Last week I wrote about stigma against fat people in general, but this week I want to talk about a more disturbing trend, namely stigma against fat children. I have a theory that the diet industry sought to get into the untapped market of men and children (With children, it's the ingrained fat=bad message they will take with them to adulthood.) With billions of more dollars at stake, why not have propaganda and fear campaigns? (like OH MY GOD, ALL FAT CHILDREN EVENTUALLY DIE!)
It's not surprising that with this pressure to be thin or else eating disorders have risen.
As obesity in the United States rises, it is little wonder the overall perception about body image is going in the opposite direction. It is estimated that 10 percent of females between the ages of 10 and 20 struggles with bulimia, and 4 percent of women in college have the eating disorder, according to information released by Insight Behavioral Health Centers in Chicago.
A new anti-obesity program in Minnesota is putting pressure not only to become thin but to blame fat parents for encouraging their children to become fat. One of the ads features a fat woman shopping. As she puts food into her cart that looks like she's eating like a college freshman, her young daughter does the same. After all if you are fat, you obviously only eat junk food. And if you are thin you never eat junk food. (Of course in the real world, you fill your cart with healthy foods, while your kids fill their cart with junk food.)
I do not fucking eat chocolate cereal and buckets of ice cream. Here is what I actually do: Pretty much every morning before work I walk 1.1 miles uphill to a coffee shop, which is across the street from the organic co-op where I do all my grocery shopping. I eat normal, human amounts of unprocessed, fresh, largely local foods.
Once upon a time that cart looked like mine. "Really?" The fat haters might say "She's admitting it! She eats like that woman in the ad!" Actually that looked very much like my cart in my dieting/binge days. When on the diet, the cart would be filled with vegetables, fruits, diet soda and weight watchers meals. Off the diet, chips, ice cream, diet soda and weight watchers meals.
Now my cart is of a person of normal eating, a mixture of all food groups, including OMFG, one bag of cookies. Your see Trader Joe's makes these awesome gluten free cookies. There are 14 in the bag. Which means I eat two cookies a day. OOOHHHHHH Every once in a while I buy ice cream (OMFG again).
I don't have a daughter who I can be a bad influence on with my bag of cookies but I have a niece who lives with me. If anything, none of my eating habits effect her. The whole local food thing my husband and I rant about so much bores her and she calls lectures on healthy eating a "Narc fest". The one thing I'm grateful for is I was off dieting before my niece got to her self-conscious age and I got her to accept people of all sizes. I'm happy to say she sometimes got self-conscious but it never got bad AND she doesn't judge people on anything but their character.
Had I still been dieting I worried that I might have made my niece self conscious or made her believed fat can be fixed with dieting. The ad talks about how fat parents are to blame, it doesn't talk about the encouragement of eating disorders.
The tendency to undereat spins from a cycle that repeats itself in almost every female-to-female relationship, and everything from media to retail companies fuels the problem.
"You say, ‘I'm ugly, I'm fat,' and your friend says, ‘Oh no, you're pretty. I'm fat," McClanahan said. "You hear it from peers and from your parents, and the standard of beauty has gotten thinner and thinner. Now you see size double zero in stores. These negative standards have an effect on self-esteem.
This be thin at all costs is wreaking havoc on children who are being bullied not only by their peers but teachers and parents as well.
Students report that weight is among the most common reasons that their peers are bullied. In one national study, 84 percent of adolescent students surveyed saw overweight students being called names, being teased in a mean way, and teased during physical activities. Over two-thirds reported observing overweight and obese peers being excluded, ignored, avoided, teased in the cafeteria, and targeted by negative rumors. The majority of students observed verbal threats and physical threats.
While peers are the most common perpetrators, teachers and parents also contribute to stigmatizing obese and overweight children. Teachers, including physical education teachers, report lower expectations for overweight students compared to thinner students, endorse negative stereotypes or believe that overweight and obese children have family problems. Even at home, children may face critical and negative comments, with significant numbers of overweight and obese children reporting weight-related teasing and criticism from their parents.
Pressure the parents that they are bad if they let their kids have junk food, pressure the children that they are bad for being fat and you will see an epidemic of kids with low self esteem, body and food hatred, eating disorders. Perhaps even easily influenced by the next new diet plan.
There are better ways. First off we need to stop spreading the message fat=bad. When a fat kid does everything right but never gets into the thin ideal? What then? We need to accept that people, even children come in all shapes and sizes. We can encourage our children to be active, enjoy nutritious foods without worry and to accept their body.