The Pit —
Trigger Warning: Really depressing testimonials of kids with negative body image who want to lose weight.
This week we’ve been inadvertently contributing to National Eating Disorders Week by discussing how the Strong4Life campaign has the potential to cause a serious spike in eating disorders in Atlanta. Tuesday, Dr. Rick Kilmer, Clinical Director for the Atlanta Center for Eating Disorders, explained how the ads have affected all of their patients, including those struggling with binge eating disorder, anorexia and bulimia. Wednesday, I shared the story of Chloe McSwain, one of the child actors from the Strong4Life ad, whose pubescent weight gain triggered the beginning of her weight worries. And Thursday, I shared the story of Stormy Bradley, mother of Maya Walters, another of the S4L actors. I shared the link with Stormy and she sent me a brief, polite note about respecting each others’ points of view.
Thursday, I also began talking about how our weight-based health culture (WBHC, for lack of a better term or acronym), which contributes to all three of perspectives. It’s the WBHC that justifies the Strong4Life campaign despite an outcry from the eating disorder community; it’s the WBHC that raises alarms when a child gains weight during puberty, even though it is expected; it’s the WBHC that convinces Stormy that although she has accomplished amazing things with her body, she still isn’t “healthy” enough until she reaches the arbitrary goal weight she set for herself.
Our WBHC is pervasive and it’s been proven a false metric of health time and time again, yet it persists. So, one last effect of that culture that I would like to share is something that I stumbled across while looking for a childhood obesity calculator. The first one I found, and used, as at a site called Blubber Busters, and, believe it or not, it’s worse than it sounds.
Fortunately, the site is no longer active from what I can tell, so at least we can take solace in that. And not only is the site a trainwreck of “health” advice, it’s also a cautionary tale about letting your 10-year-old design your website.
On the front page, it says you can live chat with Lucy. Who is Lucy? This is Lucy.
She’s a fictional character, the alter ego of Dr. Robert Pretlow, who runs this site.
Pretlow shares Lucy’s story as inspiration for fat kids, and it has to be one of the most bizarre fables I think I’ve ever read in my life. It’s called “Lucy and the Pit”.
It’s about how Lucy went to play in the wilderness with her friends one day, but because she’s such a terrible fatty, she couldn’t keep up and she had to stop to catch her breath.
When she finally caught up to her friends, she discovered that they all ran over the edge of a pit and into the cold water one by one like hapless lemmings.
In order to save her friends, Lucy dragged a fallen tree that was so heavy her friends would have buckled under the weight. Using a rock for a fulcrum, she used the log like a teeter totter to rescue each her friends from the icy pit of death.
In gratitude for saving their lives, her friends told her that she had to lose weight. I mean, sure, they all would have died if Lucy had been thin enough to keep up with them as the three idiots leaped to their deaths, and it was because of her weight that she was able to move the log and rescue her friends, but what really matters is that Lucy was a great big fatty and she needed her friends to swipe her pie from her hands.
And because her friends continued to hound Lucy about her weight, she starved herself to a socially-acceptable size and earned the privilege of being treated with dignity and respect.
Of course, a week later when they ran into the woods and fell into the pit again, all four friends died of hypothermia, but they looked great for the funeral.
Seriously, though. What the fuck is this?
Dr. Pretlow doesn’t just write terrible fables to shame fat kids into dieting, he also wrote a book that you can get for free if you’re willing to tell him that you’re not 18. Yes, your very own 333 page book of shame and stigma to keep for your very own.
And there’s so many more disturbing sections of this site, but now I want to turn to the sad sections: the testimonials.
If you’re a child who has been teased about your weight, or if you have seen the Strong4Life ads and have been terrified into action, you are not going to Google, “Healthy lifestyle changes, NOT DIET” as Stephanie Walsh, Medical Director of Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, suggests. You’re going to Google, “How do I lose weight?”
Although adults can hold nuanced conversations about the difference between “dieting” and “healthy weight loss” (even though they are both essentially the same thing… the latter is just a lifetime diet), kids cannot. And if a kid feels embarrassed about their weight, they may not ask a grown up. They may search for an answer online.
Imagine if that child stumbled upon Blubber Busters and read these “My Story”:
Hi, Im Bre im 11 and i feel very overweight it hurts me when my aunt is smaller then me. I try and try to lose weight and go on diet but it seems that everyone pushes stuff on me. My friends try to be supportive and tell me im not fat but I think i am. I feel embarrassed when someone asks me my weight I just say i dont know because it hurts me to even say. When they weighed me at the doctors office and told me i had to lose weight it hurt me so much. It puts depression on me when i have a aunt and then my cousin in the 9th grade weighs and is smaller then me. I keep trying to do a routine and exercise more but i have no one to work with. All my friends are skinny everyone i hang out with is skinny. I used to have a friend who lived right next door to me who was bigger. She moved away from me and it broke me cause she was all i had to work with.
Hi im kamille u mite no me from the chat rooms and bulletin board
here is a little about myself
my mom says that i was born “big”
in all the picture of me i look chubby
lm 15 lm 5’6 and lm 224 pounds,l have been trying to lose weight since l was like 12 because l had very low self estime and l have always wanted to fit in but l never maneged to lose weigh, so l didnt fit in.l have triyed so many diets when l was 14 l mananed to loose 7 pounds but l put it all back on when it was near christmas,and next year l have really good events in school and l want to look nice and good l want to turn a few heards .this time lm determaned more than ever and lm going to stick to it. but when l ost 7 pounds l became a bit more confident but now l feel my confidents is going again and l dont want to be depresed again l just want to be happy normal teen.so please if you help email me at email@example.com.
THANK YOU ❤
Hi, I’m a 13-year old girl named Kary. I weigh Roughly 186lbs and I can’t lose weight no matter what I do. I’m always embarassed to go to doctor physicals becuase my doctor always has people in trianing there. My doctor will always tell me to lose about 10 pounds but stay the same wieght even when I grow taller. I’m about 5’9″ tall and just got my period so I only have about a year longer to grow. I’m sick and tired of having to wear one peice bathing suits and long jeans rather than bikinis and short like all my friends. I need support more than anything, becuase my mom supports me, but I don’t really belive that she believes in me, becuase of all my failed attempts at weight loss in the past. I eat very healthy and do a moderate amount of excersize but I have a very low metabolism. My sister has a very hgh mteabolism and so its hard for me to watch her eats sweets and processed food without giving in even thoough I know it wont effect her but it will effect me. I do situps, lengths, you name it, but it just builds muscle and makes me look even bigger. My grad is coming up in June and its now July and I want to be a size 8 by then. Please help!
me im 12 and im in 7th i have LOTs of friends i go to a public skool with LOTS of drama that means im in it all my friends are either from 90-100 pounds almost everyone i mean all the boi have 6 packs we all play lacrosse and its loots of fun! but i have to practice a lot just to be in shape i have to run aroung my 5 acre house everyday its hard! i wanna look like my friends we always go swimming at the country club and i wnna look good in a swimsuit all my friends telll me in skinny i know im not my legs touch soo much it gives me rashes and my stomach just keeps growing i tried not to eat and i lost some weight but then i became hungry all the time! so i stopped and then i got fatter! i just wanna look skinny like all my friends and be more confident i mean ive had some bf’s in the past but i dont think they ever liked me i wanna look good me more confident maybe even have a bf i even wanna wnat to feel good about myself!
This is what we are doing to our children by perpetuating a weight-based health culture.