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school sanctioned: bullying and weight

Posted by on Jan 16, 2012 in Blog Posts | 7 comments

On this day to celebrate Martin Luther King’s legacy, I think of civil rights– on a simplistic level, being civil and human to one another. I dream that our children won’t be judged for the color of their skin, or for the size and shape of their bodies, or the color of their eyes or the texture of their hair, or whether they are “sufficiently” “male” or “female”… I wish we spent as much energy and time raising compassionate, happy children as we do on our war on “childhood obesity.” I think as a nation we would be happier and healthier.

There are casualties of this war, and bullying in schools is only one tragic example…

Is it any surprise that kids are dieting to try to lose weight so they “won’t get bullied?” (article link)

Weight is the #1 reason why kids are bullied.
Kids diet to try to stop bullying.
Diets don’t work . Kids who feel bad about themselves are less active, more likely to diet, engage in disordered eating and are heavier.

Here are the excerpts from middle school essays about the St. Paul, Minnesota school district’s “wellness policy,” which bans sweets etc… Remember, this is what kids are writing about the health and weight and the school policy.

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

“If you eat too much sugar then you can get diabetes and you would have to inject insulin into yourself.”

“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!”

I wonder where kids get the idea that dieting would protect them from bullies? “Health” class maybe?
I was pretty shocked when these essays were put up on the school district’s website. It seemed to me that there was a huge red flag that kids are getting bullied. That these essays were put up as support for the program indicates a scary disconnect. Kids are sanctioned in their bullying. Victim-blaming in health classes tells kids,  “if you’re fat it’s your fault, it’s your choice,” and makes bullying OK.

I am all for health, but equating health with weight loss is dangerous. Too many kids are casualties in our war on childhood obesity.

What do you think?

 

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7 Comments

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  1. AB

    xD I do enjoy old those School House Rock songs about nutrition as they didn’t encourage restriction or eating disordered behavior. Anyway, I remember the “healthy eating” messages in cartoons didn’t seem to start until the 1990’s as before everything was “Say no to drugs” in the 80’s.

    Also, it seems like when I check out a kid’s show out of curiosity these days, the only food kids in cartoons eat are grilled chicken and broccoli! The cartoons make it seem like only grilled chicken and broccoli are acceptable foods to eat.

  2. AB

    Was that one of the recent episodes of Garfield? A while ago I noticed a lot of the old school cartoon characters are being redrawn to look skinnier, and the new episodes have “healthy eating” messages and/or dialog poking fun at overweight characters.

    • katja

      it’s all computer, so last five years, but on apple TV can’t tell beyond that… We’ve seen it in older shows to, “Skydancers” from the 80’s and pretty much everything, but I hate all the embedded “healthy” messaging. I don’t need PBS teling me to make whole wheat pizza and only a “little” cheese… I don’t like whole wheat tortillas either. I’ve tried. :)

  3. Karen

    I’m not surprised. I teach first grade—6 and 7 year olds. Anytime I read aloud a story and the word “fat” is mentioned, either in the book or by one of my students, or even if it comes up when we’re learning the -at family, every one of my little ones starts giggling. It happens without fail. It’s socially acceptable to laugh at fat people. It’s obvious even to my first graders.

    • katja

      Karen, how do you handle that? M used to giggle too when she was about four. A boy in her class had made up a rhyme about a “fat ady in the tree” and rhyming with “pee.” I spoke to the teacher about it, and that it is harmful, and that if the boy had used the word “black” or “gay” that this liberal preschool would have pounced on it. The teacher assured me they don’t use the word “fat” and that they talk about being wide or skinny. “fat” is only a dirty word if we let it be. I struggled at first embracing it as a descriptor… Anyway, it is complex! I was sitting with my daughter watching Garfield cartoons, and they will be banned. A fat character was working in an ice-cream truck and they made her with half her teeth missing and clearly “stupid” in how she talked and a kid said, “Don’t eat too many ice-creams or you’ll end up like her.” Horrific! Or on netflix, a romeo and juliet for kids where the characters are seals, and one relentlessly fat-shames the elephant seal (“Blubber-butt…”) The language is so ubiquitous. Did you see the piece about the Kindergarten teacher doing gender education? Maybe someone should come up with the same for body diversity… It is absolutely the last truly socially acceptable group to mock. All based on false assumptions that it is based on a choice, particularly for kids… Thank you for sharing, I’d love to continue this discussion. Some past posts have talked a little about talking to kids about size. I always try to be very neutral, include discussions about size with eye and skin color and height. Mention I’m a little “fatter” than auntie Isa, but not as fat as Daddy… Neutralizing the words is part of the solution somehow…

  4. Twistie

    I think these comments make me sick, both at heart and to my stomach. I know how much fat kids were bullied when I was in grade school back in the dark ages. I wasn’t even fat then, but my mother was and I was bullied for her weight. And that was well before the ‘obesity epidemic!’ I shudder to think of how hard it must be now.

    If anyone involved was capable of one iota of critical thinking, they would look at those excerpts from the children’s essays and start to re-evaluate the way they’re teaching healthy habits to children. These show that they aren’t teaching healthy habits, they’re teaching paranoia and cruelty and labeling it health. That doesn’t help anyone.

    • katja

      I agree, so little analysis, reflection and critical thinking. part of the problem is that everyone “knows” what the problem with “obesity” is. The great delusion.