It Gets Better?

I read this article today [Warning:  Triggering in almost every possible way]  A special needs student was repeatedly verbally and physically bullied in school.  Not by students, but by her teacher, Christy Wilt, and her teacher’s aide, Kelly Chaffins.  The girl’s parents hid a tape recorder in her clothes to get tangible proof.  The aide was fired but the teacher signed a statement that said that she “engaged in conduct unbecoming to the teaching profession when she made inappropriate comments to a student with disabilities and allowed a co-worker to make inappropriate comments to a student with disabilities.” She was given probation and has to take an 8 hour class on how to recognize child abuse and bullying.

We MUST do better by these kids. A teacher shouldn’t need an 8 hour class to know that it’s not ok to tell a kid that because she’s fat “No wonder nobody likes you.”  I’m a big fan of the “It Gets Better Project”. People create videos to give hope to GLBT youth who may be dealing with bullying from classmates, teachers, even their parents now, that it will get better.  But can we tell fat kids that it gets better? And if not, what can we do?

Bullying is Bad for Kids’s Health

I think that we need to decide that even if we’re not in agreement about what would be best for kid’s health, we are sure that making them feel bad about themselves isn’t it.  Kids live in their bodies 100% of the time and they don’t separate themselves from their bodies.  If you say “childhood obesity is a problem that needs to be fixed, let’s have a war on childhood obesity” they hear “I am a problem that needs to be fixed, they are fighting a war against me”.  In order to make good choices for physical health, it helps a bunch to be in good mental health and to feel like you are worth taking care of.

Food is Their Friend

Studies show that girls are starting to diet at 8 years old and that they would rather lose an arm, a parent, or get cancer than be fat. According to this report  in the peer-reviewed journal “Pediatrics” hospitalizations for eating disorders among children under 12 years old are up 119% in the last decade.  Research published in the October Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine found that twice as many Canadian kids had eating disorders as had type 2 diabetes. I think that we can teach kids about healthy food without terrifying them about becoming fat.

Studies have shown that dieting is a predictor of weight gain, obesity and eating disorders, but not a predictor of weight loss or normal weight in later years. Childhood weight loss programs lead by the Child and Adolescent Trial for Cardiovascular Health and Johns Hopkins University (which were quite similar to the First Lady’s “Let’s Move” Initiative) were spectacular failures at creating thinner kids, but they did create healthier kids which, based on all of the above, might be what we want to focus on.

The End of Dodgeball as We Know It

We need to design physical education programs that give kids a chance to develop a lifelong love of movement and pride in their bodies.  In school we can look at PE with options – you can walk around the track, take yoga, or play basketball for example.  After school we can start fun movement programs and  sports leagues for competitive kids and sport leagues for kids who just want to play around.  We can provide safe places for kids to play, community centers with free, low cost, and sliding scale options.  Everybody giving them the message that the best thing that they can do is find some movement that they love (rather than telling them that they need to punish their bodies with exercise because they’re too fat or might get fat).

Role Models

After a dance competition once a fat little girl came up to me with her dad in tow.  She told me that she didn’t take dance class because her dad told her that she was too fat to dance.  I said that her dad was wrong.  Her dad then apologized and said that she would be starting dance classes on Monday.  That was one of my happiest moments as a dancer.  But I and several of my friends who do talks about Health at Every Size have been invited into schools by a teacher and then had the school cancel because administrators are scared that seeing us be athletic will promote obesity.   Mary Lou Retton is a very popular motivational speaker but nobody’s afraid that she’s promoting shortness. (just to be clear, I’m not IN ANY WAY comparing myself with Mary Lou Retton, just making a point.)

It is foolish to think that we can give fat kids a constant message of “Your body is wrong, you’re lazy, you’re unhealthy, you’re unattractive”, then never let them see anyone who looks like themselves being active, and expect them to believe that health is possible for them.

Let’s keep working until we can say that not only does it get better, but that it IS better.

38 thoughts on “It Gets Better?

  1. Considering how much the creator of the “It Gets Better” movement loathes fat people, he might not want you co-opting his slogan and suggesting that there is any possibility for things to get better for fat kids without weight loss.

    But really, that’s just a minor disgruntlement (I can’t help it, I hate it when people I respect turn out to hold views that I just can’t believe any good, decent, or nice person would have — see also, why I don’t watch Good Eats anymore) — as far as what you actually wrote about you’re entirely correct.

    And the bullying and everything that goes on with kids *sticks* with you. For decades, possibly even for life. I almost had a panic attack at the grocery store tonight because someone complimented my shirt… 36 years old, been out of school now longer than I was in it, and still – a conventionally attractive man noticing me and giving me a compliment makes me want to crawl in a hole and die because I’m just that used to that kind of compliment preceding something nasty. Because in school, it would have been followed by some nasty comment at a minimum, possibly going up to physical assault.

    Yes, I’m probably oversensitive and most people wouldn’t still be having issues like that for all I know. But it doesn’t change the fact that people like me exist, and we deserve to grow up without feeling like every time someone speaks to us it’s going to result in bad things. Not every kid can develop a “thick skin” with regards to this kind of thing, and honestly, it shouldn’t even be a requirement.

    1. i died inside when i found out about alton browns hatred of fat people. i had actually really liked the science nerdiness behind good eats….but holy shit, i refused to give that sanctimonious fuck any of my money. who the hell does he think watched cooking shows? only rail thin skinny nerds who need to learn how to smoke a 2 oz fish with lemon essence and air? /headdesk.

      “And the bullying and everything that goes on with kids *sticks* with you. For decades, possibly even for life. I almost had a panic attack at the grocery store tonight because someone complimented my shirt… 36 years old, been out of school now longer than I was in it, and still – a conventionally attractive man noticing me and giving me a compliment makes me want to crawl in a hole and die because I’m just that used to that kind of compliment preceding something nasty. Because in school, it would have been followed by some nasty comment at a minimum, possibly going up to physical assault.”

      omg yes this…i have to wait and wait and wait and wait some more before i ever even start to trust someone. I look at every relationship in a what are they getting out of me way….if they arent getting something tangible i have a hard time trusting them….because it only means they are setting me up of a spectacular fall of some sort…..public playground betrayals, getting invited to prom and blowing 300$ on hair and makeup only to get dropped for his other girlfriend the moment we got to the dance in front of everybody…he had found out i was a dork you see. and his mom made me take me anyway, but “its social death to be seen with you”

      I got married a week ago to the man of my dreams and we have the kind of love they write movie about.

      1. Heh, I know it’s not all bad — I’ve been married at least 15 years now and we’re still as stupid in love as we were the day we met on a double date that wasn’t even ours heh. In spite of the fact that my memory for dates is so poor that I have to ask him what year we were married. I’m lucky if I remember how old I am on any sort of consistent basis lol.

        Course, he’s just as much of an outcast as I am when you get down to it… just in the computer geek direction. But he proposed with a kitten, so obviously he had me pegged pretty early on.

        Really though, it shouldn’t have to “get better” — not for fat kids, not for gay kids, not for geek kids… everyone deserves to look back at childhood and think, yeah those were the days! Not look back and them and think “well, it got better”. Which is a more succinct version of the point I wanted to make lol.

      2. Congratulations on your marriage! 🙂 I can’t wait to find the man of my dreams…the one that accepts my body for what it is, and who accepts that I have insecurities about my body and will help me through them. *sigh*

        Congrats again!

    2. Yes, I’m probably oversensitive and most people wouldn’t still be having issues like that for all I know.

      Not at all, I have a similar problem at times when people are nice to me. Sometimes get a strong impulse to flee or wanting them to stop. I wonder if that’s part of the self effacing fat persona, not just getting in the jibe first, but trying to stem the panic caused by people being nice.

      For me it was adults as well as children getting me to ‘confess’ then flinging that back in my face, sometimes screaming fat hate in my face, when I was myself a child.

      Before I was even in my teens I learned to be tight lipped and endure whatever they had to say as that seemed not to set them off so. It can really stay with you in ways you don’t expect.

  2. It astounds me that a teacher could be so cruel to take advantage of the status and responsibility that being an educator brings.

    That said, one of the biggest influences in kids lives is that they receive from their parents.

    I still remember my mother squeezing my upper arm in front of my school friends (she was a teacher at my school – double wammy much) and saying “you shouldn’t be eating that!” – to my sugar free carob “chocolate” bar…honestly.

    Later in life, I tried to be honest about the role that my reaction to these comments played in my various eating disorders. Mum says that she can’t remember saying those things. But I remember. Kids remember. And they take things on board.

    Imagine if kids heard and saw messages of acceptance and tolerance of all body types and – heck – sexualities, careers, religions, and anything else that contributes to the wondrous variety that makes people so interesting. I don’t know, because it hasn’t really happened yet but I like to think that life would be exponentially more excellent for every impressionable child.

  3. “A teacher shouldn’t need an 8 hour class to know that it’s not ok to tell a kid that because she’s fat “No wonder nobody likes you.””

    They’re *still* saying that? I wasn’t fat, but I was weird, unattractive, and too smart for my own good and so I was bullied all through school. I got, “No wonder nobody likes you!” from teachers/admin *all the damn time*.

    I guess it really *doesn’t* get better… which is what I actually suspected, TBH. *sigh*

    1. I always got the “maybe if you weren’t so…” lecture. Basic variations on how if I wasn’t weird, if I paid more attention to my looks (you know, did my hair, wore makeup, lost some weight), or at least made an effort to pretend to like the same things my peers liked… maybe then they wouldn’t feel they needed to defend themselves from me.

      Because you know, I was the problem heh.

      1. I got it too. I was always painfully shy, and when I was 10 years old I had the world’s worst case of strep throat. I literally could not speak for almost a month. I learned to gesture real big. Served me well in theatre, which I loved and had always hoped to go into but the Universe has a way of being a bastard–ha.
        I was bullied terribly when I was a child. I hope I will not be lambasted for this but I was always glad that I wasn’t fat or non-white on top of everything else because I saw the way people who were fat or something besides Caucasian were picked on and I thought that if I was in those categories as well as just being a general freak, I would probably commit suicide.
        My poor father tried desperately to teach me to make myself fit in. “Faycin, you have very weird mannerisms, you must admit,” he said.
        I shut down right then and there. But I learned to really stifle my big gestures and to pretty much move like a piece of wood. That was until I discovered alcohol and drugs to help me loosen up. I was high a lot during my teen years because that was the only time I felt like the real me was allowed to come out.
        I got fat as an adult and it is only in recent years that I have learned to start saying “fuck it.”

      2. Of course what I refer to about the Caucasian privilege was from fourth grade on. When I was in my early years of school I went to a school that was predominately Latino, and there being Caucasian made me a target.

      3. Heck, yeah. Been there, done that. In my case, I had a lot of behaviors as a kid and teen that nowadays, might (bearing in mind diagnosis is still a bit patchy for girls) get picked up on as Asperger’s. Back in the 80s, I just had my headmistress patiently explaining to me that bullies wouldn’t swing me round the room by my hair if I made pleasant conversation with them rather than burying my nose in a book and hoping they’d go away. No kidding.

        It was at home that I got the ‘you never want to spend time making yourself look nice, no wonder you don’t have any friends’ lectures. The fact that I absolutely have never wanted the kind of ‘friends’ who’d like me because I ‘looked nice’ never seemed to occur to my mother (but then, she always thought of herself as my ‘best friend’…let’s just say the woman had issues).

    2. Yeah, there are a lot of school staff who greatly prefer the “That one kid I have negative feelings (due to weight/appearance/disability/interests/etc. about is broken, and they’re the one who needs to be fixed!” approach to “There is a problem with this crowd of charming and popular kids who meet my idea of how to do adolescence right, and I need to correct that.”

  4. Believe it or not your post reminded me of something delightful.
    Here in town we have a dance studio. Because friend’s daughters danced there I found myself invited to the recitals four years running. I go willingly because I see something there I have never seen in my life. Michelle, the woman who owns the studio, celebrates ALL bodies. There is an adult tap class that runs the gamut from what is in my head as a ‘traditional dancer’ to gorgeous fat ladies and they are all amazing dancers. No one is ‘hidden in the back’. Michelle’s senior ballet students, her ‘en pointe’ students, are girls who might not be allowed to dance elsewhere, or told they had to change their bodies to have a chance. They are exquisite in their skill and grace. My favorite is a little girl who is probably 9 or 10, all sass and a thousand-watt smile, a fabulously coordinated tap dancer and yes, a fat girl. I pray every time I see her that she never lets anyone extinguish that incandescence.

    1. I don’t have the money to do it any more but 5 years ago my fat ass was taking ballet. I will always love Miss Sherry because her skinny ass didn’t care that my ass was fat, she cared that it was there working on dancing and flexibility with her!

  5. It horrifies me how often people who would never countenance discrimination in any other area think it is fine to lecture, bully and discriminate against children and adults because they are “fat”. We should all strive to be healthy, but that is not the same thing as “thin”. I have two sons, the older of whom is rail thin and likely always will be because he takes after my father. The younger was quite overweight according to the charts, although he ate better than his brother and swam on his middle school team.

    I took each to our pediatrician for their physicals (at different times), who asked no questions about fitness or eating of the older one but declared him absolutely healthy. He asked constant questions of the younger one, ignored all the answers despite my confirming that he ate well and exercised regularly with the swim time. At the end of the physical, he did a hard sell for a weight loss program run by the local hospital.

    We switched pediatricians, but it is still hard for my younger son to let go of even though he has since grown a foot taller without gaining any weight. When even the doctors equate “heavy” with “unhealthy and unmotivated”, we have an uphill struggle.

  6. I was bullied as a kid and I can honestly say that it was the worst thing I ever endured in my whole life. Just reading about it makes me angry. Bullying is, unfortunately, a very human traitand the kindest of people can turn into bullies if they’re in an environment that encourages it. I’ve seen various forms of it all the time in work places and other situations. You do actually need someone in authority to define what bullying is and make people aware of it, because otherwise people will rationalize their nasty behavior in all kinds of self-serving ways. None of us believe ourselves to be evil and many bullies would be shocked to learn just how devastating their actions have been. But the other awful thing is that bullying, if left unchecked, escalates.

  7. Round of applause Ragen!!

    what terrible teachers! It made me think sadly of a few parents that I know who have treated their own children that way.

    I agree about the gym class thing so much (but you knew that)

    Here is where I blogged about my gym class and I embedded the awful Arthur vid they showed in gym class.

    check out the comments, they are choice.

  8. Gym class makes me think too about how intellect and abilities manifest in so many different ways. One child may not be good at math or reading but may be great at running or sports.
    If we don’t make kids stand at the chalkboard working on math while being snickered at or read out loud when they have dsylexia why is it ok to make kids athletically perform in front of other kids and be teased. If they don’t want to play soccer and would rather walk – that is ok by me!!

  9. This touched base for me. My parents got divorced when I was young and I went to live with my dad, who then commited suicide. Just after that I went to live with my mom, whom I had a difficult relationship with to start. Right after he died I went to her asking for ballet dance lessons I saw in the local paper. I had been dancing and singing since I was little. I found happiness in that activity. What I was really asking her though was do you accept me for me, do you love me for me. Her response to my request was that I was to fat for dance lessons, that the leotards would never fit me, ever. I never have forgotten the level of rejection I felt in that moment of time (from both parents). Long before that incident I went to school in the southwest and it was very common for me to be bullied by the students and the teachers alike, all because I was taller, larger, whiter, quiet, and smart. What was said to this young lady, myself and many others like us is tragic. No one deserves to be treated this way. Unfortunately, as I suspected for our society, a slap on the hand was all those involved in this wrong doing received. Sad day indeed.

    1. Honey, I was a honky in the Southwest in the 1970’s. I lived in New Mexico from the time I was 4 till the time I was 10. That little tiny bit of Cherokee from my mother’s side of the family did not show through at all in my pasty white European complexion. My white ass got beat up by gangs of Hispanic girls constantly. There were even a couple who took me into the bathroom and did some things to me that had sexual overtones, which left me very upset and confused. One boy threatened to kill me with his pocket knife. I wet my pants, and he laughed.
      Strangely, I never developed a hatred for Latinos. Instead I developed the attitude that prejudice was painful and I would never want to do that to another person.
      I did think that things would be better for me when I started at a new school in the Denver area in fourth grade. Alas, it was not to be so. There wasn’t the race prejudice (against me, anyway) as the school was predominantly white, but my general weirdness and unprettiness got me bullied from the get go anyway. My buck teeth got me called “Bugs Bunny” and my shyness made me a magnet for bullying.

  10. I have been “The Eighth Continent” since Kindergarten. The downside of growing up in a smallish town is that the same kids (and the same bullies) follow you from grade to grade to grade. That name followed me all the way through school to graduation from high school. It has been 14 years since someone last called me that, but it haunts me still.

    The bullying doesn’t stop with school. I have been cornered in elevators, bus terminals, restaurants, malls, movie theaters and more. But my all time favorite is the grocery store. Just the other day I was in the store buying some supplies for some baking I had planned to do, I also had a pizza in my cart and (GASP!) some peanut butter M&Ms because I love them and I was happy they were on sale. As I placed my items on the checkout thing, the woman behind me chuckled and said to the person standing next to her “No wonder she’s so fat. Look at all that garbage she’s buying.” In my very first public HAES moment, I turned around and said: “Yes. I am a fat person and I am buying food. You are an obnoxious bigoted person, are you buying a new personality?” She didn’t answer but the checker laughed. I was still devastated as I walked out to my car and spent the rest of the day belittling myself.

    My sister introduced me to HAES and I am trying very hard to adopt the lifestyle and the positive self image. But it is difficult for me. Largely because I was told from the time I was 5 years old how ugly and unwanted I was. (clarification: NEVER by my mother. She has always told me I’m beautiful, but when you get the opposite message from every other source, after a while it becomes something Mom says because she “has” to.) Anyway, the point I meant to make was that if there was ever a movement to help overweight kids develop strong self esteem and the knowledge that HAES exists…I would be shouting it from the rooftops.

    1. “You are an obnoxious bigoted person, are you buying a new personality?”

      That made my day. You are splendid, Melynn!

    2. “Yes. I am a fat person and I am buying food. You are an obnoxious bigoted person, are you buying a new personality?”

      I just about died laughing when I read that. Excellent rebuttal! xD

      But I know what you mean about bullies following you from grade to grade. One girl in particular started bullying me in 2nd grade, and did all the way up until senior year of high school, when I realized she was a moron and this was, in fact, hilarious. We were in economics class one day, and she was go on and on about how she was trying to make plans for spring break and her father was mad at her because she was making multiple, international calls to places in Jamaica. Our teacher jokingly impersonated a Jamaican accent, and the girl responded with, “Oh no, he spoke English!” Dead silence. The entire class stared at her, and she didn’t understand. Someone finally shouted out, “That IS English!” and she simply went, “Huh?” It was a great day, and ever since I’ve realized folks who bully are usually covering up for their own insecurities. Or they’re a moron.

      I guess I should count myself lucky that my classmates weren’t very creative. The name that followed me around was “Big Bird” and really, that’s weak. My mother, though, she found nicknames that hurt. Like “hefer.” To this day she goes back and forth between defending that as “affectionate” and claiming she never ever called me such a thing. The irony is, she was pretty large herself, and taught me all of her horrible starve then binge eating habits. Nice one, Mom.

  11. I’m in a bad place today and I have to admit that I am wondering if it does get better for us fat folk. Although even ten years ago being gay was still considered an aberration by most people. So maybe if people keep fighting it will get better.
    On the other hand, fuck the living fuck out of the “It Gets Better” project coordinator for hating fat people. As my dear gay male friend Adam would say “what about us fat fags? Shouldn’t it get better for us too?”
    Yes. Yes it should indeed!
    Adam is actually a very happy fat gay man at this point. But I remember in our younger years that he, like me, had a lot of trouble expressing himself if he didn’t have several substances on board to help him loosen up.

  12. “it gets better” in use for lgbt youth.. we have to think about this- why does it get better? Usually because you learn to accept yourself and stand up for yourself. those who are lgbt and never accept themselves end up going to camps to be “cured” and live in fear, shame, and depression. I think the same goes for fat people… the only solution is to accept yourself and for those of us who can to fight- just like in the lgbt movement! So yes, it *can* get better… but with being fat far less acceptable than being lgbt… it’s a hell of a lot harder.

  13. I think I was one of the few kids who actually liked dodgeball in school. It’s played indoors, which is a blessed relief in the desert. (I would pray for ‘smog days’ and ‘heat days’ where it was deemed unsafe to exercise outdoors!) In dodgeball, I took a rather malicious glee in teasing the other team into aiming at me- and for some reason I was good at dodging. I didn’t even try to catch the ball. My teammates caught on pretty quick and the good catcher/throwers would lurk behind me. You’d think the other team would catch on, and eventually the smarter ones did, but fat girls can’t dodge, right? It’s pure luck! And she’s just standing there telling us we can’t hit her! Oh, I got hit eventually, but damn it was fun. The only team athletic activity in school where I could actually contribute.

    All other aspects of PE were a particularly sadistic form of torture. I wore sweatpants even in 100 degree weather because I was ashamed to show my thighs. There were two girls who loved to torment me, safe in the knowledge that the teachers wouldn’t do anything to stop them. I fantasized about pounding them into the asphalt; I probably outweighed the two of them put together. But if I did, I would be the one punished, because obviously the bigger one in a fight is always at fault. Doesn’t matter what they said, because you’re supposed to just suck it up. Sticks and stones.

    It’s a damn good thing that I have a supportive family and a sister I love to bits. Looking back at my journals from that time, I come across the same sentiment over and over again: “I just want to go to sleep and never wake up, but needs me.” I was diagnosed with depression years later and almost succeeded in killing myself (with sedatives, wanting to go to sleep and never wake up), but I’ll bet that it started a lot earlier. When I was being bullied.

  14. I personally don’t really subscribe to the “It Get’s Better” way of thinking, I think we have an obligation to MAKE it better. Unfortunately, it doesn’t get better for fat adults – or not yet anyway. Particularly as It Get’s Better founder Dan Savage is such a fat loathing douchebag who is happy to bully fat people, including fat gay people.

    But WE are all part of the process of making it better, and that’s awesome.

    But that said, I agree with everything you have said here wholeheartedly Ragen – let’s change the game and smash the fat hating paradigm.

  15. Does it get better? Not for fat people, but talking about it, and insisting we be heard and not put up with this is a step in the right direction. School is usually hell for fat people. So many people feel it’s ok to talk to us any way they choose. Well I hope we can all band together and make it better, there is more of us than there are of them.

  16. All I can say is that these two women are lucky it wasn’t my child. I would likely have taken matters into my own hands, right or wrong. Disgusting.

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