A radical idea

Maybe its, like, okay that some children are fat.

I know that seems like an outrageous suggestion, even to some proported Fat Acceptance allies who still wring their hands at all these little fat kids they hear about, but maybe we can try just being okay with that. Maybe we can all try to give that a shot, because flipping out over fat children hasn't exactly been a very productive strategy. So maybe we can "think of the children" and stop creating a culture that teaches them shame and self-loathing at earlier and earlier ages.

When someone protests that they are fine with fat adults, but fat children are a natural nightmare, I have to suspect that they aren't really fine with fat adults. They've just decided they'll tolerate our fatness through gritted teeth. Gee, thanks. But fat children? Oh, gosh no. We have to stop them while we still have time or else!

Or else, what, exactly?

Maybe we can stop regarding fat children as victims of their bodies. Maybe we can stop teaching that to those children and to the children around them. Maybe we stop having campaigns with militaristic language that send the message that their bodies are wrong and must be changed. Maybe we stop instructing them on shame and encouraging other children to enforce that shame.

Maybe we stop absolving ourselves from these outcomes by medicalizing those childrens' bodies. Maybe we stop flattering ourselves for our good intentions while we subject kids to scorn and resentment, from their families, their peers, and themselves. Maybe we recognize that telling children to stop being so fat will stigmatize fat bodies. Maybe we realize that those bodies are likely to remain fat, so that message will be powerfully destructive.

Maybe we start teaching all children to love their bodies as they are. Maybe we start teaching them that its okay to be fat or thin, short or tall, average or not. Maybe childrens' programming can start reflecting body diversity in their child actors without an intention to scold those with transgressive bodies.

Maybe we encourage children to develop relationships with eating that are unburdened with shame and self-doubt. Maybe we teach children that its okay to eat. Maybe we encourage them to think of all food as being okay. Maybe we don't make broccoli a chore, but let them enjoy it. Maybe we don't make candy something forbidden and wrong, but something that will invigorate their body and spirit in moderation.

Maybe we let all children discover the possibilities of their own bodies instead of defining them all by rigid standards. Maybe they can be guided to find the play and movement that will sustain them for years. Maybe we can teach them that if they can't do something, that its not their fault and it doesn't have to limit them, but rather point the way to new opportunities to have a positive relationship with their bodies.

Maybe we can impart these lessons without telling children the goal is to have thin bodies. Maybe we can develop these behaviors and judge success by positive and healthy attitudes towards their bodies, towards food, towards movement and play. Maybe we can turn away judging progress by having a body that is smaller and more conventionally expected.

Maybe we can seriously respond to bullying and fat shaming both from other children and from adults. Maybe we can renounce rhetoric that blames fat children for economic woes, for the federal budget deficit, for the the state of our national security, and for environmental damage. Maybe we can stop blaming fat children at all and maybe we can stop trying to find things to blame for fat children.

Maybe if a child is fat, that can be okay.

But maybe that's too radical of an idea.


Anonymous said...

This. Is awesome. Thank you for writing it.

Brian said...

Thanks, liveonce.

And it should have gone without saying, but anyone who tries to stigmatize fat children will find their comment deleted. Even if you think you are stigmatizing something else, if the point is to blame anything for fat people, you are stigmatizing fat people.

wriggles said...

Truly well said.

notblueatall said...

I never have anything to add. This is exactly what should be our there, this message. Thank you! You rock my socks on the regular.

Cate said...

Amen to this!

It's no cakewalk to be a fat adult these days, but I constantly find myself thankful that I'm not a fat child in the current climate. Wish I could go back in time and hug my fat-child-self.

Anonymous said...

This is beautiful and necessary. Thank you.

RachelB said...

Thank you-- here from Shakesville to say that I love this post so much that I would like to proofread its dissertation free of charge. Children are not problems to be solved, and it's really irritating to see them treated as if they were.

Brian said...

"Children are not problems to be solved"

As I believe the internet parlance dictates, THIS.

I think there is a whole 'nother post on this side, but the "good intentions" crowd never try to understand how treating fat children as problems to be solved shames and stigmatizes them. Even if you don't blame fat kids for being fat, if still are aggressively assigning blame for their fatness, they are still going to understand that their bodies are wrong and that's an incredibly destructive message.

Jenn said...

Thanks for this fabulous post!

I remember when I went through puberty at 12. Suddenly, all the positive comments about my appearance stopped. I was always extremely petite and thin, and got comments from perfect strangers. All of a sudden, I had boobs (making me a whore... fat acceptance and feminism go hand-in-hand a lot, don't they?), hips, and thighs. I was convinced I was a disgusting tub of lard, and nobody discouraged me from thinking so.

My parents discouraged me from wearing two-piece bathing suits. My father wouldn't buy me the dress for my aunt's wedding I wanted unless I bought a girdle (I was a size 8 -- how fat! --, compared to my present size 18). I was put in the back of my dance team formations, even though I was the most senior and the captain. 6th grade hit and WHAM! The worst insult you could direct towards a girl was how she was fat. Perhaps they would have made fun of me if I was fat before puberty (I wasn't) and I was just blind to it before in my thin priviledge.

But whatever. As much as I despise some children sometimes for being cruel, I loathe with the fiery passion of a thousand suns the adults who let them do it, teach them to do it, and then don't protect fat kids from ridicule. When you're a kid, with no frame of reference to what's really important, social ostracization can make you suicidal. Also, if shame worked, nobody in the world would be fat. Which is not the case, is it?

The War on Fat is killing children and making puberty (for me) and the rest of childhood a gauntlet of adult-approved suffering. Let kids be fat. Let kids be fat and not give a shit about their fatness. It was a luxury I never had, and my childhood was miserable for it.

JS said...

One of the best things in this generally sound document from the Academy of Eating Disorders:

Weight is not a behavior and therefore not an appropriate target for behavior modification.

I also like this bit:

Thus, constructing a social environment where all children are supported in feeling good about their bodies is essential to promoting health in youth.

Erica said...

I wish to god somebody around me had figured this out when I was a fat kid.

Beautiful post!!

Sleepydumpling said...

I'm so glad that you have raised awareness for the phenomenon of "Ok ok, some adults can be fat... but NOT THE CHILDREN!!"

There is some kind of false perception that people can be "saved" from fatness in childhood if we just intervene now, quickly, before the fat gets hold of them.

Anonymous said...

Y'know, I would like to be able to save childhood me from some things.

I would like to save her from gym classes with grades focused on achievement relative to others, instead of effort and self-improvement. From being laughed at when she couldn't serve the volleyball over the net or run the mile in under 10 minutes.

I would like to save her from being made to repeat the ballet class before toe shoes three times before she finally got the hint (it wasn't because she was a bad dancer).

I would like to save her from being cast as the old woman or the narrator in every play, because she was talented, but not thin or pretty enough to play the lead.

I'd like to save her from the diet books for teens that said 5' girls should weigh 100 pounds, and add 5 pounds for each inch thereafter -- convincing her she was fat at 5'2" and 120lbs.

I'd like to save her from choir uniforms with cummerbunds.

And most of all, I'd like to save her from herself, and the insults she hurled at her body, and the baggy T-shirts she tried to hide her body under, and the scorn she directed at the few people larger than her -- and from all the reinforcement from society that told her that those were the right things for a fat girl to do.

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