Laurie and Debbie say:
We didn’t recognize Aubrey Gordon’s byline, but her bio reveals that she is “Your Fat Friend,” which means she’s a nationally known activist for fat people everywhere. In a New York Times opinion piece last week, she sings our song about how fat kids are treated … and why this has to change.
I will remember the pediatrician’s words forever: It’s probably from eating all that pizza and ice cream. It tastes good, doesn’t it? But it makes your body big and fat….
As the holiday season approaches, with its celebratory family meals and seasonal treats, I worry about the children across the country who will endure similar remarks, the kind that shatter their confidence, reject their bodies and usher them into a harsh new world of judgment.
Debbie remembers the 1950s version of this. Laurie remembers the 1980s version of raising a daughter who wasn’t thin. With each passing decade, fat shaming of children gets more medicalized, more obsessive, and nastier.
Gordon doesn’t give her age range, but she identifies the rest of the problem:
My body wasn’t just a body, the way a thinner one might have been. It was perceived as a burden, an inconvenience, a bothersome problem to solve. Only thinness would allow me to forget my body, but despite my best efforts, thinness never came.
The more I and others tried to change my size, the deeper my depression became. Even at such a young age, I had been declared an enemy combatant in the nation’s war on childhood obesity, and I felt that fact deeply. Bodies like mine now represented an epidemic, and we were its virus, personified.
In case you missed the connection here, depressed people often eat more. People who feel hopeless often eat more (or depressed and hopeless people starve themselves, which is equally awful).
In 2012, Georgia began its Strong4Life campaign aimed at reducing children’s weight and lowering the state’s national ranking: second in childhood obesity. Run by the pediatric hospital Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, it was inspired in part by a previous anti-meth campaign. Now, instead of targeting addiction in adults, the billboards targeted fatness in children. Somber black-and-white photographs of fat children stared at viewers, emblazoned with bold text. “WARNING: My fat may be funny to you but it’s killing me. Stop childhood obesity.” “WARNING: Fat prevention begins at home. And the buffet line.” “WARNING: Big bones didn’t make me this way. Big meals did.”
You can Google the Georgia billboards if you are so inclined. But you don’t need to see them to recognize the damage they do. Debbie — and Laurie’s daughter — didn’t have to worry about seeing ourselves on billboards. We may have been the warning parents we knew gave children we knew, but we weren’t public figures of doom and decay. By the way — neither of us were fat in any way except by cultural comparison. If there’s one thing Laurie and Debbie have learned doing this work for 35 years it’s that when you body-shame anyone, everyone starts hating and fearing their body. Either you’re already in the shamed group, or you’re on the edge of possibly being in the shamed group, or you need to desperately preserve your image as not being in the shamed group: no one is unscathed.
And although no one is unscathed, of course fat shaming — like all body shaming — is racialized. Where Black girls should be raised on Lucille Clifton’s “Homage to My Hips,”
are free hips.
instead they are slammed by all of the mainstream’s narrow definitions of beauty (and Black boys and nonbinary Black kids are too). If you can’t be thin, or blonde, or have the magazine models’ kind of dream hair, each of those adds to your shame and self-hatred. Add to that what it feels like when you know you can be killed by people in power because you look the way you do, and the toxicity levels go off the charts.
Gordon’s new book, What We Don’t Talk About When We Talk About Fat, was released just two days ago. She ends her opinion piece with a plea we want to amplify:
Yet, despite its demonstrated ineffectiveness, the so-called war on childhood obesity rages on. This holiday season, for the sake of children who are told You’re not beautiful. You’re indulging too much. Your body is wrong. You must have done it, I hope some parents will declare a cease-fire.
Follow Debbie on Twitter.
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