Dear Fat Kid – An Open Letter

LiesDear Fat Kid,

I hope that you are surrounded by people who understand that you and your fat body are amazing. If you’re not, then my first thought is to tell you that your body is amazing and that bullies are just people who are insecure or desperate to feel important. You are and they are but, if you’re anything like me, that won’t comfort you very much.  I want to tell you that “it gets better” and in my experience it does get better when you have the opportunity to choose who you hang around.  But the truth is that we live in a fatphobic society and I would rather give you tools to maybe make some things better now and maybe change the world in the future than suggest that you just hope things will be less crappy later (even though they likely will.)

This is what I wish someone had told me when I was a fat kid:

First of all, don’t believe everything you hear. There is not a single study where a majority of fat people lost a significant amount of weight and kept it off long term. There are plenty of studies where people improved their health through healthy habits without losing weight at all.  Almost everyone who diets ends up as fat or fatter than when they started.  “Weight Loss is possible for everyone” is to today what “The sun revolves around the Earth” was in Galileo’s time.  Something that people, including “experts” and high ranking government officials, believe fervently to be true, suggest that it’s heresy to disagree with, and for which they have absolutely no evidence basis.

Don’t take my word for it, read the research yourself – try to find a study where, five years after dieting, fat people were thinner and healthier than when they started. Research from the University of Minnesota found that “None of the behaviors being used by adolescents (in 1999) for weight-control purposes predicted weight loss[in 2006]…Of greater concern were the negative outcomes associated with dieting and the use of unhealthful weight-control behaviors, including significant weight gain.

It helps me to remember that people are basically brainwashed when it comes to this and will often defend it with religious fervor.  How much you want to educate other people around this or work on changing it is entirely up to you, to me it’s helpful to remember that I’m not the first person to have to weather the storm of “everybody knows.”

But here’s the thing, the way that fat people are treated by our society is abhorrent and wrong.  Even if I’m wrong and everyone can become thin, the way that fat people are treated is still abhorrent and wrong.  There is no rational argument that says “Those people could look different than they do, and until they choose to do that it’s perfectly cool for me to treat them like crap.”

Suggesting that fat people should lose weight to avoid this treatment is totally and completely wrong on every level – the problem is not fat people, the problem is people who stigmatize fat people, and the solution to social stigma is ending social stigma, not weight loss.  You deserve to be treated with basic human respect. You have the same right to life liberty and pursuit of happiness that thin people do, and that should include the ability to grow up without the First Lady of the United States waging war on you for your body size, and the Boy Scouts keeping you out of the Jamboree.

In short, the world is screwed up, you are fine.

I don’t know about you, but people lied to me when I was younger.  They told me that if I cared about my health I would diet to get thin, they told me that diet behaviors were the same as healthy behaviors and that thin is the same thing as healthy, they told me that exercise should be miserable or it didn’t count.

If you are interested in being healthy, then you are in luck because you can pursue health outside of weight loss (though the diet companies who make $60 Billion a year in profits may not want you to know.)  It turns out that, though health is multi-dimensional, not entirely within our control and never guaranteed, the best way that we can help our odds for health is to pursue healthy habits.  Things like getting enough sleep, trying not to be super stressed, moving out bodies, and eating around the intersection of what nourishes our bodies and tastes good to us, and the situation that we’re in.

It turns out that movement tends to be great for most people’s health- even if we really enjoy it.  You can try out lots of different stuff – I know people who hated exercise and thought that they were totally un-athletic until they found their “thing”  – hoopdance, Olympic powerlifing, skateboarding etc.  I also know people who just don’t like exercise and that’s cool to – some choose to still do it for the possible health benefits and some don’t and both choices are valid.  At any rate, gym class is not the end all and be all of exercise and may actually be the worst possible example.

If you want my advice (and it’s cool if you don’t) I would suggest being really grateful to your body for everything that it does for you (blinking, heartbeat, breathing, waving, smiling, pushing your wheelchair, hugging people whatever.)  I would suggest doing what you want to do now, and not putting it off until you’ve changed our body size.  And I would suggest being angry at people who suggest that the path to health starts with hating your body, or who don’t treat you or your body with the respect you deserve. I would suggest searching on the internet for Health at Every Size and Size Acceptance and looking for places to connect.

People come in lots of different sizes for lots of different reasons and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that, and there is absolutely nothing wrong with you.

So that’s it for now, except to say good luck, I’m here for you if I can help.


27 thoughts on “Dear Fat Kid – An Open Letter

  1. You have a markup error in the middle of your post.

    But otherwise: incredibly well-said. I’m not a kid anymore, but I’m bookmarking this for when I have a bad day and need some affirmation.

  2. Hi, Regan,

    FYI, there’s a bunch of gobbledegook in this post — prolly a missing close-paren or something like that? Shows up both in email and on the web.

    AmpleHugs & SunflowerSmiles, -Anne

  3. I would also like to add that for a fat kid it’s good to have a support system especially if they’re not getting it from home. Most kids that feel “different” and if they are constantly criticized at home for this difference need to look for a positive roll model elsewhere or group. As far as I can tell they are only on-line at this point and not always easy for them to find!

    1. I’m tellin’ my inner child too — ’cause it’s sure as hell my “outer” child never hear it!

      My inner child thanks you, Ragen!

  4. If I were writing fat kids I’d add: “When your parents put you on diets and you don’t lose weight or can’t keep it off, it isn’t because you are a failure. It is because your body is designed to conserve energy especially when it thinks there is a famine and a diet is an artificial famine. It is not your fault if you can’t succeed at something doomed to fail from the start. You are a competent, smart person.”

    I wish I had known that, especially when I was very young. I felt like there must be something wrong with me since other people could be thin without having to follow some special eating plan. My parents put me on diet after diet, and of course they didn’t work. I was made to feel it was because I wasn’t up to the task. Not being able to perform up to expectation destroyed my self-confidence. I truly thought others had something special in their character I lacked that allowed them passage into the real world of normal people.

    I was made to feel I didn’t deserve anything until I was thin and had to be quiet about any inequalities or disparities because it was all my fault. All I had to do, after all, was just be like everyone else and I’d have what they took for granted.

    How many people have been damaged or even destroyed in childhood because they felt it was their fault and they deserved all the crap society dumped on them? It wasn’t nearly as bad for me as it is for kids today. I grew up in the late 50’s and early 60’s before the current horror show started. I know that I wouldn’t have survived what is happening now. I barely made it through as it was.

    I have no idea how fat children today will fare as pressures to be thin become even more and more extreme. The hysteria and fat hatred are growing to frightening levels because the government and the health care professionals are there giving credence to the vitriol. Especially when they have dollar amounts to bandy around, claiming fat people are essentially pulling cash directly out of their wallets.

    While I don’t have any children of my own, I feel it is important to stand up for all kids, so they might grow up without having their lives and personalities stunted. I expect that’s why I started to try to become more involved in SA. While “won’t somebody think of the children” is a terrible cliché and is usually applied to the opposite side of the argument, I think it truly applies here. We must think of the children before they are damaged by the foolishness and hatred of adults who are supposed to know better.

    1. Amen to that and trust me after being a fat kid of the 60s/70s and then raising two fat daughters in the 80s/90s I could only have love and compassion for them but still lacked the skills to really help them but so far they have much more confidence than I ever had/have. God help me if my kids went through the same suffering I had as a fat child of a thin mother who smoked and drank but refused to have a daughter have any self worth unless she was thin!

    2. Hugs to you Eselle! I was just thinking all of these things today. Especially the parts about it always being our faults.

      Thank you, Ragen. I’ve printed this out and am giving it to my son who worries about his weight. Funny how since summer started he’s in a thin cycle because he grew a bunch.

    3. This is a fantastic post and a fantastic comment. While I know my parents (particularly my mom) were trying to care for me in the way they thought best, I could have avoided so much fruitless struggle and heartache if I had never dieted – never been put on diets as a kid. It was so frustrating because I could lose weight so quickly when I “tried,” but the *minute* I went off the strict regimen, I’d put pounds back on even more quickly. Layers and layers of feeling like an undisciplined failure, piling on like sedimentary rock. It takes a long time, to get out from underneath that.

  5. I love your blog and the phrase “In short, the world is screwed up, you are fine.” made my day 🙂
    I had to struggle with all this my whole childhood and even now, and it never gets easy but from now on I’ll remember this phrase and I’m pretty sure I’ll fell a lot better about myself.

  6. If you need a younger kid version of this wisdom, check out “Fat Camp Commandos” by Daniel Pinkwater. It includes the important content, in a fun story and cute illustrations. When I read it, I wondered if Ragen or Twistie had written it under a pen name!

    1. I can say honestly it wasn’t me. If I ever have the good luck to publish a book, it’s going to be under my own name, which definitely isn’t Daniel or Pinkwater.

      But now I’m curious to read it!

  7. Pinkwater was always hip on the fat acceptance thang. But he also cautioned against the tendency of fat people to be inordinately suspicious of naturally-thin people. We all occasionally jump at conclusions. You’ll enjoy his writing. I interviewed him on the radio years ago, and he was both surprised and gratified to have a forum in which to dilate on the innate magnificence of fatness.

    Thanks for another great column. I recently chatted with the grandmother of a fat nine year old boy (who strongly reminded me of my own self at his age) about the “issue”. She was already concerned over the degree to which the boy’s own parents routinely hassle him. She was inclined toward gentle advocacy before we talked. It’s likely that she’ll be even more assertive and supportive now. Your recent posting about the Boy Scouts really undid me. It took me right back to the events of my own childhood which were so very harmful and which very nearly steered me toward a lifetime of self-abnegation. And now, even though there are more fat kids, there’s no “safety in numbers”. The bigotry is even more shrill and pernicious. If all those who are thinking and saying “We just have to DO something!” would calm their judgments down, fewer kids would be in tears.

    1. BTW, Pinkwater used to be a frequent book commentator on Saturday mornings with Scott Simon on NPR. He glancingly referred to size acceptance from time to time.

        1. OMG just started reading Fat Camp Commandos Go West by D. Pinkwater and it’s adorable!! I wish I had something like this on my reading list as a child but in someways it’s helping that little inner child right now!! We need more books like these I was amazed at how fierce it is in regards to FA for everyone!! It’s wonderful and the big print is really nice as my eyesight has really gone down the tubes!

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