Tag Archives: fat kids

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.

How Parents and Children Can Move Out of the CrossHairs of the Weight Cycling Industry

Lynne Murray says

I always ask “who benefits” from any given “social problem.”

The $60 billion diet industry or, as Dr. Deb Burgard has called it, “The Weight Cycling Industry” is in the business of cashing in on a problem of its own creation. Any truly efficient method of changing body size would put them out of business, but since none exists, they can keep making money as long as they can keep the hysteria flowing.

I did not use the word “fat” in the title of this post because fear of becoming fat opens up profits from populations that do not qualify as fat by any objective measurement. The latest group under attack is fat children and their parents.

My father was a psychologist and a lifelong student of human behavior, and when I brought him my report card he often used to say: “This tells me something about you, something about your teacher, and something about myself.” I think of my father when I see the hysteria and debates about the so-called “childhood obesity epidemic.”

Attacks on fat and fat kid focus a moralizing gaze on the parents of fat children and add a new generation of weight cycling customers to the weight cycling industry’s customer base. The Georgia billboards targeting fat kids and bullying their parents as either ignorant or uncaring are a prime example. Even sadder (because of the clout of the Disney organization) is an exhibit of cartoon-animated fat hatred that opened to so much instant loud negative reaction that Disney closed the exhibit–although spokespersons say they plan to re-tool and reopen it soon.

Most parents would do anything to protect their children, but how? Particularly in the face of the prevailing assumption that parents of fat kids have “failed” by definition simply because their kids are fat. With all the insanity around food and food choices, parents and children need all the help they can get to reinforce or reclaim our bodies’ natural wisdom around food and to build or rebuild trust in our physical selves and nurturing approaches to physical, mental, and emotional health.

Here are some positive examples of role models, wisdom and proven tactics to deal with a parent’s confusion about raising a fat (and probably unhappy) child in our current hostile cultural environment.

I love Shaunta’s tips on Fierce Freethinking Fatties about how to open a healthy dialogue with children about their bodies. The entire post is well worth reading, but some of the “no-nos” and “please-dos” leaped out at me:

It goes without saying that I don’t believe there is a fat-kids problem. There might be a kids-spend-too-much-time-playing-passively problem. Or a getting-nutritious-food-into-kids problem. But those problems affect kids of all sizes. Fat kids aren’t a problem. …

First the no-nos:

… Do not, ever, sit your child down and start a dialogue with any variation of, “Sweetheart, we need to talk about your weight.” No matter how many times you tell your child that you’re doing this for their own good and because you love them, and indeed no matter how much you love them, this will do far more damage than good. Every. Single. Time.

Don’t equate your child’s body size with his or her value. No offering money for pounds lost. Don’t wait to buy your kid new clothes until they’ve lost some weight. And please, try not to give your hungry child a disapproving look when he or she eats. Hunger is normal. Even for fat people who, believe it or not, cannot comfortably live on their fat stores alone. Don’t praise weight loss. Don’t wring your hands over weight gain.

And the please-dos:

… If you’re concerned with the amount of exercise your child gets, go outside and play with them. I promise you that they will gain the benefits of the exercise whether or not you point out to them that it might shrink their bodies.

… Fill your kitchen with a wide variety of foods. If you don’t think your kids should eat Twinkies or Happy Meals, the simple answer is to just not buy them. Like with exercise, whatever benefit you believe your kid will get from not eating these foods doesn’t hinge on you making sure they know that his or her fat ass is something disgusting that must be reduced at all costs.

… Take some time to figure out what’s awesome about your own body. Here’s a hint: Everything about it is awesome. Once you’ve got your own self-acceptance bolstered, share that with your kidlets. It’s one of the best gifts you can offer them. Let them see you enjoying exercise and eating a wide variety of foods. Your child’s body is a miracle. It is. I promise. Not it will be. Or it could be, if only they’d stop eating so much. It is. Help them see that by treating your own body like the miracle it is. That means no more hating on your thighs or belly or the size of your hips. No more refusing to wear a bathing suit or wearing a cardigan when it’s 90 degrees outside to hide your arms. Learning how to love your body is a gift to your children, who, I promise, are soaking up everything you say and do like the little sponges they are.

Ellen Satter has an abundance of great links and PDFs in English and Spanish on exactly the subjects that parents stress over. I love her Food Pyramid illustrating a “Hierarchy of Food” based on the realities of human existence and Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs rather than the Department of Agriculture’s fantasy pyramid. Satter sensibly puts “Enough Food” as the base:

pyramid with

Getting “enough food”—the most basic creature need—is on the foundation of Satter’s Hierarchy of Food Needs, followed closely by the need for what is perceived as acceptable food. When today’s need is dependably satisfied, the individual can work toward providing for tomorrow and, having done that, can function at a high enough level to consider aesthetics. Experimenting with novel food builds on trustworthy access to personally rewarding food.

The abundant links on Satter’s reference page include:

Eve Reed: Turn feeding your children into a pleasant experience rather than a stressful one.

The Feeding Doctor –Dr. Katja Rowell: Taking anxiety and conflict off the menu.

Feed Me!: One woman’s opinions on food, eating, body image, and weight.

Jennifer Harris, LRD: Calming the storm — Feeding Dynamics for yourself and those you care for during eating disorder recovery.

Kathleen Cuneo: “Building healthy families one meal at a time.”

Maya Snijders-Naumann: Discover that eating and living in a health-promoting way can be a joy instead of a burden.

Peggy Crum: “Sustenance for your well-being.”

Landmark fat activist Linda Bacon, author of Health At Every Size, The Surprising Truth About Your Weight offers some wonderful PDFs on her site. I can testify that I have personally printed and brought along some of her handouts to a doctor’s appointment and it went MUCH more smoothly than it ever had before!

One of Bacon’s PDFs aimed at school administrators and teachers looks useful to parents as well:

It’s tough enough for kids to enjoy their bodies. Few are at peace in their bodies, whether they’re fat or fear becoming fat. Every time we make fat the problem, these are side effects, however unintended they may be.

The National Association to Advance Fat Acceptance (NAAFA) also offers an online kit aimed at teachers but useful for parents Everybody in Schools Curriculum Unit Resource Resource Kit, a collaborative project between Chancellor State College and the University of the Sunshine Coast. The materials focus on topics such as: “What does it mean to be me? – Self esteem and resilience,“ active living “What movin’ makes me feel good?” making friends with food, “Healthy and pleasurable eating” and body diversity, “How can we appreciate EVERYBODY?”