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Suicide [This post comes with a serious trigger warning]

February 23, 2012

Major trigger warnings for discussions of bullying and suicide.

Every day for the past week on reddit.com/r/bodyacceptance, I’ve posted an article about a child who took their own life, partially or in whole, because of fat stigma, such as the death of a Ashlynn Connor, a 10-year-old girl; the double suicide of two 14-year-olds, Haylee Fentress and Paige Moravetz; Jeremy Wise, a 14 year old boy , and many more.

Why? Because I want people to realize how serious Body Acceptance and Fat Acceptance are. It’s not just fatties trying to find an excuse to keep being fat, which is what so many people perceive it to be. Even people who may agree with many of us don’t necessarily see it as the human rights struggle that it is. I wrote it for my fellow body loving redditors, but also for the trolls that often visit. Here’s what I wrote on r/bodyacceptance:

So, every day I’ve been posting a new link about someone who committed suicide in part or whole because of weight stigma. Why? Because, while we post a lot about dealing with that stigma, experiencing that stigma, and overcoming that stigma, I think it’s easy to overlook the depth of the seriousness of these things. The reality is that people die, people take their own lives, children take their own lives, because of weight stigma. It’s not just, as the majority of sizists would like to believe, some bruised feelings and pride. The vast majority of fat people that I know have, at one point, attempted suicide specifically due to weight stigma and, what’s perhaps worse, many of them were told to do so by thin people who are full of pure hatred of fat people. And I don’t want to hear “but being fat kills too so who cares if a few people kill themselves? It’s less than the people dying of heart disease”. It’s a pitiful and pathetic argument, especially considering that, even if fat did cause heart disease, making fat people miserable and suicidal isn’t making them thinner. You’re not saving anyone by shaming them. You’re just adding to the body count.

People look at the Fat Acceptance movement and think it’s just a bunch of people who want to have an excuse to stay fat. It’s more serious than that. It’s a human rights issue, no different from any other human rights issues. As a member of the LGBT community I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard people claim that being non-straight just wasn’t healthy. “Just look at all the gays dying of AIDS” they claim. But stigmatizing gay people won’t make them less gay. Instead the issue of safe sex should be addressed, just as the issue of healthy lifestyles should be addressed instead of shaming fat people. “But fat is a choice!” you say. Except that no one can provide a single method of getting thin that is safe, sustainable, and effective for even a moderate number of fat people, let alone all of them or most of them.

We need to start treating this as the crisis that it is. Not a crisis of fatness, but a crisis of the violation of human rights.

Then I added that I’m thinking about starting a blog specifically for people to submit (anonymously, if they wish) personal stories about fat stigma and suicide (and possibly eating disorders as well, what do you all think?). I wanted to add on that post my own story, but I wasn’t feeling up to facing the trolls, so I’d like to tell it here.

I posted stories of suicides, but we should remember that completing suicide is the most visible part of the problem, but many, many children (and adults) attempt or contemplate suicide due to fat stigma without completing it.

I’m going to go ahead and divulge that I was a skinny, skinny child up until around 8 years old. I plumped up quickly, the reason for which is unclear. What is clear, however, is the stark difference in how I was treated. Skinny Heather was popular, had “boyfriends” (and lots of them),  and never heard a negative word about her body. Skinny Heather had never had a suicidal thought. A year later and Fat Heather had lost all of her friends. The only boys that asked out Fat Heather were doing so for a joke or a dare. Fat Heather was ridiculed by her peers and family. Fat Heather was beat up, had bricks thrown at her while walking home from school, and withdrew so much that she was put into a special program at her school.

Fat Heather, attempted suicide.

Keep in mind, I didn’t spend as much time being fat as many kids who are ridiculed. My son goes to school with a girl, his best friend and (according to him) future wife, and she’s already fat. She’s starting out her school life in that position. I was only fat for a couple of years. Two years of fat and the extreme stigma, bullying, and discrimination that came with it and, at 10 years old, I attempted suicide.

I thought about it for a while and decided that the easiest, least painful way to go about it was to hang myself from a rope that my brother used to swing on and play with in a tree in our back yard. I spent a couple of days wrapping things around my neck just to see how it would feel. I was strangely casual about it. I didn’t plan a date or write a note or take a death walk out to the back yard. I was simply playing outside, looked over and thought, “Now’s a good time I guess.”

I feel like 10-year-olds now have a greater understanding of death and suicide than I did at that age 16 years ago. Media portrayals of death, violence, and self-inflicted harm have gotten detailed and fairly accurate, and there’s always the internet. But for me, at ten, I was pretty terrible at suicide. I did fall to the ground and lose consciousness for all of a few seconds (I’m assuming it was a few seconds), but no real damage was done and no one ever found out. I didn’t make an attempt again for another two years.

So when people feel shocked at how bad it’s gotten when a 10-year-old attempts suicide, I want them to know that it’s always been that bad, you just weren’t paying attention. Recently a string of gay suicides led to extensive media coverage, activists speaking out, and many schools instituting new anti-bullying policies. As a member of the LGBT community, I appreciate this greatly and I think it’s a fantastic testament to just how far we’ve come as a country.

But now I ask, what about the fat kids? Their media coverage (you know, the coverage on how bullying is effecting them, not on how to bully them more)? Their anti-bullying policies? There can be no “It Gets Better” campaign for fat children because it doesn’t get better. As a fat adult I’m still subjected to pranks, verbal assault, physical assault, stigma, and discrimination.

When are we, as a society, going to step up and stop this? When are we, as human beings, going to stand up for these children? And why, why, are the life threatening effects of fat hatred being so ignored?

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23 Comments leave one →
  1. February 23, 2012 11:19 am

    You could have been talking about me there. Except I think I was younger when I got fat. Thank you for sharing it.

  2. Alice permalink
    February 23, 2012 11:26 am

    Thank you for sharing your story, and the stories of others, which need to be told. It is very painful to read, and I am so grateful you are alive to tell it, and to help others with it, including me. Thank you for giving voice to the pain of fat discrimination and rejection. In Fat Acceptance, I think there is so much pressure to try to be ok with ourselves, that there is not the safe space to talk about the pain. However, you are creating that opening. Thank you so much.

  3. vesta44 permalink
    February 23, 2012 1:09 pm

    Thank you for sharing this, and I’m also glad you’re here to tell your story and the stories of those who didn’t make it. This is something that needs to be told, and told, and told until people really start to listen and realize how harmful bullying and stigmatization is.

  4. Len permalink
    February 23, 2012 8:10 pm

    That was brave. Brave and important. Thank you.

    Len

  5. Lillian permalink
    February 23, 2012 9:19 pm

    I got ‘fat’ at thirteen. I was teased horribly. I was accused of stuffing my bra: I developed early. There was a poster at my middle school that a girl my height should weigh 90 pounds when I weighed 124. I wish I was joking. I felt like I had to weigh no more than 110 (my doctor’s suggestion), but I couldn’t diet to below 114. When I was teased unmercifully, I had a BMI of 23 or less. It doesn’t matter if the girl is ‘fat’, only that she’s perceived as such.

  6. February 24, 2012 12:53 am

    Thank you for this piece. It needs to be widely shared.

  7. LittleBigGirl permalink
    February 24, 2012 10:57 am

    Thank you for sharing. I thought I would share some of my own story. I did not know I was fat until the kids at school started calling me fat. I actually wasn’t until later but back then it was just another thing to add to the list of why I was a freak/unwanted/outcast. For the girls ‘fat’ was the worst insult you could throw at each other. My mom nagged me about my weight and what I ate (out of horribly misplaced concern and love of course), so I felt like she was siding with the bullies and that I deserved to be treated badly at school.
    I got bullied and scorned in gym because I wasn’t ‘good enough’ – I just wanted to have fun but everyone was so competitive. I got teased for dancing so I lost my joy in that.
    Almost every day after school I would walk home (alone of course always alone) and stop at the drug store and buy 4 candy bars. Then I would go home and lie on my bed and eat all of them. I became a compulsive eater. Sugar, esp. chocolate was my self-medication. I ate because I literally didn’t have anything else to do. I ate because I was hurt and angry and lonely and bored and food was my only comfort. I was going to get picked on no matter what I did so it didn’t matter what I did. I had no love for myself before I gained weight and definitely not after. I don’t know if I still would have been chubby if I hadn’t developed an eating disorder and had my love of physical activity squashed – most of my family esp. the women have been heavier. The thing is we’ll never know – my natural development was highjacked by my eating disorder when I was in the 4th grade. I never yo-yoed I just straight out binged – there was a hole in my heart that I was trying to fill with food so the thought of depriving myself never crossed my mind.
    My depression and isolation (and hatred of gym class and organized sports) continued until I had a nervous breakdown and dropped out of high school at the start of my junior year. I spent about a year not living. By that I mean I was basically a depression zombie. I was so dead inside already that I didn’t care whether I lived or died – I was too numb to even consider suicide. I just ate and slept. My parents finally put me in an outpatient program in the psychiatric wing of the local hospital. I started to claw my way out of the mental/emotional pit I was in. I said fuck high school and did Running Start which allowed me to go straight to community college and get hs credit as well.
    It took me a long time (and additional trauma that caused a full-on PTSD flashback attack) to figure out I was a trauma survivor. I found an awesome counselor (savvyselfesteem.com) who one day, when I was talking about being fat, told me about self-acceptance and emailed me a link to Ragen’s Dances With Fat blog. Life has never been the same and I mean that in the best possible way.
    The two best books I ever found about bullying are “Please Stop Laughing At Me” and the even more moving (and helpful to adults) “Please Stop Laughing At Us” both by Jodee Blanco.

    It does get better – not because other people treat you better but because *you* can learn to treat you better. That is the core of self-acceptance and it is the most wonderful, powerful thing you can find for yourself.

  8. March 1, 2012 8:45 am

    Thank you for doing this, Heather. For me every day is a struggle to accept myself, let alone come anywhere close to liking myself. Over the holidays I had a relapse and cut myself for the first time in more than 5 years. I think it is important that these things be brought to light.

  9. Carl. permalink
    April 30, 2012 9:32 pm

    Being overweight is my worst nightmare. I didn’t grow up fat. I was my right weight until I was 21 pretty much. I remember being in junior high school and I was 30 pounds overweight and was bullied relentlessly. I was torment daily to deal with the bully. After dealing with him for 2 years straight he killed himself. I was so relieved to not have to deal with him anymore. I then ended up in a boarding school and was tormented and teased for being overweight there also. Being fat is probably the worst thing that ever happened to me. Being gay is nothing in comparison to being fat. I am gay and being fat is by far harder to me. I am not feminine though so I could hide being gay. I can’t hide being fat. I am now 43 and 432 pounds. Once you are this big it is next to impossbile to overcome. I live on ssi and don’t see any hope for the future. I can see why people that are overweight commit suicide. It is not a joyful and worthwhile existence anymore. I think being tormented and bullied so long just got to me and now it is in me and has taken over. Good luck to those that have the strength to deal with it, I don’t.

    • April 30, 2012 10:51 pm

      Carl,
      I hope that you keep some hope in your heart because it doesn’t have to be the nightmare you feel it is. If you have health issues, there are options, but if your weight is the only “health” issue you have, then I would recommend that you hold off on feeling hopeless. The human body is an amazing machine, and there are ways that each of us can care for our bodies and improve how we feel, both physically and mentally. And bullies… well, that you can you work on from the comfort of your own home, building your self-confidence and learning to see that they have no power over you, and that they’re just as flawed as the projection they cast over you. You aren’t alone in your struggle for self-worth. When you were a child, that’s just how bullies operated, whether you were fat, skinny, tall or short… bullies just look for an easy target (someone who isn’t assertive or self-confident usually works), then they find something to torment you about.

      And what was once a schoolyard phenomenon has become a systematic attempt to dehumanize you and make you feel as worthless and unlovable as possible. The result, it’s hoped, is that you will spend decades of your life, and thousands of your dollars, in an attempt to lose weight. Those who are bullied are more likely try and get off their bully’s radar by changing the offending attribute, which, unlike height, is something that’s perceived to be malleable.

      Even at 432 pounds, if you don’t have a major medical issue, you can still train your body to carry your weight. I would be happy to speak with you about this privately if you prefer. I’ve sent you an email to confirm that your email is valid. I hope you don’t throw in the towel on your life because at 43, there’s still plenty of living that you can do.

      Peace,
      Shannon

    • September 9, 2012 9:54 pm

      Carl,

      I went to a boarding school too and I was chubby and I was a foreigner, so I feel your pain there. My parents valued being thin over all else, so no matter how much I worked at being thin, I could never be thin enough. Now I’m an adult and I’m very fat.

      I just a couple years younger than you and I’m just now learning how to feed myself in a way that’s good for me mentally and physically. Good lord knows every day isn’t puppies and rainbows, but I keep getting up every morning.

      Keep at life, you can be healthy and fat. Check out the Fit Fatties forum and see what other people are doing. Please keep posting here too.

  10. September 8, 2012 12:02 pm

    Heather, I am writing a blog post about Suicide Prevention Week (which happens to be next week, and I am going to include a link to this post…This is so important and timely considering that just a week later it is Weight Stigma Awareness Week…something tells me the two weeks should be combined, what do you think?
    Warmly, Dr. Deah

    • hlkolaya permalink
      September 10, 2012 8:26 am

      Thank you so much for including a link to my post in your amazing article- it’s an honor. and you’re right, it would be so appropriate if the two weeks were to overlap. people need to know that this is a serious and real issue.

  11. September 8, 2012 1:07 pm

    I have never attempted suicide for any reason, but I have considered it in the last year a few times. Not because of my weight, but because of other circumstances that have changed my life from what was a happy existence to a hellish nightmare. But, my weight has always been an issue. I was a chubby little child and now an obese (I guess that’s the term but that term makes me feel sick and hateful) adult. I have never had a boyfriend, and the men to whom I’m attracted find me repulsive (at least I assume so since as soon as they sense I”m interested they act like I have the plague). I have suffered from size discrimination in every aspect of my life, yet somehow I have never considered it a reason to end my life. That being said, I can’t imagine how horrible things must be to think your life isn’t worth living because of your weight. I’m so sorry to anyone who has experienced this kind of pain and hopelessness. But to some extent, I understand you just want the pain and hurt and heartache to end, because it just feels like it will never end. I wish for all people to feel accepted and loved and desired as humans. We need to see the beauty in all of us and stop hurting people so much they can’t go on living.

  12. December 3, 2012 12:19 pm

    Thank you for posting this. I had a very triggering day, and your post helped me. (I know it may sound odd that I read a post with trigger warnings then, but my triggers were other things.) I’m so sorry for what you went through and for what all fat kids must endure.

  13. Carl permalink
    April 20, 2014 6:57 pm

    I haven’t posted in a long time. I am still fat and miserable. I feel so damn fat lately. It is really getting to me. Anything I eat bloats me and makes me so big. I carry my weight in my stomach and it feels like I have been pregnant for 20 years. Now I am 43 and feel like I am having triplets. I am really getting hopeless about this. On top of all this I am bipolar. I have gained another 160 pounds from all the psych treatments on top of the 100 pounds I was already overweight. I just wanna die sometimes so I don’t have to deal with this anymore. Besides my body being ruined obesity is so disabling. I have bad feet also which makes the weight so much worse. I mean I feel like everything works against me. I try to be positive sometimes and all this weight just is too much for me to deal with. I am off all meds which I couldn’t take the side effects. I almost won the lottery last week. I have so wanted to win the lottery for 17 years. I was literally one digit away from 200,000.00. I ended up winning only a 100.00. Talk about depressing. I tell God. You better do something soon otherwise I am going to lose all hope. I have only one friend left and they are laid up now cuz of knee surgery. So now I basically have no friends. I go to therapy. I might be kicked out of my therapy program this week. I fought with the staff at my therapy program cuz of frustration and anger over living with my brothers who are extremely verbally abusive. I hope to one day have my own place so I can work on myself. I can’t take being called names and put down everyday and go work on myself. My self esteem is shot. I can’t even face people anymore. I am so humiliated the way I look. I avoid public places cuz of the way I look. I recently went to a movie after so long. This man was taking pictures of his kids in the theater. I asked him if he could pleases stop cuz of the flash going in my eyes each time he took a picture. He yelled at me and told me I was a fat ass. I was so humiliated. I mean he did this in front of the whole theater that was filled with people. I wanted to go kill myself afterward. It’s not just what other people think of me though. I just can’t stand being fat. I hate my body and I am so uncomfortable with all this weight. I can’t even stand up and pee for Gods sake. I kind of hope I just have a heart attack eventually so I don’t have to off myself. .

    • rach permalink
      July 11, 2014 11:26 pm

      Carl,
      I’m sorry you’re hurting. Even people that are skinny feel like shit about themselves. I’m sorry you’re struggling and that food is your refuge and that you feel trapped in the cycle. Life is lived one day at a time. All you have is this moment right now. Thinking about the next then the next moment is overwhelming. So just make a choice one moment at a time to live for you. Notb for food. Not for pity. Moments add up. Help yourself and keep reaching out. If you do it enough then resolve will build. It won’t hurt to try, ya? Ps about half of the worlds most successful innovators, actors and leaders are bipolar.

    • Dizzyd permalink
      August 17, 2014 7:07 pm

      Carl, I can tell you’re a beautiful human being. I feel bad that you are hurting. I know none of us can really understand your experiences, but we understand what it feels like to be made to feel less than. You’re a wonderful person, and don’t deserve to be abused verbally like that. It’s sad that people can be so hurtful and inconsiderate of how they make others feel. Is there any way anyone here knows of that he can find help for these physical problems or the emotional burdens he’s feeling? I don’t want him to feel alone. I know it feels like you don’t want to burden anyone else, but that’s what we’re here for – to help you feel like you’re not carrying your burden alone. We care about you, because you are unique and special, and a fellow human being. No one deserves to be alone.

  14. August 15, 2014 2:30 pm

    With the suicide awareness week and weight stigma awareness week coming up in September, it may be time for a repost of this excellent blog piece.

    • hlkolaya permalink
      August 16, 2014 1:36 pm

      good idea! and thank you! sometimes it’s hard to feel like anything i do or say makes a difference, but responses to posts like this keep me going.

  15. Dizzyd permalink
    August 17, 2014 7:20 pm

    Heather, thank you for telling your story here. I can’t believe how cruel people can be, esp. to those who don’t fit some very narrow and impossible ideal. Throwing bricks at a girl, heck even a boy is bad. That is seriously messed up. Unfortunately, bullies don’t care if they hurt you. They WANT to hurt you, and yet the fact that the one guy who bullied Carl killed himself shows that they are just as miserable as you if not more so. Until we change our society and stop thinking that only thin is acceptable and should be pushed on fatties to change by any means necessary (don’t want any nonconformists!), this nightmare will continue.

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