Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Does Fat-shaming Really Help Anyone? I'm Gonna Go With No..

Disclaimer: Some people may be put off by my use of 'fat' as opposed to euphemisms such as chubby, husky, fluffy and whathaveyou.  I use fat because it's all-encompassing and because I'd like to see it become more of a neutral descriptor and not an insult.  And because I'm not a thesaurus.

Around the interwebz there has been some mixed reactions to the campaign coming out of Georgia right now for Children's Health Care of Atlanta that features stark black and white photos of fat kids with captions about how hard it is to be a fat kid.  Some people think it's brilliant because parents need to know how terrible and difficult it is to be a fat kid, like we have no idea at all.

I have a really, really hard time with this campaign. First, because these kids may find themselves associated with these campaigns for a long long time. Kids, and hell, adults can be cruel.  How many of these kids are going to go into high school known as 'The Fat Kid Poster Kid' or something similar?

Also, and I'm probably going to get crucified, but being obese isn't a problem in and of itself.  It's the issues related to (related to, not necessarily caused by) that are the problem.  Problems like Type 2 Diabetes and high cholesterol, which are related to shitty eating habits and lack of activity.  Two things that are also correlated with being obese.

Obesity?  Not the problem.  Shitty eating habits and lack of activity in kids?  Yes.  That is a problem.  Let's put it this way - let's say your kid is fat. So you take them to the doctor.  If you take your kid to the doctor and checks all their vitals and blood sugar and cholesterol and blood pressure and all that stuff and everything is fine, and you know they eat plenty of good food, fruits, veggies etc. and that they are active, then they are healthy.  And that is good.

So give a kid a break.

All you can tell by looking at someone is if they are overweight.  You can't tell someone's health by looking at them. You cannot tell if they lack activity or have shitty eating habits.  You can't tell if they have high cholesterol, or blood sugar, or a glandular issue that is actually causing weight gain (because yes, sometimes poor health causes obesity, rather than vice versa).

Which leads me to my main issue with this campaign. This campaign seems to rely on shaming kids and shaming parents and if anything, puts kids at risk of eating disorders later in life, which is going to be way worse for their health in the long run. All it seems to do is point out that being a fat kid sucks.

NO KIDDING.  Really? I thought it was a freaking amusement park ride.  (You know one of the things that makes being a fat kid suck?  Public shaming and ridicule. Oh, and restrictive diets. Those suck too).  The health issues are something to worry about, yes.. but we can focus on health issues without body-shamign little kids.  Do fat kids get bullied?  Oh, hells yes, many of them do.  That's an issue, however, that I think is better resolved by teaching kids not to be jerks, and not teaching kids that fat people are to be an object of shame and ridicule.

What the Children's Health of Atlanta campaign DOESN'T do is offer any suggestions as to how to deal with childhood obesity, other than to get all Mrs Lovejoy and shake a finger at parents as if to say "Stop letting your kids be such fatty-fat-fat's."

Instead of a campaign pointing out how awful it must be to be a fatty-fatty-fat-fat how about we have more programs dedicated to pointing out how awesome and fun being active is.. regardless of whether it makes you lose weight?

How about some initiatives to make healthy food more accessible and reduce the number of food deserts in low income areas?

How about we encourage more community cohesion so that kids can go outside and play like they used to, instead of constantly reminding people through the media that if they dare let their kids out of their sight for more than 2 minutes they will die or get kidnapped or molested?

How about we put more pressure on school boards to cap salaries for admins making over 100K a year, so that programs such as Physical Education are at less risk of being cut?

How about a cost-of-living increase for minimum wage so that people aren’t forced to work ridiculous hours at 2-3 part time jobs just so they can put cheap, processed food on the table because it’s the only shit they A) can afford and B) have the bloody time to make.

There's got to be about a million ideas that would be better for combating childhood obesity or the associated risks than billboards saying “Your kid is fat, and that’s bad.”


  1. Fuck yes, Andie. You hit the nail on the head. ESPECIALLY- at the end of the post when you began talking about community cohesion, capping salaries for admins, and the COST OF HEALTHY FOOD. It's ridiculous!

  2. Brilliant post! Everything you said is so true, agree with you 100%

  3. "Instead of a campaign pointing out how awful it must be to be a fatty-fatty-fat-fat how about we have more programs dedicated to pointing out how awesome and fun being active is ... "

    This. Exactly this. If we focused on being healthy through eating well and being active, the obesity "epidemic" would begin to rectify itself. How about instead of calling it the obesity epidemic, we call it the inactivity academic or overeating epidemic.

    1. I'd like to see a return of programs like Participaction, which was all about taking part and being active.. there was NO talk about weight, it was all about just BEING ACTIVE.

      Also, being active doesn't mean that you have to run out and join a team sport or a gym.. just walking, or dancing is activity.

  4. I love this post so much. It's insightful, intelligent, and all so very true. Yeah, I'm a fat woman, but my cholesterol is awesome, I'm far away from diabetes range, my BP is good, and the only bloody thing wrong with me is that I'm deficient in Vitamin D. So just because I'm fat, doesn't mean I'm not healthy.

    Excellent post!

    1. Yeah, exactly. I've known a few people like this. Conversely, aside from my last attempt at losing weight, those times I was thinnest was usually an indicator that I was really, really sick.

  5. Amen, sister! This is a brilliant post. You are absolutely, 100% right about this stuff.

    Being in the lower income range I know personally that it is frustratingly hard to buy and make healthy food for myself and my family.

  6. This is a very important post you've written here. My sister is actually doing a report for one of her college courses about school lunches and the lack of nutrition therein. It seems as though the schools tell the kids about healthy foods and exercise, then serve them crap and cut physical education classes as you said.

    My brother was an overweight child and he's an overweight adult. Sadly he isn't the healthy kind. He has high blood pressure and was even hospitalized for several days because it was at stroke level. I worry so much for him and his two little girls. I don't want to lose my brother. It's so hard to help people that have been overweight their entire lives. I don't get to talk to him very often so I hope he is taking better care of himself.

    It's a matter of getting healthy, not just getting skinny.

  7. Well said! My daughter is healthy as a little horse and only slightly overweight and already at 12 she is worried that her stomach isn't flat and she thinks her beautiful little legs are too broad. God, it's so sick what we do to people, especially kids when it comes to weight.

    1. Yeah, I didn't even get to touch on how much damage we do to kids, health-wise, by restrictive diets and setting them up for a life-time of disordered relationships with food.

      Your kid is hilarious, btw. I lurves her.

  8. This is one of the reasons I love the Be A Star charity. It teaches kids to be respectful of both themselves and others, rather than trying to shame a certain subgroup into changing.

    1. Hmm.. I haven't heard of this before, I'll have to check it out.