerned with their kids health. A manifesto, if you will, for parents who want to open a dialogue that doesn’t lead to lifelong self-hatred and future therapy bills.

First the no-nos:

  1. Do not, ever, sit your child down and start a dialogue with any variation of, “Sweetheart, we need to talk about your weight.” No matter how many times you tell your child that you’re doing this for their own good and because you love them, and indeed no matter how much you love them, this will do far more damage than good. Every. Single. Time.
  2. If your children range in size, as children often do, please do not make a special effort to get one to eat his or her vegetables and limit his or her Xbox time, while holding up the other as an example. Please don’t. Just don’t.
  3. Don’t equate your child’s body size with his or her value. No offering money for pounds lost. Don’t wait to buy your kid new clothes until they’ve lost some weight. And please, try not to give your hungry child a disapproving look when he or she eats. Hunger is normal. Even for fat people who, believe it or not, cannot comfortably live on their fat stores alone. Don’t praise weight loss. Don’t wring your hands over weight gain.

And the please-dos:

  1. If you’re concerned with the amount of exercise your child gets, go outside and play with them. I promise you that they will gain the benefits of the exercise whether or not you point out to them that it might shrink their bodies.
  2. Fill your kitchen with a wide variety of foods. If you don’t think your kids should eat Twinkies or Happy Meals, the simple answer is to just not buy them. Like with exercise, whatever benefit you believe your kid will get from not eating these foods doesn’t hinge on you making sure they know that his or her fat ass is something disgusting that must be reduced at all costs.
  3. Take some time to figure out what’s awesome about your own body. Here’s a hint: Everything about it is awesome. Once you’ve got your own self-acceptance bolstered, share that with your kidlets. It’s one of the best gifts you can offer them. Let them see you enjoying exercise and eating a wide variety of foods. Your child’s body is a miracle. It is. I promise. Not it will be. Or it could be, if only they’d stop eating so much. It is. Help them see that by treating your own body like the miracle it is. That means no more hating on your thighs or belly or the size of your hips. No more refusing to wear a bathing suit or wearing a cardigan when it’s 90 degrees outside to hide your arms. Learning how to love your body is a gift to your children, who, I promise, are soaking up everything you say and do like the little sponges they are.

Here’s the thing: every human being benefits from increased exercise (of a type that suits their abilities) and eating a varied diet of nutritious foods. Not just the fat ones. And here’s more: As much as your child’s physical health is your responsibility, so is his or her emotional and psychic health.

Do the right thing.

8 Comments leave one →
  1. February 20, 2012 9:49 am

    BRAVA!!! That was beautifully said, and I echo every single word, especially in the “no-nos” section. Those things are just brutally cruel to do to a child and they last. I am living proof of how badly even the most respectful weight conversations can result in devastated self-esteem and worse, devastated self-worth. Children’s bodies are part of them, and they internalize that deeply. Telling a child that his body is faulty is not the same thing as telling him that he makes bad choices; it’s the same thing as telling him he IS bad – right to his very core, and that can take years and years of therapy to overcome. Again, I am living proof of this, and not through any desire of my parents to harm me. They thought they were doing the right thing, but they were wrong.

  2. vesta44 permalink
    February 20, 2012 10:03 am

    Yes! This, so much this! I’ve asked those who are so gung-ho for the S4L campaign, several times, “What happens when these fat kids start eating healthily, exercising, and improve their health, but don’t lose weight? Are you going to call them failures just because they didn’t get thin? Are you going to say that they should continue to be shamed and bullied because eating healthily and exercising didn’t make them thin, even though their health improved? If you are, then that tells me this campaign isn’t about children’s health at all – it’s about aesthetics – the fact that you can’t stand looking at fat kids’/adults’ bodies. That is bigotry and deserves nothing but contempt and scorn.”
    None of the commenters have answered that question and neither has S4L, which doesn’t surprise me at all. They are not going to admit to their bigotry, they’re going to continue to say it’s all about “health”, but I think we all know better, since they aren’t addressing the health of kids who aren’t fat and don’t eat healthy meals or exercise.

  3. February 20, 2012 10:06 am

    Any medical professional or organization considering an anti-obesity awareness campaign needs to read these suggestions and take them to heart. You can address health issues without shaming fat kids, and this is a big part of how to do it. Thanks Shaunta!


  4. February 20, 2012 10:09 am

    Shaunta, you have hit the nail on the head 100%. Thank you so much. I’m going to keep this link so that when a client asks me what to do about their kid’s weight, I can just point them here.

    The Fat Personal Trainer /

  5. Rubyfruit permalink
    February 20, 2012 11:43 am

    Standing ovation~!

    Trust me, I had parents who did #2 in the What Not to Dos to me, but it had slightly more to do with the fact that I was pretty much a finicky eater until I was thirteen than the fact that I needed a bigger pants size. Though that, yeah, didn’t help. It really didn’t help that I only liked the exercises that didn’t “count” as such.

  6. February 20, 2012 12:02 pm

    When Hannah Arendt was attending grade school in pre-Nazi Germany (decades before she introduced “the banality of evil” concept into our lexicon), her mother advised Hannah to matter-of-factly excuse herself, leave the classroom, and return home straight away whenever a teacher made anti-Semitic remarks. Her mother would then write a letter of protest to the instructor–defending Hannah’s right to leave the oppressive classroom environment, as many times as necessary. Imagine the courage required to follow through with everyday actions that defy social norms! In Arend’ts later years (after publishing books about the roots of fascism and “The Human Condition”) she protested the use of newspaper photographs portraying frightened black children in the U.S. who were being verbally assaulted by white mobs during attempts at integration. Apparently, Arendt believed that children should not be used as media pawns in adult battles over human rights (out of respect for the need to preserve children’s sense of dignity and self pride). My point is this: hooray for contemporary adults who champion the rights of oppressed children, praise to grown ups who refuse to collude with social forces of domination, and THANK YOU for these great reminders to all adults who truly CARE for the wellness and well being of children.

  7. Duckie Graham permalink
    February 20, 2012 1:00 pm

    Terrific bit of blogging here…

    Regarding Do #3: I try, but I’m sure I can’t fully imagine how different my life would have been if I’d had a mother who had some positive self esteem regarding her body. If I had not watched her yo-yo diet all my life and talk about despised body parts – first on her body, then on mine as I got older. Yes, she loved me immensely, and still does. She never understood what her own body negativity was doing to me. She never understood that there was even any other option. For her, the negativity was normal, expected, and the dieting was the only way she knew how to salvage some dignity. Acceptance was never something she considered as far as I’ve known. I’ve tried to talk to her about it, but she is so stuck in her thinking, she thinks I’m weird for thinking differently and doesn’t get it – yet. Naturally, I internalized a lot of this and spent way too much time hating my body (I later realized I didn’t so much hate my body as the way others treated me because of it). For way too long, my entire sense of self worth was wrapped up in how I looked. I did not look perfect, so I felt terrible. In turn, I began to look terrible to reflect my feelings and to drive others away. I entered the deepest depths of self-loathing. It’s an actual miracle I survived.

    I am immensely grateful to everyone who helped bring me out of that, everyone who dared to accept me just as I am, for exactly who I am at any given time, everyone who dared to see me as a sexual being, a whole woman, a real human. I am especially grateful to those who introduced me to size acceptance. Freedom from self-loathing may be the greatest gift I’ve ever received. I can only hope that my work to spread it around can bring others to the light the same way.

    I love my mother, but if I ever have kids, they will have quite different messages about bodies from me than I got from my mom.

  8. February 20, 2012 2:40 pm

    Yes, yes, yes to all of these. #2 in the ‘don’ts’ has particular resonance for me – constantly comparing your kid unfavorably with anyone else (not just siblings) has a very long-lasting detrimental effect. Thank you for these, Shaunta.

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