Taylor Mali is a slam poet and a number of years ago his poem “What Teachers Make” served as my introduction to slam poetry. I fell in love with the style and with Taylor Mali’s voice. (I’ve embedded all of the poems that I’m about to discuss at the end of this blog). “I’ll Fight You for the Library” currently has 249,052 hits and it’s entirely possible that 100,000 of them were me and that 50,000 of those were in a row – this poem makes me want to be a better activist and a stronger person. “Totally Like Whatever” influenced the way that I communicate. “Tony Steinberg: Brave Seventh Grade Viking Warrior” makes me cry every time I listen to it, and still I click to listen. Taylor Mali is, for me, a clarion voice articulating the case for valuing education and for everyday activism. He has made a career out of speaking his truth and inspiring others to action. He is a hero of mine.
Yesterday I heard a poem of his called “An Apple a Day is Not Enough” about kids’ health. As soon as I saw the topic I got that twinge of worry- because for some reason we don’t seem to be able to get it together enough to be for healthy kids without being against fat ones. As the poem went on I began to get excited as he talked about healthy foods and exercise and treating health as a skill. It made it sound a little bit like health is entirely within our control which of course isn’t true but I was thrilled to hear someone talking about healthy behavior instead of body size. Then it happened. “What does it matter if we try to increase our scores in math and reading if scores are dying before their time because they got fatter and fatter.” And my heart broke just a little as it does when it feels like a hero of mine has let me down.
I went to his website to see if it had an e-mail address listed. It did. And then I hesitated. I’m obviously nowhere near as well know as Taylor Mali but I get e-mail everyday from people who don’t like my work and it’s not that fun so I was hesitant to become just another person criticizing his work. As an artist I was also hesitant to ask him to change his work of art. But babies are being starved by parents so that they don’t become obese and fat kids are being bullied and stigmatized by everyone and so if a hero of mine thought of me as a nuisance or an idiot then that’s a small price to pay for standing up for those kids. I sent the following:
I have been a fan for quite some time. Today for the first time I came across the poem “An Apple a Day”. As the poem developed I was really excited that someone was talking about health for all kids, and then you said “Fatter and Fatter”. I wish you would reconsider this. We can be for healthy kids of all sizes without being against fat ones. Hospitalizations of kids under 12 for eating disorders are up 119%, a study from Canada found that twice as many kids had eating disorders as type 2 diabetes. Fat kids are bullied and stigmatized not just by their peers but by teachers and parents as well. Kids don’t take care of things they hate and that includes their bodies. As a healthy, athletic fat kid all too often the people I looked up to gave me the message that no amount of healthy behavior was enough if it didn’t make me thin and I ended up hospitalized with an eating disorder.
Now, as a healthy fat athlete I am a strong advocate for the Health at Every Size method which focuses on healthy behaviors rather than a number on a scale.
NAAFA has created a toolkit to help people working on children’s health, you can find it here if you are interested: http://www.naafaonline.com/dev2/education/haesschool.html
If there is anything that I can do to support you please let me know, but let’s do better by our kids than to try to shame them healthy or hope that they hate themselves healthy.
Thank you for taking the time to read this,
~RagenRagen Chastain Dancer, Choreographer, Speaker, Writer, Fat Person blog: www.danceswithfat.org
I did not send it expecting a reply, nor did I expect to change his mind. I sent it because I believed it should be sent. So imagine my surprise 30 minutes later:
I totally see your point, and I wish I’d known that as I was writing the poem for Health Teacher. It was a commissioned poem so I had to use certain facts that they gave me. That’s my only excuse. You know the way the poem ends with the word “amen”? Some of the folks wanted me to take it out, afraid that it would insult Christians. So I’m afraid the poem as it exists on YouTube is a done deal. But I promise you, if I ever do the poem live, I will take out that line. Deal?
P.S. Sent from the road so forgive odd spellings & apparent curtness.
I sent him an e-mail back thanking him and telling his that it was, indeed, a deal. I have no idea if he ever plans to perform the piece live and I’m still not happy with it as it exists on YouTube but I am happy that I spoke up and I feel that this is another little victory.
So, let’s have a little victory sharing today in the comments. What have you done that you are proud of? What victories have you had (big or small) post a video, post a link, write out your story whatever. Let’s inspire each other!
Here are those poems:
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