Tag Archives: fat liberation

Do No Harm: Declare a Cease-Fire on Fat Kids

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,”

these hips are big hips
they need space to
move around in.
they don’t fit into little
petty places. these 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.

Follow Laurie’s new Pandemic Shadows photos on Instagram.

Body Shaming Is Abuse

drawing of women with different bodies; banner says Health is SelfLove

Laurie and Debbie say:

Sarah Miller writes about her struggles with her body in a New York Times article called “The Diet Industrial Complex Got Me and It Will Never Let Me Go.” She doesn’t say how old she was when she dieted seriously for the first time, but she tells a very familiar story:

Every person I talked to was now two people, the one who was nice to me because I was thin, and the person who had been mean to me when I was fat. I was also two people: the fat person who felt like everyone was better than me, and who was so scared to walk across a room, or even stand up, and now, the thin person, who did not know how to manage the exhilaration of suddenly not feeling that way, and of sometimes even feeling superior to people.

All “successful” dieters know this feeling. Before even getting there, Miller recites a litany of ways people were cruel to her, and ways the cruelty continued even after she “felt thin.” The word she never uses, even when she is describing a long continuum of completely normalized viciousness is “abuse.” Yet, clearly, she not only was abused, she did what so many abused people do: she internalized the abuser.

Then the movement she calls “body positivity” came along:

Suddenly, about a decade ago, when I started to notice that fat women were a) calling themselves fat, with pride, and b) walking down the streets of our nation’s great cities nonchalantly wearing tight or revealing clothing with a general air of, “yeah I will wear this and I will wear whatever I want, and I am hot, too, I will be hot forever, long after you have all died,” I thought to myself, Oh my God WHAT? The solution is not … the diet?

I started seeing fat, beautiful models and actresses in catalogs, and on television shows. I would like to have seen more, but I was pleased to see them at all. I was and remain in awe of their confident beauty. I feel tenderness for them as well, for what they endured, and still endure, to achieve it. I sometimes choke up with love for them, and for the idea of how I could have lived if I had allowed myself to just weigh what I weighed.

So what kept her from doing just that, allowing herself to just weigh what she weighs? She certainly sounds like she is — extremely understandably — far less worried about how much she weighs than she is about being the target of mean people’s nasty comments. To weigh what she weighs, to stop going to Weight Watchers, to inhabit her own body, would be to say “I am fine as I am and if you are mean to me about how I am, the person who should be ashamed of themselves is you.”

But she has no support to go there, because “body positivity,” however admirable the original idea may have been, has been taken over by the advertising industry, the “beauty” industry and, to use her own words, the diet-industrial complex. Those groups, of course, cannot in any way encourage you to be fine as you are: you always need to be buying something, striving toward something, needing something. And since what she needs is reassurance, peace of mind, and real self-acceptance, she’s on a path that constantly moves her away from her real needs.

Worse, she has let the drumbeat of constant reiterative criticism convince her that she must stay on that path:

Even if by some miracle I were to accept being not thin, as I have many times — for five or 10 minutes or three whole days like when I finished Lindy West’s excellent memoir, “Shrill,” and naïvely thought I had finally been cured of my sickness — I would remain the sort of person destined for re-infection.

That person is always prepared for contempt from men who don’t find her physically attractive, and has been on high alert to general woman hatred since she was 4. (Honestly, I pity the women who are not.) At any rate, I’m 50 and I am way too scared of the world to stop dieting.

What is there to “pity” about women who are not on high alert to general woman hatred? Does she mean that it’s a bad thing to walk through the world without knowing who hates you? (If so, we agree.) Or does she mean that you have to spend your life trying to get them not to hate you, so you can feel okay about yourself? (If so, that’s really awful.)

She isn’t asking for advice, and she doesn’t seem to have any hope. She’s comfortable saying that her entire generation (she is 50) cannot be any happier in their bodies, or less attuned to outside virulence than they currently are. Even after having read Lindy West (and presumably others), she does not seem to realize that there are paths outside the mainstream narrative: there are therapists who will actually help you learn how to reduce the impact of haters in your life; there are support groups who will offer a corrective to the voices you avoid by repeating the things you need to hear; there are friends who not only can love you as you are, but can model blocking your ears to hatred.

Sarah Miller, you are not beyond hope. And don’t write off your age group.

Follow Debbie on Twitter.