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  1. mimbles
    mimbles July 16, 2011 at 9:06 am |

    Brilliant piece as always. I get so angry when I hear young kids echoing the fat shaming and body hatred that society immerses them in, it’s bad enough for adults to deal with, breaks my heart that kids cop it so young too.

  2. EG
    EG July 16, 2011 at 9:11 am |

    ‘Gosh, she’s sooo heavy!’ is not really an exclamation you want to hear uttered by someone as they lift your child onto their lap. Especially if that someone is loved and respected by your child and in a position to influence her.

    Thanks for making me aware of this–I spend a lot of time with small children (usually girls), though not as much as I’d like, and I say this a lot; for me, it’s meant to be a version of saying “Oh my goodness, you’re such a big girl now! I can barely lift you!” I’ll do better at not phrasing it in terms of weight. I think it’s also partly about a different cultural context than the one I’m used to (urban Jewish), in which babies are supposed to be fat, as a sign of health, and telling a baby and/or her parents that she’s fat is a compliment (my parents, when I was a baby, tell me that they regularly used to sing me a song about how fat I was–I have no memory of this). I’m not, by the way, claiming that this is a universal Jewish experience or that it’s unique to Jewishness either, just that it was always presented to me as a value that came out of being Jewish.

  3. A.Y. Siu
    A.Y. Siu July 16, 2011 at 9:36 am |

    I think instead of fighting a so-called “obesity epidemic,” we should just be fighting unhealthy lifestyles. If someone exercises regularly and eats healthy food and is also “overweight,” that person is healthy. If someone does no exercise and eats junk food and is “the right” BMI, that person is unhealthy. Don’t judge people at all, but if you are going to judge, really judge them by their lifestyle and not by their looks.

  4. EG
    EG July 16, 2011 at 9:43 am |

    Yes–I find the idea of “obesity” in infancy, which, in my reading, is almost always based on the bad, bad mommy who had the audacity to not eat a perfect diet while pregnant, really noxious.

    I wonder, though, if it’s better to refrain from making remarks that are meant to be positive about growth and weight, or if it’s better to provide the child with an alternate value system with which to counter the dominant one, or if there’s some way of doing both. The example I’m thinking of has to do with hair, which I know is probably not as significant a subject as weight in this culture (though it is quite significant). I have very, very curly hair, and dominant beauty standards are very much about how straight shiny hair is the best hair to have (obviously, there is significant racial and ethnic import in this message). It wasn’t until I was in college, as I recall, that products were marketed (at least toward white people) designed to help curly hair look good while curly, as opposed to making it straighter (“more manageable”). But my mother is absolutely dedicated to the idea that the curlier one’s hair is, the more beautiful it is. She emphasized this over and over again; she had a number of picks to pick my hair out to its full potential; she said that part of the reason she thought my father was so handsome was due to his curly hair (I hasten to add that my mother has curly hair too–she was not being self-denigrating, though her hair is not as curly has mine). As a result, despite often, especially as a teenager, having trouble figuring out how to style or handle my hair, I never, ever wished I had straight hair or got my hair straightened or even blown out, which is, I am given to understand, very rare for a curly-haired lady. (My sister, on the other hand, has been straightening her hair for as long as I can remember, so perhaps this has as much to do with my personality as anything else.)

    Is there a way to provide an alternate, positive context to help little girls value their weight? I don’t know.

  5. Zookeeper
    Zookeeper July 16, 2011 at 9:50 am |

    We experienced similar things, Spilt Milk.

    I remember being 10 years old, 5 feet tall, and horrified that I weighed 100 pounds. None of my friends weighed that much, so I thought I must be monstrously fat. Of course, none of my friends were anywhere close to 5 feet tall, but what does logic have to do with thinking about weight? I learned about mean girls at an early age.

    Now I look at pictures of me from back then, and it still surprises me that I looked absolutely normal, even on the skinny side. How I wish someone had told me that of course I was going to weigh more, since I was so tall! Instead, I heard comments like, “She’s so big!” and felt ashamed. I realize now they probably meant my height, but I didn’t get it then.

    Words are important. Let’s take care how we use them.

    Thank you for the fantastic article.

  6. Azalea
    Azalea July 16, 2011 at 9:53 am |

    EG: I think it’s also partly about a different cultural context than the one I’m used to (urban Jewish), in which babies are supposed to be fat, as a sign of health, and telling a baby and/or her parents that she’s fat is a compliment (my parents, when I was a baby, tell me that they regularly used to sing me a song about how fat I was–I have no memory of this).I’m not, by the way, claiming that this is a universal Jewish experience or that it’s unique to Jewishness either, just that it was always presented to me as a value that came out of being Jewish.

    Yeah this, babies are supposed to be “fat” (look like the artistic rendition of cherubs) in my culture. My oldest son is very skinny and everyone always says how we have to fatten him up and whenever I say he cant have some junkfood I hear “and now we know why he’s underweight.” On the contrary, my youngest son is thick. He’s a very solid build and has been called “Mr. Fatty” in a loving manner. They adore his size and people say how he’s going to be my football player etc etc (the older child is more likely to be into sports my youngest son spends his spare time trying to play his older brother’s computer learning games). I have always wanted a daughter and when my neice was born she was skinny, same thing nobody liked how thin she was and until she put on weight to be “thick or “solid” it was always “ooo she’s so cute BUT.” In my world of culture and circle of loved ones, a heavy baby is a GREAT thing.

    I’m a fat mom too :) I don’t get crap about my weight or size and I think that can be attributed to how I’m shaped. I come from a culture where not having enough thighs, butt, breasts could raise question about your femininity or your physical development (example I had B cups when I was 11 my middle sister had B cups at 11 when my younger sister was 18 with B cups my mother thought she had an eating disorder).

  7. Norma
    Norma July 16, 2011 at 10:21 am |

    I echo Spilt Milk and Zookeeper here. My siblings and I often were told that we were big! and heavy!. Relative to other children, we were, because of our height– we were a foot taller than everyone else until high school.

    The comments didn’t upset me as a young child, but as I got older, I definitely carried them with me. I’ve always thought of myself as Big, a self-conception that doesn’t seem to have anything to do with my actual size. Even though most comments about my size as a child weren’t explicitly negative or critical, they’ve still left a legacy in terms of how I think about myself.

    So, agreed– the stigma around children’s sizes is BS and doesn’t help anyone’s health.

  8. scrumby
    scrumby July 16, 2011 at 11:21 am |

    Pulling obese kids out of their homes? I hate to pull the bigger issues card but does this author realize some children get beaten by their parents? There are probably parents out there with poor eating and exercise habits who may pass those onto their children which made lead to health issue for the child later in life. There are parents out there with moldy fruit where their hearts should be that teach their kids to be petty, cruel, and selfish which means they’ll do mean, nasty things to their fellow human beings later on in life. Which do you suppose is a greater public malice?

  9. Karen
    Karen July 16, 2011 at 12:00 pm |

    I cannot imagine any even vaguely reasonable concern for obesity in infants. Low birth weight is linked to dozens of very serious health problems, from breathing problems through schizophrenia. Starvation, or even malnutrition in childhood can stunt learning capacity forever, because so much neural development happens in the first year of life, and human nerve cells require fat, and lots of it. Encouraging parents to restrict calories for infants is about as short-sighted a policy as I am capable of imagining.

  10. AtheistChick
    AtheistChick July 16, 2011 at 12:37 pm |

    This just makes me think of when my little sister got her over-18 boyfriend (she was 17) to buy her “weight loss supplement pills” from GNC or the like. She was 5′ tall and maybe 95 lbs. It’s just depressing that people so young are getting such extreme messages about body image. It’s also upsetting that even those who are conventionally attractive and already very small feel the need to lose even more weight. Hooray for impossible standards?

  11. Julie
    Julie July 16, 2011 at 12:48 pm |

    Yeah, it’s scary… I have a 3 month old that is fairly big for a 3 month old, he’s around 15/16 pounds. I always get remarks about how big he is and I end up almost justifying his weight by pointing out that his brother was just as big and is now what is considered by the BMI chart to be a “healthy weight”. Especially because I am fat and I worry that people are passing judgement on my parenting. I also have a 7 year old that is ridiculously thin, yet she worries about “getting fat” and has started pointing out when things are healthy and when things have too many calories. The school physical form for our elementary school now has a space for their BMI on it… it’s depressing.

  12. Bagelsan
    Bagelsan July 16, 2011 at 1:21 pm |

    The comments didn’t upset me as a young child, but as I got older, I definitely carried them with me. I’ve always thought of myself as Big, a self-conception that doesn’t seem to have anything to do with my actual size. Even though most comments about my size as a child weren’t explicitly negative or critical, they’ve still left a legacy in terms of how I think about myself.

    Same thing with me, to some extent; I hit my growth spurt and puberty a bit earlier than most of my peers, so despite being on the short side now and only barely “overweight” BMI-wise I still have this odd self-image of being a large person. (Of course, lots of people tend to overestimate my height when talking to me, so maybe it’s not all bad to carry myself like I’m tall? :p)

    I’ve always been heavier than both my sisters — who take after my thin, tall mother — and I felt pretty bad about it as a kid, so my dad (whose side of the family I take after) eventually resorted to comforting me by pointing out that I would out-survive both my sisters in a famine. And… actually that kind of helped. :D

  13. Sarah Jane
    Sarah Jane July 16, 2011 at 1:26 pm |

    This really hit home for me, because my thoughtful, well-educated, and otherwise-fairly-rational mother has gone waaay off the fat-shaming deep end in recent years. She has lost a considerable amount of weight, to the point that old friends sometimes ask if she is ill. She’s also developed a running commentary of judgment and shame — just noticing a plus-size section at the consignment shop is enough to send her into a 10-minute toxic tirade.

    I’ve never been very uncomfortable with my weight, but my mom is able to send me into a real tailspin with her awful comments. The thought of her saying this stuff around future grand-kids is absolutely terrifying.

    I think that I need to confront her, but I’m not sure how to do that in a way that will be loving, gentle, and effective. Can anyone weigh in on what kinds of thoughts, ideas, or experiences have been helpful in recognizing such fat-shaming as a lie?

  14. Emily
    Emily July 16, 2011 at 1:33 pm |

    I have always been a small person, but now have a 2 year old daughter who is off the charts in height. She is often expected to act like a 3 year old because she is as big as the three year olds. I do worry about helping her navigate body image issues that are so different from my experiences growing up. We often say how she’s very tall when people ask how old she is and are surprised by the answer. My aunt just called her “sturdy” I think it was.

  15. chingona
    chingona July 16, 2011 at 2:48 pm |

    I’m sure my take on this is influenced by not being fat myself and by being raised in a family that never made a big deal about weight or food with us when we were kids. But I’ve never taken it as a bad thing when people comment on how big my daughter is (and she IS big – she’s wearing 24-month clothes at just a year old). The only thing that bothers me is when people try to qualify it by adding things like, “oh, I mean, in a good way.” Yes, in a good way. It’s pretty much only good for a baby to gain weight. It would be bad if they weren’t gaining weight.

  16. Stephanie
    Stephanie July 16, 2011 at 2:53 pm |

    One of my nieces is certainly on the heavy side, very much taking after her father’s side. Most of the family is good about describing her as solidly built, and she is very strong for her age. She’s homeschooled by her father, so I’m hoping that she can avoid some of the teasing she’d get in school. There’s fat there too, but not what I’d call a problem.

    On the plus side, her mother handled being overweight really well in high school. The whole “obesity epidemic” wasn’t a big deal then, but there were certainly people who gave her a hard time about it. I’m hoping she can help her daughters have a healthy perspective about weight.

  17. Andy
    Andy July 16, 2011 at 2:56 pm |

    I hate it how especially young girls hate the fat in their bodies and hate the delicious and healthy fatty foods like raw cream and eggs and such that could really help their bodies get strong. No mother cow is going to moo how she’s too fat around the hips and on the back, no. She’s going try to eat as well as she can so she can milk some strong milk to raise a healthy calf, and that calf’s not going to have second thoughts about drinking every drop she can because it just feels so damn good and creamy and nourishing inside. Talk colostrum anyone, with little orange fat droplets raising to the top? Any day!

    I was chubby as a kid, but I also had colic that I apparently got from store-bough milk. I wasn’t chubby and the chubby wasn’t really that much fat, but more like a combination of fat and bloat and whatever. Basically I got chubby because my body couldn’t handle the good quality yet bad food that my mom got for me. She didn’t have a clue what she was doing wrong, and she really wasn’t, only the good in the food was killed through processing and so my gut had a difficult time with it because the food didn’t come with the helpers that were supposed to be there to make it nourishing and easy for me. Already in my childhood people were way too far removed from where their food comes from and it hasn’t gotten any better, only the food’s gotten worse. This contemporary calorie production is so stupid all the way through that it’s not as if anything good health-wise could come out of it. Since most adult-age people don’t really seem very interested in doing much of anything about it and it looks like this calorie production system’s going to have to crash before any meaningful change happens, I don’t see any reason to be anything but positive to kids about their looks, unless they ask you about food and weight and all that.

  18. Andy
    Andy July 16, 2011 at 2:59 pm |

    Sorry, made a typo. I wrote that “I wasn’t chubby…” where I meant I wasn’t /born/ chubby, but quickly got around to it on bad food.

  19. Elisabeth
    Elisabeth July 16, 2011 at 3:15 pm |

    Yeah, it’s kind of horrifying people can think infants are too fat. I thought we were born with feeding instincts to know how much food we need, and it seems like preventing a baby or toddler from getting as much nourishment as they need could have really serious consequences. Also, people grow differently, it’s not like everyone follows the same path. I remember 10 years ago my cousin’s baby was a 35 lb 6-month old, and his doctors were seriously concerned about OMG obesity! Now he’s a tall and lanky 11 year old. He just put on all his weight at once and then grew, instead of doing it more in steps.

    I am curious about cultural influences, because I am from a culture that both emphasizes being strong, tall and healthy, but is also extremely fatphobic. At least in my family, my grandmothers are far more fatphopic than people are today, and I think the culture they grew up in definitely influenced that. As a young child I was so light I wasn’t even on the weight charts, and this was a serious concern for my doctors. I had to be on a special high fat diet. I remember as a not quite 30 lb 4-year old being told by my grandmother I was “lucky my thighs were so thin.” Even though I had to eat lots of fattening foods (which my grandmother dutifully fed me) she framed it in terms of “growing tall and strong” and not in terms of gaining weight. She also told me I needed to eat a lot “to grow tall, and tall people can eat more than short people and not get fat.” My grandmother also used to take me to the beach and point out disparagingly any woman who dared reveal cellulite to the world. When I did go through puberty and reach a more “normal” weight, she told me every time she saw me (3-4x a week) how fat I was, even though at school I got lightly teased for being thin. My other grandmother isn’t any better. (She told me any woman in her 20s who weighs over 100 lbs could stand to lose a few.) My mother isn’t perfect about this (not surprisingly, considering her mom), but she never made food about restricting calories, and always put emphasis on health rather than appearance. Maybe it is just my family, but when I think about this, I wonder if fat phobia has really increased, or if it’s just more out in the open?

  20. scrumby
    scrumby July 16, 2011 at 3:16 pm |

    @Emily

    I spent my cousin’s wedding playing with what I thought was slightly developmentally delayed 3 year-old that turned out to be 1 1/2. His mother tells people he’s just bulking up for the day he goes off the slay the Minotaur.

  21. Norma
    Norma July 16, 2011 at 3:29 pm |

    Same thing with me, to some extent; I hit my growth spurt and puberty a bit earlier than most of my peers, so despite being on the short side now and only barely “overweight” BMI-wise I still have this odd self-image of being a large person.

    Exactly.

    I think the connection between childhood size (in height or weight) and negative attitudes about “early” puberty is important. At least for girls, I imagine that adults’ body-policing around size involves some sexuality-policing because bigger childhood size often involves earlier puberty.

    I wonder if boys who hit puberty early typically experience this life-long feeling of being big, regardless of their actual size as adults.

  22. EG
    EG July 16, 2011 at 3:50 pm |

    so my dad (whose side of the family I take after) eventually resorted to comforting me by pointing out that I would out-survive both my sisters in a famine. And… actually that kind of helped. :D

    Believe it, Bagelsan! I’ve known for a long time that in the event of any natural or artificial disaster, or, hell, even just being taken out of first-world comfort for an extended period of time, I’d be the first to go.

    More seriously, I’ve seen in people I’ve known that early fatness does not necessarily mean adult fatness, and the same is true for thinness. One lovely, sturdy, pudgy baby girl I used to sit for, who was as big as her older sister, is now long and gangly (I hope it goes without saying that if she were still sturdy and pudgy, she’d be no less lovely than she was before or than she is now). Bodies are still developing so radically in babies and children; making them so self-conscious about those bodies is, in my opinion, even crueler than it is to adults.

    I think it’s so important to model as healthy an attitude toward weight and body image. I know that when I was a teenager and I began dieting, the fact that my mother and every other adult woman I had known was going on and off diets all the time and worrying about their weight made me feel like I was doing a really grown-up, womanly thing by stepping on the scale every morning. (Note: I am not mommy-blaming. My mother also gave me a wonderful education in feminism as well as a copy of The Beauty Myth when I was 16 that was instrumental in me rejecting as many destructive beauty standards as possible. And we all do the best we can within the culture that surrounds us.)

  23. preying mantis
    preying mantis July 16, 2011 at 4:02 pm |

    scrumby–One of my friend’s babies has the same thing going on. He’s two. Kid’s going to be a bruiser when he grows up.

  24. Emolee
    Emolee July 16, 2011 at 4:46 pm |

    Spilt Milk, Thanks for writing about this. I related to so much of what you said. I had previously read the stories about removing very fat children from their homes, and it made me so angry. When I hear things like putting kids’ BMIs on their report cards, it breaks my heart. It is so unfair, hurtful, and so unhelpful to anybody or any cause. I feel so frustrated and helpless about the pervasiveness and strength of all of the misinformation and prejudice out there about fat and body size.

    All of the “end childhood obesity” campaigns, in my opinion, are so harmful. It gives credibility and institutional support to the bullying of fat kids. If there was a campaign to get kids moving more (to the extent of their abilities) and to eat more healthily (with an equal emphasis on solving institutional barriers to healthy food), I would be behind it. But these “end childhood obesity” campaigns just single out fat kids for shame and blame. The truth is that many thin kids eat a lot of fast food and play lots of video games, etc. Why is the focus on the body and not the behaviors? The only answer is fat hatred. If we really wanted to focus on improving health, we could do so without stigmatizing people with certain bodies. Especially kids, who are so vulnerable.

    Here is a comment I posted elsewhere on the ‘removing very fat kids from their homes’ story:
    I read a newspaper article on this and one story that stood out to me was about a child whose mother worked two low-paying jobs and fed her child mostly fast food because it was cheap and she didn’t have time to cook. Her child was removed from her care because the child was very fat. What bothers me so much about this (among other things) is that feeding your kids primarily fast food, while not optimal, is not abuse and is not even *considered* abuse unless the kid gets extremely fat.

    The truth is, many parents feed their kids fast food for varying reasons, and many (probably most) of these children are not extremely fat (or fat at all). For example, growing up, my best friend’s family ate almost nothing but fast food (and her family was middle class and her mother was not single) BUT she and her sister were very thin. So… unless we are going to categorize a fast food diet as abuse (and I don’t think we should), removing this particular child was punishing that family for behavior that many other families engage in just because this particular child had a genetic propensity to gain a lot of weight.

  25. Elena
    Elena July 16, 2011 at 5:34 pm |

    Wow. This made me think…I remember always hating my thighs, from about the 3rd grade on. I look back at pictures of myself, and now all I see is a really scrawny, awkward kid with a giant head (I vaguely resembled Mick Jagger). I didn’t even get curves until I was about 11 or so. After looking at those pictures, I wondered how I got that idea of “my thighs are FAT” in my head…and I remembered that my mom always dissed on herself, mostly about her lower region, especially thighs.

    With that in mind, I can see why I developed anorexia.

    Thank you so much for this though-provoking post and all the comments…I love how insightful everyone here is :)

  26. Kathy
    Kathy July 16, 2011 at 5:36 pm |

    I have very little to add to this, except to applaud.

    As fat parents of three (currently) thin and healthy daughters, one of whom was a very adorable fat baby, my partner and I have seen all of these attitudes playing out and more. I myself am an in-betweenie – possessor of cellulite and adipose tissue aplenty, but not large enough to trigger random stranger fat-shaming in normal circumstances. My partner is, under the very helpful BMI measures, morbidly obese.

    My girls get cultural approval and a tacit tick all the time, no matter what they are observed eating or doing, because they are thin. (Or “slender”, as my fatphobic mother insists we say, because “saying thin makes it sounds like it’s not a good thing, AND IT IS!”) We often get comments along the lines of, “You must be so glad they aren’t chunky like their Dad!” and “You are doing a great job with their diet, don’t want bad habits to set in early … look at their Dad!” I become SO pissed off with this kind of commentary that I can hardly be rational about it.

    The thing is, my daughters hear and absorb all these messages, these patrolling and patronising little pats-on-the-head for them and the explicit and implicit insults to their father. Fatphobia hurts them and their confidence too, thin as they are. We try to counter it as much as we can, but it’s so pervasive, and destructive.

  27. Ali
    Ali July 16, 2011 at 5:51 pm |

    I haven’t read the actual study, but from what I’ve read in newspaper articles, the study recommends only removing morbidly obese children from their homes–and only as a very last resort. After nutritional counseling and such. Granted, that measure is harsh, but everyone seems to be acting like Big Brother is about to storm in and snatch any kid that is “on the heavy side” or whatever you want to call it.

    I also don’t see “ending childhood obesity” as an excuse for fat shaming–although any nasty person has an excuse for fat shaming. Kids face plenty of health issues that need to be addressed. School lunches? It’s a wonder they don’t graduate with high blood pressure and rickets after being forced to eat that everyday. Recess and gym have been slashed almost as mercilessly art and music. Fast food is everywhere. Many people have no idea what healthy eating entails or believe they don’t have the means to eat healthy. These things contribute to a child population that is increasingly unhealthy.

    We need to stamp out fat shaming in campaigns like this, true, but we need to acknowledge that cutting down on obesity is about having a healthy population.

  28. Christa
    Christa July 16, 2011 at 5:53 pm |

    Wonderful Post.
    As a child of an obese mother, my mother always commented on how different I was than she was. I was so tiny, and small. As I matured, I grew hips (imagine), and a butt (OH my!) and BREASTS (HEAVENS NO!) at that point I started gaining weight, not because my family provided me with unhealthy food, but because my mother scrutinised every piece of food that entered my mouth, I can still hear her saying things like “Do you really want/need/have to have that __________?” Eventually I started to eat everything in sight, I could control it. My obesity is MY DOING, not my parents. My obesity is my issue.
    Today, the same words echo in my head when people look at my 3 year old tiny daughter. I pray I don’t make the same mistakes as my mother did. I pray that whatever her body shape turns out to be, that she is happy with who she is, and I hope that I as her mother can accept her, just that way. No Judgement.

  29. Tori
    Tori July 16, 2011 at 6:03 pm |

    We need to stamp out fat shaming in campaigns like this, true, but we need to acknowledge that cutting down on obesity is about having a healthy population.

    Except it’s not, not in the way a lot of societal discussions are currently framed. Placing it in a context of a “war on obesity” places the emphasis on body weight and size rather than on increasing access to healthy options.

    And quite frankly, talking about “ending obesity” (childhood or otherwise) flat-out scares me. I understand that this is not true for everyone, but I am not interested in ending something that is a healthy part of me.

  30. Norma
    Norma July 16, 2011 at 6:13 pm |

    Ali: I also don’t see “ending childhood obesity” as an excuse for fat shaming–although any nasty person has an excuse for fat shaming. Kids face plenty of health issues that need to be addressed.

    But “ending childhood obesity” campaigns, in large part, don’t actually *focus* on the food/health issues that need to be addressed. They don’t focus on the corporations that produce shitty food and market it in public schools. They don’t focus on the elected officials that cut public space from cities. They don’t focus on the government’s failure to provide parents with enough money to pay for expensive healthy food, or the way that the government subsidizes shitty food.

    What they focus on is individual fat kids and their individual parents. Fat people get shamed, but nothing gets done about bigger food issues–issues that affect everyone, fat and thin.

  31. EG
    EG July 16, 2011 at 6:16 pm |

    Granted, that measure is harsh, but everyone seems to be acting like Big Brother is about to storm in and snatch any kid that is “on the heavy side” or whatever you want to call it.

    Yes, well, part of that is in reaction to the horrific, shameful histories many Western governments have of using child-removing as a stick with which to beat oppressed groups. As noted in another thread, indigenous peoples have had their children taken away by various governments in explicit efforts to stamp out their language and culture (though now such behavior is couched in the language of “what’s best for the children”); poor people in the US and perhaps England (it’s been a while since I’ve done this reading) have routinely lost children after being consigned to workhouses, or being deemed unable to provide a good home (the practice was called “the misery,” and for more info on it, I recommend Steven Katz’s In the Shadow of the Poorhouse and Mimi Abramovitz’s Regulating the Lives of Women; both books are now significantly older than they were when I first read them, but I don’t think their historical research has therefore been compromised). For that reason, handing the government justification to do more of that sort of thing is a pretty touchy issue.

    It’s often a hard issue for me, because I am a big advocate of children’s rights not to be treated as the property of their parents, but because of the above political considerations, to say nothing of how much harm is done to children when they are removed from their families or the misery it causes the parents, I would steer very clear of removing kids from their families for being obese. In the US, this is doubly true given the horrible foster care system we have, and the fact that children are routinely left with and/or restored to abusive parents (there’s a scandal every couple years or so when a kid is killed as a result, but no concrete changes like, oh, making sure there are enough social workers for each of them to have a reasonably sized caseload, are ever forthcoming). I just don’t see how this will be helpful to anybody.

  32. Emolee
    Emolee July 16, 2011 at 6:17 pm |

    @ Ali- “cutting down on obesity is about having a healthy population”
    NOT NECESSARILY. Focusing on the “obese” is both over and under inclusive if the actual concern is health. There are plenty of fat people who are healthy and plenty of thin people who are unhealthy.

    I am very much for giving kids better access to healthy food (such as your suggestion of improving the school lunches) and safe and non-shaming exercise opportunities. But “healthy” food and exercise will not make all kids or all people thin.

    I think we should focus on the big, systemic problems such as access to food instead of focusing on individuals’ body sizes.

    I also agree with Spilt Milk that concerns regarding people’s eating and exercise habits are often healthist and ableist. As well as patronizing and refuting of bodily autonomy.

  33. PrettyAmiable
    PrettyAmiable July 16, 2011 at 6:31 pm |

    Ali: After nutritional counseling and such. Granted, that measure is harsh, but everyone seems to be acting like Big Brother is about to storm in and snatch any kid that is “on the heavy side” or whatever you want to call it.

    You’d be okay with them snatching your kid if they were on the “morbidly” heavy side? I don’t really understand how it’s okay even if it’s only happening to a few families.

  34. Annaleigh
    Annaleigh July 16, 2011 at 6:44 pm |

    Thanks for this post, Spilt Milk. I haven’t commented in any of your other posts, but I definitely have appreciated them all.

    I used to be a skinny kid pre-puberty, but once I started developing around the age of nine, I put on weight along with the curves, and one day when I nine I was getting ready to play in the kiddie pool, and my mother made a remark about my weight/what I looked like in my bathing suit, and the rest is history, and a lot of unhappiness. I’m now obese, but learning about fat acceptance, so that gives me hope.

    Anyway, I agree with everyone who says that we need to concentrate on bigger issues like food access. I live in the Central Valley of California (the link is to an NPR story about the issues our communities face with food access and ability to exercise).

    One thing I’ll add as another thing that needs to be addressed is that people need safe places to exercise, especially since the poor find it hard to plonk down money on a gym membership. The NPR article mentions problems with packs of dogs in the Central Valley. I can vouch for this personally; whenever I needed to see my general practioner, I used to walk there, but I don’t any longer because I am afraid of the dogs. The NPR article also mentions crime and violence; one way I used to get exercise in the summer was to pace back and forth a few feet from my home. I had swallowed my fears as a survivor of sexual assault so that I could get some fresher air and exercise during the summer when things weren’t quite so oppressively hot, but I eventually gave up that too after one night when I witnesses someone nearly being mowed down with a car over a stolen car stereo.

    At least now my local city government has a fitness center with plenty of equipment that you can get a monthly membership for, or if that’s too expensive, you can pay $2 to work out in the center for the day whenever you have the $2. I’d like to see other Central Valley communities do this, but not all have the money.

    So yeah.

    There are so many important issues that need to be tackled that would benefit all people in the long run, like the food access, like the safe places to exercise, etc. But declaring war on fat people is not one of them.

  35. Annaleigh
    Annaleigh July 16, 2011 at 6:47 pm |

    Whoops, I left out a detail…I used to pace outside my home during the summer for exercise alright, but not until late at night, because it would be too hot otherwise. Being out that late is already a bit of a safety issue, unfortunately.

  36. BerryFresh
    BerryFresh July 16, 2011 at 6:48 pm |

    scrumby:
    Pulling obese kids out of their homes? I hate to pull the bigger issues card but does this author realize some children get beaten by their parents? There are probably parents out there with poor eating and exercise habits who may pass those onto their children which made lead to health issue for the child later in life. There are parents out there with moldy fruit where their hearts should be that teach their kids to be petty, cruel, and selfish which means they’ll do mean, nasty things to their fellow human beings later on in life. Which do you suppose is a greater public malice?

    I think you’ve missed the point.

    AtheistChick:
    This just makes me think of when my little sister got her over-18 boyfriend (she was 17) to buy her “weight loss supplement pills” from GNC or the like. She was 5′ tall and maybe 95 lbs. It’s just depressing that people so young are getting such extreme messages about body image. It’s also upsetting that even those who are conventionally attractive and already very small feel the need to lose even more weight. Hooray for impossible standards?

    Body shaming impacts everyone. I’m fortunate to benefit from institutional thin privilege but unfortunately this doesn’t give me a leave pass from self loathing and body hatred.

  37. Ariane
    Ariane July 16, 2011 at 7:27 pm |

    It’s like as a society, we have the moral compass and logic capacity of a five year old. Everything is Good or Bad. Behaviours are Healthy or Unhealthy. Healthy is Good, and therefore morally required. Some fat people are Unhealthy. Unhealthy is Bad, so fat people are Bad. Therefore thin people are Good. Bullying fat kids? That’s ok, because being fat is Bad, so we shouldn’t be nice to them anyway.

    The health thing is obviously a bit trickier for kids than it is for adults. Adults have every right to make unhealthy choices for themselves (yes, even in a country with public health – it funds lots of other expensive habits – not least staying alive longer), but it seems that kids should have access to the best health possible, until they’re old enough to make their own decisions. But how do we determine if any given child has that access? Body size is definitely a very poor indicator, behaviour is also pretty dodgy. Different bodies have different needs. Different aspects of lives have different impacts. For kids of poor parents working 2 jobs and feeding them fast food, is their diet really the most important issue, or is it not having their parents around most of the time? All we can do as a society, as so many other people have pointed out in this thread, is address the poverty and other systemic problems that restrict people’s ability to parent the way they would if they shared my privileges. (And that doesn’t mean they would, or should, parent like *me*.)

  38. What ‘childhood obesity’ is really doing to kids « hahayourefunny

    […] What ‘childhood obesity’ is really doing to kids — Feministe. I was once told that I had an obligation to become thin (as if I could just choose to be and, voila!) because my kid will grow up looking at me and thinking that fat is a way to be. As if, somehow, she would catch my fat, no matter how our family lives and eats and moves and no matter what her genetic predispositions. (This person assumed, as many do, that thin is objectively healthier and ‘better’ than fat.) Some people think children should be kept from the terrible knowledge that contented fat people existbecause that would, by some sorcery, mean that the notion of fatness would never occur to them and they would always remain thin. Some people just don’t believe fat parents can possibly provide a healthy home. Some people think parents of fat children are by definition lazy or incompetent or unloving. Some people are ignorant. Some people are arseholes. […]

  39. The Nerd
    The Nerd July 16, 2011 at 9:15 pm |

    When I first read the original recommendation to remove children from their homes, I was struck by the presumption that it’s actually seen as healthier for a child to be thin than to be well-loved in a stable environment. Homewrecker.

  40. Ali
    Ali July 16, 2011 at 9:23 pm |

    PrettyAmiable: You’d be okay with them snatching your kid if they were on the “morbidly” heavy side? I don’t really understand how it’s okay even if it’s only happening to a few families.

    I don’t think I would be okay with it, no parent could be entirely okay with losing their kid, even if the loss was only temporary. My point was that people seem to be blowing up the report to include all children who are heavier than “normal” and making it seem like the writers are leading some great call to action for removing children. The writers had plenty of reservations about their findings.

    @Tori- I agree that any “war on *blank*” tactics ruin any nuance in solving the problem, especially when “war on obesity” just becomes code for “war on fatties.”

  41. Jackie
    Jackie July 16, 2011 at 10:37 pm |

    Trigger Warning: child abuse

    EG: Yes, well, part of that is in reaction to the horrific, shameful histories many Western governments have of using child-removing as a stick with which to beat oppressed groups.As noted in another thread, indigenous peoples have had their children taken away by various governments in explicit efforts to stamp out their language and culture (though now such behavior is couched in the language of “what’s best for the children”); poor people in the US and perhaps England (it’s been a while since I’ve done this reading) have routinely lost children after being consigned to workhouses, or being deemed unable to provide a good home (the practice was called “the misery,” and for more info on it, I recommend Steven Katz’s In the Shadow of the Poorhouse and Mimi Abramovitz’s Regulating the Lives of Women; both books are now significantly older than they were when I first read them, but I don’t think their historical research has therefore been compromised).For that reason, handing the government justification to do more of that sort of thing is a pretty touchy issue.

    It’s often a hard issue for me, because I am a big advocate of children’s rights not to be treated as the property of their parents, but because of the above political considerations, to say nothing of how much harm is done to children when they are removed from their families or the misery it causes the parents, I would steer very clear of removing kids from their families for being obese.In the US, this is doubly true given the horrible foster care system we have, and the fact that children are routinely left with and/or restored to abusive parents (there’s a scandal every couple years or so when a kid is killed as a result, but no concrete changes like, oh, making sure there are enough social workers for each of them to have a reasonably sized caseload, are ever forthcoming).I just don’t see how this will be helpful to anybody.

    I agree. And every time that child is hit, that abuser will be able to know how to hurt them, to tell them they’re fat. To tell them they didn’t deserve a loving family because they’re fat. That they will be abused again, unless they become thin.

    It’s like my experience of being bullied in Special Ed, the bullies knew how to target you, because they had complete knowledge of what your weaknesses were. So sending fat children, to people who will hear about that they were taken away for being fat. Good luck that fat kid, makes it to adulthood without killing themselves.

  42. PrettyAmiable
    PrettyAmiable July 17, 2011 at 2:17 am |

    Ali: I don’t think I would be okay with it, no parent could be entirely okay with losing their kid, even if the loss was only temporary. My point was that people seem to be blowing up the report to include all children who are heavier than “normal” and making it seem like the writers are leading some great call to action for removing children. The writers had plenty of reservations about their findings.

    Here’s the thing though – I think I’m looking at the same data and having parents putting themselves in those parents’ shoes and feeling like it’s a big effing deal because – to those parents, at least – it is. And to be okay with it happening at all is scary, you know?

  43. meg
    meg July 17, 2011 at 12:32 pm |

    interesting read…

  44. Erin
    Erin July 17, 2011 at 4:34 pm |

    I tell my son he is heavy all the time, but what I mean by it is ‘you are too heavy to carry, get down and walk yourself’. It’s sad that in todays society people over hearing that exchange would probably assume I was telling my son he needs to lose weight.

    After watching my mother be on a hundred different diets when I was a child – even though she was within a normal weight range – I don’t even keep a scale in my house. I don’t want my son to grow up in a calorie counting environment.

    My grandma often tells me my son is getting ‘a bit chubby’ and at the same time praises me for losing weight, even if I have told her my weight loss is due to stress and sickness. I also remember her telling me as a young child that if you could pinch the fat on your belly then you are too fat and of course I always could.

    Someone has to break the chain of bad body image among families, especially from mother to daughter. I can definitely see how my grandma’s attitude toward weight and size has effected my mothers outlook. I have quite big breasts, huge hips and I’m not very tall: even when I’m at a healthy weight I’m going to look kind of chunky and I don’t have a problem with that.

    Trying to foster a healthy body image in your children often feels like a battle against everyone and everything fat hating is so entrenched, glad to read this article and feel less alone.

  45. Bagelsan
    Bagelsan July 17, 2011 at 4:35 pm |

    Family is important, losing a bit of weight isn’t going to make up for the damage that will be done if you just pull kids out of their families and shove them in foster care.

    No kidding, that would have been horrifying for me as a kid — I’ve never been obese but I’ve always been very close to my family (especially as a shy, introverted person they are some of the only people in the world I can fully relax around.) Personally I would rather “die young” or whatever dire thing is going to happen to obese children rather than be taken away from my loved ones.

    Can’t they just sign these families up for free boxes of veggies or personal trainers or exercise bikes or something? Certainly less traumatic than the alternatives, from the sound of it (and probably cheaper, too!)

  46. Safiya Outlines
    Safiya Outlines July 17, 2011 at 7:42 pm |

    Don’t know about anywhere else, but the stats show very poor outcomes for children in care, hence it should really be a last resort, where the child’s needs are not being met/ the child is in danger.

    Obesity in itself should not be viewed in that category.

    ITA with everyone upthread who stated that the state is shirking it’s responsibilities. You can’t be selling off sports fields and play areas, then complain children don’t exercise.

  47. Colleen
    Colleen July 18, 2011 at 2:19 pm |

    A.Y. Siu: Don’t judge people at all, but if you are going to judge, really judge them by their lifestyle and not by their looks.

    This makes my head hurt. How on earth are you going to know what someone’s lifestyle is. For me the whole point is live and let live. What I eat or how much I weigh or how often I work out is none of your damn business.

  48. Colleen
    Colleen July 18, 2011 at 2:29 pm |

    Spilt Milk:
    But can we also take care not to erase fat kids and adults please? ‘Sie will probably grow up thin anyway’ is not a good reason to avoid fat-shaming a kid. A good reason is that fat-shaming kids contributes to the hostile climate all fat people face in this culture, it hurts kids in a range of ways, and it’s douchey.

    Thank you for this.
    My niece (well, more sort of ex-step-niece if we have to be technical about it) used to ask me and my partner why are so fat all the time. Like, starting when she was about 3. It never really bothered me (because, well, I am fat), except that I was worried about what was making her ask those questions in the first place. It turns out that her mother was incredibly weight obsessed and talked about how “fat” (air quotes because I don’t think most people would call her fat) she was all the time in front of her daughter. By the time my niece had started school, she was spouting off all kinds of things about how she shouldn’t be eating french fries and how she wanted to skip dinner so that she could eat ice cream. More than once I caught her holding up her shirt in the mirror, ribs poking out, jabbing at her barely-fleshy tummy and pouting. When I tried to bring it up, my sister (who is fat but not comfortable with it) would laugh it off and say “What is wrong with everyone teaching her good eating habits?”
    It terrifies me because I know how I was as a teenager and how long it took me to get out of that mindset – I can’t even imagine how much worse it must be for kids who pick those things up at 4 or 5.

  49. Paraxeni
    Paraxeni July 18, 2011 at 7:16 pm |

    Collen –

    I can’t even imagine how much worse it must be for kids who pick those things up at 4 or 5.

    It lasts forever. I remember eating grapefruit for breakfast, while my brother had cornflakes. Grapefruit was thought to ‘burn fat’ I was 4.

    I have started, since 2009ish, to try and build a healthy attitude toward food, but it’s hard. I’m 33 now, hopefully by 40 I’ll be done!

    I have an anecdote that perfectly sums my mother up: last January she was diagnosed with uterine cancer. She had a total abdominal hysterectomy two months later, in March. The first time we saw her after she’d been released from hospital, her VERY first words were “Look how flat my stomach is! I’ve lost ten pounds!”

    I don’t remember it, but apparently I just went dead-white and started to shake. Mother-dearest kept going on about weight, and calories, and how her bed-rest (sofa-rest actually, only ‘lazy slobs’ stay in bed all day, according to her. And yes, she’s well aware that I stay in bed 95% of the time due to my spinal and neuro problems) was going to make her “so fat”, and I apparently sat there with my mouth opening and closing like a fish.

    That’s exactly why my brain still conjures up ‘diet plans’ for me, because I spent 26 years hearing about calories, diets, weight, fat, badbadbad from her. That’s why occasionally, I still get into teary rages about how fat I am, and how disgusting I am.

    I may have shaken the eating disorders but the mental effects are far worse, to the point that the logic of my physical disabilities is trumped by my brain saying “EXERCISE! EAT LESS! MOVE MORE!” One of my medications makes me feel hungry, and that sensation makes my skin crawl. Normal human response to hunger? Eat. My response, because of my upbringing? Whatever you do, don’t eat, that’s weakness!

    That’s far more abusive, in my opinion, than ‘allowing’ your kid to be fat, which obviously isn’t even a thing.

  50. Paraxeni
    Paraxeni July 18, 2011 at 7:19 pm |

    Oh and I’m sure I don’t even have to add that any time spent with my mother, requires a debriefing from my partner. The effect is stronger if the time spent with her was in my old home. 4 hours can mean a week of me having to be convinced I’m not hideous and lazy, and that if I don’t eat? I will die.

  51. Jackie
    Jackie July 18, 2011 at 7:56 pm |

    Bagelsan:
    Family is important, losing a bit of weight isn’t going to make up for the damage that will be done if you just pull kids out of their families and shove them in foster care.

    No kidding, that would have been horrifying for me as a kid — I’ve never been obese but I’ve always been very close to my family (especially as a shy, introverted person they are some of the only people in the world I can fully relax around.) Personally I would rather “die young” or whatever dire thing is going to happen to obese children rather than be taken away from my loved ones.

    Can’t they just sign these families up for free boxes of veggies or personal trainers or exercise bikes or something? Certainly less traumatic than the alternatives, from the sound of it (and probably cheaper, too!)

    I feel the same way Bagelsan, as I am quiet and introverted too. Sending children they don’t have the right to a loving family and safe home because they’re fat, is just going to instill permenant truama. Something that will never be resolved by weight loss.

  52. Bagelsan
    Bagelsan July 18, 2011 at 7:58 pm |

    She had a total abdominal hysterectomy two months later, in March. The first time we saw her after she’d been released from hospital, her VERY first words were “Look how flat my stomach is! I’ve lost ten pounds!”

    Wow. A woman’s uterus is “excess” weight now? What an utterly perfect encapsulation of the woman-hating that goes into the diet mentality. I’m mindboggled. :(

    SO sorry you had to go through that — there’s “finding a silver lining to surgery” and then there’s “jeezus woman what are you thinking??” and that was well into the latter category.

  53. Jackie
    Jackie July 18, 2011 at 7:59 pm |

    Paraxeni:
    Collen –It lasts forever.I remember eating grapefruit for breakfast, while my brother had cornflakes.Grapefruit was thought to ‘burn fat’I was 4.

    I have started, since 2009ish, to try and build a healthy attitude toward food, but it’s hard.I’m 33 now, hopefully by 40 I’ll be done!

    I have an anecdote that perfectly sums my mother up: last January she was diagnosed with uterine cancer.She had a total abdominal hysterectomy two months later, in March.The first time we saw her after she’d been released from hospital, her VERY first words were “Look how flat my stomach is!I’ve lost ten pounds!”

    I don’t remember it, but apparently I just went dead-white and started to shake.Mother-dearest kept going on about weight, and calories, and how her bed-rest (sofa-rest actually, only ‘lazy slobs’ stay in bed all day, according to her.And yes, she’s well aware that I stay in bed 95% of the time due to my spinal and neuro problems) was going to make her “so fat”, and I apparently sat there with my mouth opening and closing like a fish.

    That’s exactly why my brain still conjures up ‘diet plans’ for me, because I spent 26 years hearing about calories, diets, weight, fat, badbadbad from her.That’s why occasionally, I still get into teary rages about how fat I am, and how disgusting I am.

    I may have shaken the eating disorders but the mental effects are far worse, to the point that the logic of my physical disabilities is trumped by my brain saying “EXERCISE!EAT LESS!MOVE MORE!”One of my medications makes me feel hungry, and that sensation makes my skin crawl.Normal human response to hunger?Eat.My response, because of my upbringing?Whatever you do, don’t eat, that’s weakness!

    That’s far more abusive, in my opinion, than ‘allowing’ your kid to be fat, which obviously isn’t even a thing.

    The claim people are ‘allowing’ their kids to be fat, sounds to me like saying someone is allowing a child to be darker skin color. Weight is genetic. What we have are people who are saying we shouldn’t allow children to live a life without trying to defy their genes. No different than saying, let’s sell bleach face cream to people who aren’t White. I can’t wait for the day people will look back at all this fat hate, and think how horrible that people could do this to each other, under the guise of medicine. Like they do looking bad upon lobotomies.

  54. Stephanie
    Stephanie July 18, 2011 at 8:35 pm |

    When I was young, my parents would say, “Do you really think you should eat that?” or not allow me to eat until I was full. literally went to bed hungry many nights after a very small dinner, and I would get out of bed to get more food. It resulted in my parents locking all the food up. I was always fat, though. Nothing ever made it go away – portion control, heavy exercise. I was a size 12 at age 14, and a size 16 by age 18.

    So when I went to college, I ate all the time. I ate horrible junk foods constantly. My favorite Friday night snack was two huge bags of Doritos and a pint of ice cream. I was a size 24 by my 19th birthday. Once i went home for the summer and was portion controlled again, I went back down to a 20. But then I left home for five years, and I went back to a 24 – slowly, that time.

    I still eat a lot, but I try to eat small meals through the day. I think my body is naturally a 16-18, but I’m okay with staying 22 my whole life. I just want to be full and healthy. With my children, I plan on fixing healthy dinners where they can eat until they are full.

  55. Paraxeni
    Paraxeni July 19, 2011 at 11:20 am |

    @Jackie -exactly. I’ll never be not-white, not-gay, not-disabled, or not-fat. Even with my EDs at their worst I was a UK 16/18. Doesn’t help that scoliosis has given me a 5’6″ frame for a 5’10” person’s spine to fit in, BMI can never reflect that!

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