Tag Archives: bullying

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.

Mr. Toad: Insults, Jokes, and Words of Power

Lynne Murray says:

I like to read urban paranormal novels in part because the heroines demonstrate their power in a very literal way. The magic used in these stories, which causes visible effects, is sometimes  accompanied by fictional “power words.” This post is about real-life power words.

I can’t write from first-hand experience about wounds inflicted by bullies. I don’t have the deep wounds of those who were literally battered and verbally attacked on a daily basis, often under the eyes of uncaring adults.

However, I do remember the day I stopped doing yoga in front of people because I was attacked by someone I trusted and thought of as a friend. The parallel sprang into focus when I ran across a Facebook post from Lauri Owen attributed to Don Miguel Ruiz:

People think that a spell sounds something like “Abracadabra.” Mexican shaman Don Miguel Ruiz proposes that real magic spells sound more like “nice girl; too bad she is Black”; “I believe in you”; “you are worthless”‘ “I love you”; and “why can’t you be more like your brother/sister.”

Lauri found the quote at this Facebook link.

I’ll call my old friend Mr. Toad, after the character in Kenneth Grahame’s The Wind in the Willows. Not that he looked like a toad, exactly, though he was short and stocky and not particularly handsome. His incorrigible good humor and headstrong, optimistic manner reminded me of Mr. Toad. We became friends because both of us used jokes to cope and refused to let people ignore us.

I got to know Mr. Toad when we were both in our 20s and active in the Buddhist lay organization. He probably joined the group because there were so many friendly young women, although he soon learned that none of us viewed him as attractive, and many of us were celibate–not as a lifetime commitment so much as an effort to change past patterns of rotten relationships. Mr. Toad openly vented his frustration with humor, and we got to be friends because both of us were naturally irreverent even as we faithfully practiced a rather labor-intensive religion.

He smashed my yoga efforts during a session of “look what I can do.” I was 24 and my friends in high school had been primarily books. I didn’t know about the pack mentality of young men measuring themselves physically against one another and jostling for status. If I had, I wouldn’t have tried to join in the game. I realize now that no other women were present, but in 1972 the feminist movement was distant thunder on the horizon of my world and I didn’t think anything of it. I felt safe with these guys and we were in the Buddhist community center for chrissakes during a rare moment of leisure.

One of the higher-ranking guys was the clear frontrunner when he demonstrated a knee bend on one leg with the other leg held out in front of him. I could only do two unusual physical things: the first was horseback riding, but with no horses available, I went with the second–yoga. I’d studied yoga from books and I could do a shoulder stand.

When I demonstrated, Mr. Toad called out, “Look at the size of it.”

He was referring to my ass. I had collected a bouquet of similarly cruel body critical remarks over the years but I had shrugged them off because they had never come from someone I trusted in a group where I felt accepted and valued. My wit, sharp enough to draw blood, usually protected me, although on that day it failed me.

Mr. Toad aimed to let me know that I was neither one of the boys nor an impressive sex object. He wanted to get points with the guys for pointing all this out cleverly. His role was court jester among the other men, and their acceptance of himi was conditional. He had no college degree in a nest of recent college grads and perpetual students. He worked a blue collar job and belonged to a union (“Local ___, bitch” he jokingly stated when I asked).

I never demonstrated anything physical in front of a group after that. I also stepped back from my friendship with Mr. Toad.

After experiencing how a pointed, uncensored comment from a friend with a wit as well-honed as mine could undermine my confidence permanently, I began to think more carefully about how I used my own wit. It took me some years to realize that he was a sniper. His damaging words were occasional, like a string of poison pearls strung out over the decades that I knew him.

When I ran into him at social functions over the years, I saw more clearly how his jokes were invariably ugly putdowns of women, sometimes mutual friends. Sniping insults were his primary way of relating to people. The more critically I examined his barbs, the more listening to him felt like getting kicked in the stomach.

Many people told him he was disgusting, but he was used to that. Occasionally he would joke about himself, but always including some ego boosting: for example, he quipped that he and his second wife had so many children because they could never figure out how contraception worked. He then described some of the things they did that could not result in conception. Yes, ick.  And yes, an eventual divorce resulted.

The last time we met was when a mutual friend dragged him over to my apartment the week after my husband died. I’d been away from the Buddhist lay organization for years, but people I used to know came out of the woodwork to pay their respects. Mr. Toad showed up with a mutual friend. They didn’t stay long. But as they were leaving, Mr. Toad made a joke so jaw-droppingly hostile and sexist that I couldn’t believe even he would say it, let alone to a grieving widow.

(If you (like me) are consumed with unwise curiosity about all things verbal and must know the reality behind even the most offensive joke, search for “Why do women have legs?” Like many cruel things, it’s alive and well on the net.)

Steven Brust opened up an interesting discussion on hurtful jokes that prompted 149 comments, many quite insightful. Here’s the first part of his conclusion:

There are those with an attitude that goes something like this: “It was just a joke. If you can’t take a joke, you need to lighten up.” The kindest thing one can say about this attitude is that it is over-simplified; we don’t all respond the same way to the same kind of pain, and your coping method might be exactly what makes it impossible for me to cope. More typically, someone with that attitude needs to be sequestered from other human beings so he won’t do any more harm.

When in doubt, I err on the side of caution, because the damage to someone who is sensitive about whatever one is laughing at is more significant than the benefit for someone it helps, at any given time (you can tell the joke later when there’s no one around it bothers). But usually, one doesn’t know one has crossed the line until someone reacts badly, and then one is, first, puzzled, then ashamed, then (sometimes) angry or determined to justify one’s self. It’s ugly as hell.

Oddly enough, once my eyes were open, it turned out to be even more painful on occasions when I played the joker–cutting with the scalpel of wit, inflicting harm and seeing the result. Once you recognize that, you don’t want to revisit it. You have a choice–you can actually use the power of words to make people feel better about themselves, or you can use that power to make them feel worse. Either way, those feelings are forever.