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don’t blame fat kids, blame the bullies

Posted by on Aug 14, 2012 in Blog Posts |

Last week at an early childhood conference, I saw  puppets for sale to teach about diversity in classrooms. There were puppets of every color, one with a hijab, and one in a wheelchair, but all the dolls were made from the same basic body, just with different colors of skin, hair and clothing. Size diversity was conspicuously missing from the anti-bullying  puppets. When I look at various anti bullying resources, rarely is weight mentioned, even though more than two thirds of fat children will be bullied.  If anti-fat bullying likely accounts for the most common bullying, why is it so blatantly ignored? Why the snubbing? Because it’s a “choice,” or it would “encourage obesity?” This is not just a rhetorical question. If anyone is active in anti-bullying efforts, I really do want to know…

I remember having a discussion with Michelle at the Fat Nutritionist a few years ago. (I was almost there in my thinking.) We were talking about why a prominent LGBT activist is so anti-fat. I was trying to articulate that being anti-fat is justifiable if you believe that being fat is a choice, and how this gentleman and others seem to use the argument that being gay is not a choice and therefor we should not bully homosexual children and teens— but he seems to  believe that being fat is a choice. If he believes it’s a choice, he might believe he can and should tell children not to be fat, and that translates  into less concern and action to stop the bullying of fat children and teens. Michelle said, (paraphrased) It doesn’t even matter. It’s about being civil and human, it’s about civil rights. We treat everyone, even people who choose to live differently than we do, with basic dignity and respect. Thank you for that reminder. Being Mormon is a choice, but we wouldn’t accept that a child who is Mormon, or any other religion being bullied. Right?

So, even if you think being fat is a choice, and that telling fat kids to lose weight would actually work (which it won’t),  standing by while fat children and teens are bullied is not OK. (And adults too for that matter.)  Fat children need to be protected and deserve a safe and welcoming learning environment, just like any other child.

As a reminder:

  •  There is no weight loss advice we can give children that works
  • Telling kids they are fat makes them more likely to be less healthy, not more— less physically active, more likely to practice disordered eating and gain weight

Think it doesn’t matter? Out of the mouths of babes, here are excerpts from 4th grade essays that I found online about the wellness policy.  These are heartbreaking red flags. If this is what they are writing to the teachers, what are they saying to their classmates during recess?

“If you are obese and want to start losing weight then you could start eating healthier foods.”

“I think it is a good thing that kids shouldn’t eat junk because if they eat too much people would say mean things about their body or how they look.”

“You would be ahead of everyone that was making fun of you.   But don’t eat it  everyday, because then you are back to what you were before.”

“Maybe you think the school shouldn’t control what you eat but you can just stuff your selves with junk when you get home; the only person you’ll be hurting is yourself. I hope you appreciate the maybe dumb sounding rules more now. I sure do!”

The tone in the essays is blaming, self-righteous and  exonerates those doing the teasing. It is not OK. It is an example of how our school-sanctioned “health classes” give a green-light to bullying.

What can we do? These ideas come to mind, but I’d love to see a national discussion…

1) Stop all messaging about childhood obesity in the schools.
2) Stop all messaging that uses aggressive language about children and weight, as in “stamp out,”  “eradicate,” “eliminate,” or “solve the problem” of childhood obesity. (Which the child will interpret as “eliminate people like me.”)
3) Teach a curriculum/have a school environment that acknowledges and honors body size diversity.
4) Acknowledge and honor different physical abilities and capabilities in a matter-of-fact way. Help kids find what they enjoy and excel in.
5) Teach a curriculum that honors health, not weight. (Another recent study linked poor body-image with weight gain.)
6) Enact a zero-tolerance policy for teasing and bullying of all kinds, and mean it.
7) Add size diversity to any bullying legislation.
8) Consider empathy training in schools, like this program called “Roots of Empathy”.
9) Turn off media and/or talk to your children about ubiquitous stereotypes in the media. (Once you start looking for it, you will notice that most bullies in movies are fat children, that the one or two fat characters in cartoons or in books (think the Weasleys in Harry Potter) are boorish, greedy, always portrayed as stuffing their faces…)

I’d love to know what you think can help stop the bullying. What have I missed?

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