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The Biggest Loser: Now Teaching Weight Cycling and Bullying to the Next Generation

Lynne Murray says:

We value children in America, but some more than others. Many, if not most, fat children learn very early that approval and sometimes even affection will be withheld unless and until they lose weight. Since no reliable method exists that will guarantee weight loss or prevent weight gain for most people, children–even toddlers–are thrown into a world of food deprivation and body anxiety. They would have to do the impossible simply to be accepted and loved.

The Biggest Loser (Golda Poretsky calls it Yelling at Fat People) gains a great deal of traction from the myth that extreme food reduction and extreme exercise cause permanent weight loss For an explosion of that lie, see Ottawa physician Yoni Freedhoff, M.D. on how this combination actively damages a person’s metabolism, setting up victims for short-term drastic weight loss followed by nearly unavoidable long-term weight regain

Now The Biggest Loser aims to extend its franchise to teach a new generation of young fat people just how worthless they are and how acceptable it is to let thin trainers bully them “for their own good.”  In a blog post coupled with a campaign to protest NBC’s decision to air this show for teenagers, Golda Poretsky describes this new frontier of child abuse:

Why should adults have all the fun of enforced starvation, dehydration, and emotional abuse on national TV? … [T]wo 13-year-olds and a 16-year-old … Are competing, sort of, in Season 14 of The Biggest Loser. But don’t worry, The Biggest Loser producers have the kids’ best interest at heart. The kids aren’t really competing. They’re just going to be “mentored.” It sounds like they’re just going to endure the dangerous aspects of the show without weigh-ins or any hope of winning money from it. I guess having the kids compete for money would send the wrong message. You wouldn’t want the kids to think that life is a competition where winning money is the important thing. They should definitely get the message that being thin is the only important thing. Way to go, NBC. Nice work.

Two authors who have written about fat adults are researching fat children’s experience for upcoming books and finding the stories of childhood suffering excruciating. Rebecca Jane Weinstein, author of Fat Sex: The Naked Truth (see my August 2012 review here) talks about the “profound pain” expressed in interviews for her upcoming book, Fat Kids: Truth and Consequences (Kickstarter fundraiser page at the link).

Kids are struggling. Fat kids, skinny kids, girl kids, and boy kids. The pressure to be thin is overwhelming. I was just a precursor to the devastation that is happening to kids because of weight, bullying, shame, fear, pills, surgeries, and profound pain. The childhood obesity crisis around the world may be troubling, but not only because kids might be fatter. And everyone, kids, their parents, and all the good intentioned people trying to protect the kids from their fat bodies, need to know the truth and consequences. We must protect their hearts, souls, and sanity as well. These are stories of fat kids, former fat kids, and kids who think they are fat.

Weinstein says:

[T]the interviews are sometimes hard for me to process. I cry with the people, not only after, although I try not to. I cry after as well, and then I am profoundly grateful for what they have shared. Their stories have put a tremendous amount in perspective, have helped me feel appreciated, shown me that I have a real purpose in life, and I know they have to be shared.

Lonie McMichael, PhD. is the author of Talking Fat: Health vs. Persuasion in the War on our Bodies and Acceptable Prejudice? Fat, Rhetoric and Social Justice, due in 2013 from Pearlsong Press. She is currently working on The Unlovable Child: Collateral Damage in the War on Obesity, described as a look at how …

… we have put our children on diets, forced them to exercise, and told them just how bad fat is all in the name of health. Yet, our children are not getting healthier or skinnier. What they are getting is terrified of being fat. In addition, if they are fat, they are being bullied and shamed – by their peers, by society, by the adults who supposedly care about them, even by our government – in misguided attempts at weight loss. Using the experiences of adults who were fat children … she explores the ways in which adults have healed from such traumas….[and] the long-term effects of trying to make our children into one-size-fits-all health obsessed drones.

Sharing stories can help, for example Cat Oake, the very confident woman who maintains Cat’s House of Fun (motto: “Changing the World’s View of Fat Chicks, One Visitor at a Time) has a section of page where people are invited to share stories of early life as fat kids entitled “I was a fat kid…this is my story.”

Oake says:

The goal of this site is simple…to share and to learn. Everyone has had a different set of life experiences…some great and some horrific. If you have no memories of being a fat child that were bad, then, by all means, share a happy story from your childhood. With any luck this site won’t turn into a gripe session, but rather an open, sharing diary about life as a fat child in our society.

The stories are heartrending. I’ve visited the page a few times to read them in small doses. Some of those who share their experiences have managed to fight through childhood pain to build rewarding lives. Others have reached adulthood and still blame themselves with anguish that has not diminished. For some reason the saddest to me were those who grew up being tormented for being fat and now see their children facing the same pain. Parents of fat children are often blamed and targeted for having “let their kids get that way.” Whether or not they were fat kids themselves, parents desperately wish to give their children a better experience. We’ve blogged about this in March, 2012 (including some great resources) here

There are no easy answers to healing a world view that rewards bullying of fat children. Calling out bullies wherever they flourish–including on network television–and naming their actions as damaging is an important part of the remedy. Two things I did were small, but I hope helpful: signing the petition against The Biggest Loser’s targeting of fat kids and contributing to the crowdsourced funding for Rebecca Jane Weinstein’s book (link above). One day and one small action at a time, we can let fat children who suffer know that some adults realize that the bullies are wrong and we are fighting every day to make it better.

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