Damn Good Whacking —
I recently read some advice you gave to a woman who was concerned about her daughter’s friend, who she thinks eats too much. Her letter and your response came in the form of this video segment that sought to “humorously” illustrate the letter’s contents.
Watching the video raised quite a few questions, but I think I can boil it down to a simple one: What the fuck is wrong with you?
I understand that writing an advice column is hard. You get just the teensiest bit of context from the letter writer, who is obviously presenting their own perspective only, and you have to craft an answer that addresses the problem while bearing in mind the inherent limitations of such a brief correspondence.
By necessity, giving advice to strangers through email is more of an art form than a judicial review. The advice giver may have to make certain assumptions in order to respond properly. But you know what they say about making assumptions, right? It makes an “ass” out of “you.”
I have transcribed both the original letter and your response, as well as taken screen caps of the animation that your team so helpfully created to illustrate the disturbing nature of the situation. My responses will be in bold green.
The other day, I needed to grab lunch on the run for my first grade daughter and her friend. Can you feel the justification set-up?
We pulled into a fast food place, where my daughter ordered a kid’s burger and fries. We have achieved maximum justification. I repeat, we have achieved maximum justification.
Her friend requested the 20-count chicken nugget meal. Bullshit Alert #1: Correct me if I’m wrong, but McDonald’s does not offer a 20-piece nugget “meal.” There’s a 10-piece meal, but I’m pretty sure the 20-piece is sold by itself. Seems odd the letter writer would add this minor detail.
I said no, so she ordered a kids meal, but wasn’t happy about it. At dinner, she ordered from the children’s menu. You mean, she didn’t order from the “Disgusting Pig Children’s Menu”?
When the waiter brought an enormous plate of food, enough for two adults… Bullshit Alert #2: With three kids, I’ve seen my fair share of kid’s menus, and I can’t think of any instances where there’s been a meal that could feed two adults, unless those adults have recently had weight loss surgery and can only eat a cup of oatmeal for dinner. At this point, I’m starting suspect that the letter was written by somebody who has never eaten at McDonald’s or ordered a kids meal in her life. In other words, a staged advice letter.
… the child scarfed it down and then complained that she was still hungry, and wanted another meal. Her parents allow her to eat this way. And since Carrot Lady keeps a meticulous food log of all her child’s friends, she knows best.
I’ve tried gently starting a conversation with her mom, but she shut me down. Perspective is everything. One concern troll’s “gentle” is another’s intrusive nagging.
She says that she wants her kids to focus on who they are inside, not what they look like. Bullshit Alert #3: This may be my favorite Straw Fatty of all time. It’s the anti-fatty assumption of what Fat Acceptance (FA) means. This Straw Fatty says that our pwecious fee fees are more important than our health, so gorge away! Except body image and health are two distinct and separate issues. EVERYONE has body image issues, although the self-worth of fatties are constantly under assault [see obnoxious Dear Prudence video for Exhibit A]. But when it comes to health, many of us promote Health at Every Size®, which teaches that if you want to be healthy, eat healthy foods, get the recommended amount of exercise and improve your body image. You see how the whole body image thing is just one part of HAES? But anti-fatties take this one fragment and make it the central argument of FA and HAES. But even setting aside my own assumption that Lardy Mama is citing FA/HAES philosophies, we’d also have to assume that she gives zero fucks about her daughter’s health, since Carrot Lady tells us that she essentially eats 20-piece McNugget meals all day, every day, which is Unhealthy at Every Size®.
Her daughter’s chubby now, but quickly eating her way to obesity, just like her parents and siblings. Hey, I remember that song, “I’ll be eating my way to obesity/with a buttered scone inside.”
I don’t want to be the food police… Yes you do. You want the hat, the badge and a license to slap french fries from the hands of fatties.
… but when this child is with me, should I allow her to eat the way she eats at home? Feed bag and everything?
Carrots and Celery
A truly unpleasant person.
That’s a whole lot of terrible packed into a teeny, tiny video. You’ve got the bizarre, self-righteous letter, and you’ve got the hate-packed video to drive home the point (just in case the letter wasn’t straight-forward enough) that this little girl is a repulsive, gluttonous swine who must be stopped at any cost.
Now, if I were you and I had to answer this letter, I would respond to Carrot Lady by passing along the wisdom of nutritionist Ellyn Satter, who I interviewed a while back. You can read about Satter’s method in her awesome book, Your Child’s Weight: Helping Without Harming. But to summarize, you can’t (and shouldn’t) try to control a child’s appetite. Every child approaches eating differently, including how much it takes to satisfy their hunger.
So if you’re concerned about your child’s health (or someone else’s) rather than wag your celery fingers at them, just try to provide them with healthy meals and let the child decide how much of it to eat. Don’t treat the fat kid differently than the thin kid, and don’t mistake a big appetite for unhealthy behavior.
Because here’s the thing: when a parent tries to control a child’s appetite, the outcome is virtually guaranteed: that kid will begin sneaking food in an effort to satisfy the hunger that is still there, regardless of whether you force them to stop eating or not. So, you can either teach your kid to eat a healthy, balanced diet, or you can shame them into sneaking food. Those are your only real options, if you’re concerned about health.
So, what do you advise, Prudence? Here’s your response.
Unfortunately, what’s going to be going on inside this little girl eventually is going to be broken down joints, a failing pancreas and clogged arteries. So Sayeth Dr. Prudence the Prognosticating Pediatrician! How sad that parents who are struggling with their own obesity wouldn’t do everything in their power to prevent their children from experiencing it. Because clearly her parents are “struggling with obesity” based on Carrot Lady’s description. Instead, they seem to feel the more of them, the merrier. Well, fat people are jolly, so more of us does mean more mall Santa’s, amirite? I think it’s totally fine for you to model proper eating and portion size. And to cluck your tongue disapprovingly at Bite Number 30, which is when all good, little kids place their forks gently on the table and say “I have been satiated, mummy.” But please, if you do so, skip the fast food restaurants and invite this girl over for dinner at the dining room table and a home-cooked meal. She prolly ain’t never had one ‘a them there home-cooked meals never, unless’n you count Spamburger Sundays. And given that the parents seem committed to super-sizing her, I think it would be fair for you to contact this girl’s pediatrician. And maybe her teachers, grandparents, and priest as well. In fact, make a list of all your child’s friend’s community leaders so that you can send progress reports on a quarterly basis. You can send an anonymous letter, and describe the compulsive eating. If you can record videos of the child being a gluttonous sloth, all the better. It might be helpful for an adult with authority to intervene. Call 911 if necessary. They love answering shit like this.
It’s clear from this video that you’ve been waiting for an opportunity to speak your mind on these awful, horrible fatties who are fatting up their kids, and this country, with their disgusting pig children. And you certainly gave Lardy Mama what for.
It’s odd, though; based on a very limited description of the offending family involved, you sure are quick to diagnose “broken down joints.” It seems as though you’re picturing her parents as headless fatties.
Just about 6% of the population is morbidly obese (BMI of 40+), while less than one-half of 1% of the population have a BMI over 50 (aka Biggest Loser size). Could it be that Carrot Lady’s definition of the “obese” family isn’t quite “broken down joints” fat? I mean, we are relying on this second-hand account about this family’s weight and health. Shouldn’t we err on the side of caution?
After all, thin people know best what a healthy weight looks like. Just ask Emily Yoffe, who writes the delightful Human Guinea Pig column for Slate, have you heard of her?
You see, Yoffe knows about the scourge of obesity first hand. You see, she is fat. Very fat.
I never got in bathing-suit shape (unless the suit is the Speedo LZR Racer) — the blubber content of my stomach could be used to prove that humans once shared a common ancestor with cetaceans, and I still avoid three-way mirrors
Holy shit, this woman’s fat. And when she spent four months lifting weights for a story on building muscle, she was brave enough to reveal her grotesque proportions.
She started our session with both the dreaded tape measure and by pinching my flab with calipers. “We’re figuring out the measurements of your old body,” she explained. I liked the optimism behind that statement. I was just temporarily stuck in this decaying thing, and soon I would be walking around in my new, better body. My old body was depressingly tubelike: 35 inches, 28 inches, 37½ inches.
Wow, just picturing a woman with those measurements has triggered a surge of bile up my throat. In another post, Yoffe gave informs us that she is 5’3.5″ and weighs 125 pounds, which gives her a BMI of 21.8, or the low end of the the “normal” weight category, which runs from 18.6 to 25.
Talk about a Tub ‘o Lard! Prudence, I hope you can reach out to your colleague Emily and “model proper eating and portion control” because she’s a fata —
Wait a second… I just noticed something.
Hey, it turns out, Prudence is a pseudonym for Emily Yoffe. Emily Yoffe is both the Flabmonster and the Dear Prudence? How can this be? How can she simultaneously chide herself for being such a lazy, disgusting slob AND lecture other people on how to “model proper eating and portion control”?
Oh, that’s right, body dysmorphia doesn’t stop you from being an asshole, it just makes your advice sound like it’s coming from a House of Mirrors.
Health is a complicated issue and it won’t be resolved by some hack advice columnist with an axe to grind against fat people. Resorting to stereotypes and juvenile videos that dehumanize and degrade this little girl and her family won’t help. In fact, if I had one piece of advice for you, Prudence/Emily, it would be to shut the fuck up about this issue because you’re embarrassing yourself.
p.s. If any of our readers would like to let Slate know what you think about Prudence’s “advice,” you can contact Sarah Trankle with the New York editors at 212 445 5330 or firstname.lastname@example.org.