Making It Easier For Fat Kids

The world is messed up you are fineI got a question from reader Sarah today that I think is really important.  She asks the question in relation to being a parent of a fat kid, but I think that the question applies to everyone on a journal of self-acceptance:

Hi Ragen. I am struggling with my young son’s self body image. He has never heard this from us, but he calls himself fat as a negative. We practice describing our bodies in lots of different ways and explaining that people comes in call shapes the sizes, but it still comes up. My question is this – you seem to have come to a very strong, self-advocating frame of mind about yourself despite size prejudice. I imaging that wasn’t immediate or easy. Is there something someone could have done or said that would have made that journey easier?

First of all I think that this kid is really lucky to have parents who are supporting him in appreciating his body, and bodies of all sizes, and who really get it when it comes to size acceptance – so rock on Sarah!

I think that this is a multi-layered series of conversations that are based around a central theme.  That theme is:  The world is messed up, you are fine.  This was, not coincidentally, the title of a talk that I gave to 3rd-12th grade girls and their parents at the GenAustin conference a couple weeks ago (a blog about that is forthcoming.)

Here are some of the pieces of that conversation:

The thing that we’re combating here is “everybody knows.” Allowing “everybody knows” thinking has gotten us into plenty of trouble in the past . Galileo was put under house arrest for challenging the idea that “everybody knew” that the sun revolved around the Earth. Doctors used to think that Heroin was a non-addictive substitute for morphine.  Oops.  It’s important to question “everybody knows” thinking  – including when “everybody knows” is appearance based and people insist that they can tell a lot from someone just by how they look (this can also lead into necessary discussions about racism, ableism, transphobia, homophobia, stereotyping and more.)

A lot of people make a lot of money by convincing us that there is something wrong with us and that we should buy their product to fix it.  This works especially well when it’s something that happens normally – diverse body sizes, aging, cellulite etc. are all examples of that.

Because making us hate ourselves makes lots of money, we all get tons of messages trying to make us feel bad about ourselves. Sometimes people react to that by trying to make other people feel bad about themselves in the hopes that it will make them feel better.

Bodies come in all shapes and sizes – fat ones, skinny ones, and everything in between and all bodies are good, beautiful, amazing bodies just as they are.

Currently in our society there is a tremendous amount of stereotyping, and stigmatizing of people with larger bodies.  This is 100% wrong. people deserve to be treated with respect regardless of their body size and stereotyping and appearance-based bullying are always wrong.

Some people will try to justify this bad behavior by suggesting that it’s about health.  Body size and health are not the same thing (there are healthy and unhealthy people of all sizes.)  More importantly, it’s not ok to treat people poorly because of their health, and people’s health is between them and their doctor and is none of our business unless they ask us.

Though this kind of stereotyping and stigmatizing is wrong, if you or your friends have a larger body it will likely happen to you. Some people might suggest that those with larger bodies who don’t want to be mistreated should try to change their bodies.  That’s a really messed up way to view the world – the cure for bullying isn’t for those being bullied to change, it’s for bullies to change and stop bullying.

Your body is amazing – it does millions of things for you every day without you even asking (breathing, blinking heartbeat) and it supports everything else you do – smiling, hugging, walking, rolling your wheelchair, waving etc.  Your body is like a friend and when people are saying mean or negative stuff about your body, you can stick up for it just like you stick up for a friend who was being bullied.

Health isn’t an obligation and there’s no guarantee no matter what you do, it’s also not something that people should use to judge others .  If you want to be healthy than the thing to do to give yourself the best odds, no matter what your size, is to participate in healthy behaviors – things like getting enough rest, drinking water, eating nourishing foods that you enjoy, move your body in ways that are fun for you.  Taking care of your body should never feel like a punishment, and it shouldn’t be about trying to manipulate your size, taking care of your body is a gift you give yourself and how you choose to do it is between you and the people you trust.

Being treated poorly based on your size shouldn’t happen, it’s not fair, it’s not your fault, but it can become your problem. It doesn’t matter how many people participate in it, it’s still wrong.

You get to decide how you get to deal with this.  You might choose to stand up to your bullies, you might choose to ignore them, you might choose to do things that might make them leave you alone.  You might choose different strategies at different times and with different people and all of that is ok.

The most important thing for you to know about this is that you and your body are not the problem – appearance based stereotyping, stigma, and bullying are.  The world is messed up, you are fine.

Like this blog?  Here’s more cool stuff:

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Book Me!  I’d love to speak to your organization. You can get more information on topics, previous engagements and reviews here or just e-mail me at ragen at danceswithfat dot org!

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12 thoughts on “Making It Easier For Fat Kids

  1. Holy crap.

    I have to write because not only have you changed my WORLD but because I need to tell you my story!!

    I am turning 31 in two days. I have been married to the most amazing man in the world for almost 11 years. Before we got married, when I was 18, i weighed 127lbs and I am 5’4″. After we got married I crept up to 135- and I thought I was fat!!! I come from a typical American household where mom always wanted to lose weight and people who got fat were talked about and insulted in our home. I didn’t need to worry because I was “thin”. Well…

    After we had been married for a year we started trying to have kids. I got pregnant 8 times in the next SEVEN years. I had two miscarriages and then I gave birth to six kids in six years- no twins. 🙂 I have six beautiful children. My body did something phenomenal. Each pregnancy I would weight about 200lbs by the end- turns out I have a slow matabolism which I never knew because I was always extremely active playing sports. In between each pregnancy (I only had about 3-5 months before I would get pregnant again), I would work my butt off and get down to about 150ish and then get pregnant again haha. Well after I had baby #6, I was getting excited to have another baby when something haopened. I got sick.

    I have a condition in which my nervous system had begun deteriorating- I was having problems with my liver, bowel function, and worst of all, I am in pain 24/7. I began rigorous treatments- I had lost my hair, lost the ability to regulate my body temperature, lost the ability to have bowel movements on my own, and many other horrifying things. I am no longer able to have children. I am mostly bedridden and only function with fentanyl and oxycodone every day. It’s hell…and last year I weighed 126lbs because I stopped eating and vomited whatever I did eat. I was living off of one bowl of cocoa krispies in the evening. And I was HAPPY with how I looked. Despite Fighting for my life, I was at least happy with how I looked. Sick and dying, but happy I was finally thin. Ugh.

    For a year and a half I documented life as a mom of 6 (and then as a mom battling a life threatening condition) on my blog, I talked about my physical struggles and my emotional ones- dealing with having to stop homeschooling, my husband having to quit his job to stay home and care for me and the kids, my feelings of worthlessness because of how useless I was, and so on. But you see, I married a man who I think is really an angel in disguise. He has loved me fully and fiercely and has saved my life several times…and one day while I was getting dressed he just started crying. He said I was so thin he could see my ribs. Seeing this man cry really broke me- the man who cleans me after vomiting, who changes my bed pan, who monitored me all night when I stopped breathing- this man was crying. I vowed right then and there that I would eat no matter what. Hungry or not, vomiting or not, I would put good food in my body. I couldn’t control my illness, but I could at least do that. I ate fruit, soup, cheese, bread- and in a very short amount of time I put on 20 good pounds. I now weigh 148lbs. I have been at this weight for a while now- my body WANTS to weigh this. And I was completely miserable. Until I came here.

    My husband thinks I am a goddess. Always has. He thinks I’m sexy as hell even though my stomach looks like deflated bread dough lol. He loves me sick, he loved me even though I was “too” thin- but he is ENAMOURED with me now. And yet I was miserable. I called myself fat, worthless, and lacking self control. And he was flabbergasted- he has been watching me with such sadness, telling me evey day how amazing I am and how sexy I am- trying to help me love myself.

    I didn’t get it. Until now. Until I came across this insane thought that I am ok! I am as healthy as I can be on my end. I battle intense pain every day. I have fought my way through hell- and I do so daily because of my condition. I am one hell of a mom. So you know what? I am freaking amazing. Just. The. Way. I. Am!

    I have always lived against the “everyone knows” grain in every other area- I homeschooled, I don’t vaccinate, I didn’t circumcise my boys- I never accepted “common knowledge”…I always researched for myself and made decisions based on actual facts. EXCEPT when it came to my precious body. Shame on me! I’ve been in prison far too long- thank you for giving me the key to get OUT.

    I battle a painful, chronic illness. I struggle every day to live my life as best as I can and be the best mom I can be for my kids. And my body is finally where it WANTS to be- and I’m allowed to be ok with that. Screw that- I SHOULD be ok with that.
    I. Am. Me.

    Thank you.
    Thank. You.

    1. I am so glad you shared your story and wish you and your wonderful family all the best. I’m married to one of those angels, too, a man who loves me thin or fat, and I only hope that one day I will be able to see my body with his eyes.

      Sending thoughts and prayers for healing your way.

    2. All the Jedi hugs in the internet, coming your way! Bless you and your family.

      I’m so glad you have learned to accept and love your body the way it is. Well, the size, at least. I don’t suppose you love your illness. Now, the trick is to keep loving it, every day! Because every day, there will be someone telling you how wrong you are.

      Don’t let the bullies get you down!

  2. “Taking care of your body should never feel like a punishment, and it shouldn’t be about trying to manipulate your size, taking care of your body is a gift you give yourself and how you choose to do it is between you and the people you trust.”
    Oh how I needed to hear this today. I’ve been so burned by dieting that sometimes even healthy suggestions in recipes etc… are a trigger for me. This is an awesome perspective. You are such a blessing.

  3. When something is as prevalent in the culture as fat prejudice, you cannot by yourself counteract every rotten message… but you can always offer a counter message when the opportunity arises. You can affirm your son’s right to exist in precisely the body he already has every time you hear someone trying to make him feel bad about it.

    You’re only one voice, but a mother’s voice is a powerful one. Even if neither of you realizes it, he will hear you.

    Best of luck, Sarah, and all you parents of kids the world seeks to devalue. Ragen is right: it’s the world that’s messed up.

  4. When I was first thinking about fat acceptance, I found that it was hard to believe people in general could be that wrong– and then I remembered that I’d gone to Hebrew school for a lot of years, and if most people could be that wrong about Jews, why couldn’t people be that wrong about fat people?

  5. Nowadays, every time I hear someone saying that they are mistreating a fat person because of their health, I think, “So, you bully cancer patients, too? How about people with Lupus? If someone sneezes, do you tell them they deserve it, that they are ugly and that nobody will ever love them, and they should go kill themselves?”

    “Do you really NEEEED to shake hands with that person? Germs! A moment on the skin, a lifetime on the hips!”

    Ugh. You can’t hate someone healthy any more than you can hate them thin. But you CAN hate them out of existence. Does that make these haters happy? Do they go to the funeral of some fat (“unhealthy”) person they hated out of existence and say, “Good riddance”?

    More likely, they say, “Oh, if ONLY I had done MORE! If ONLY she had LISTENED! Then she wouldn’t have stayed fat, and killed herself in her big, fat despair!” Or “Oh, if ONLY she had listened to the doctor who prescribed weight loss when she went in to see him about that abnormal growth! THEN she’d still be here with us.”

  6. “Your body is like a friend and when people are saying mean or negative stuff about your body, you can stick up for it just like you stick up for a friend who was being bullied.”

    This needs to be taught in every school around the world. Our bodies ARE our friends – and because we live in a society that teaches us to see our bodies as our enemies that we have to fight and manipulate and work against – it’s more important than ever to learn, instead, that our bodies are our friends.

  7. Trigger warnings: depression, fat name calling

    Some times, Rage , your blog causes me to break down into tears. Good tears, sad tears, fun tears and tears of joy. I’ve been crying over this blog for all those reasons.

    First and foremost you saved this boys life–Tears of joy.

    And a bit more selfishly, god I wish my parents would have had a resource like yours in the 70s when I was the prototypical shamed, bullied and hated fat kid–Tears of sadness.

    If my father could have seen this message maybe he wouldn’t have had me up at 5 am on Fridays when I was 7 to run with his military unit of athletic fighter pilots. If he could have seen this maybe he wouldn’t have forced me into football and wrestling where I was the bullies best target because I am genetically slow and unmotivated for sports–tears of frustration.

    If he could have seen this maybe he would not have shamed me constantly, using names like “butterball’, ‘beached whale’,’Will-i-lard & ’50lbs of flour in a 30lb sack.” I’ve been in therapy and on medication for almost 25 years because of these episodes. Tears of depression.

    Thank you again for saving this little boys life. Change will start with this new generation and you are lighting the darkness for them.

      1. Don’t worry about my name at all, I’ve been called way worse 🙂 (And have fun with your new iPad) Thank you for your beautiful comment. I’m so happy to have had a chance to support you, but please know that you’ve done the hard work here, you saved your own life – by reaching out for help through therapy, meds, and reading blogs like this, by starting to put the problem where it belongs which is the absolutely wrong behavior of others, and not your own body. You are on a really rough journey because of abuse that never, ever should have happened and if there is anything that I can do to support you in that journey, please don’t hesitate to ask.

        Big Fat Hugs to you Simon,


  8. Wanted to add one thing to reader Sarah’s question.

    One avenue to positive body image lies in taking pride and enjoyment in activities/sports/hobbies. As Regan points out, one’s body does marvelous things. So why not encourage taking part in myriad activities?

    Simon J’s post (man, I am so sorry your pops treated you the way he did!) prompts me to wonder, what activities can parent and child explore together that will add to the list of marvelous things one can do? Simon J’s pop had an obligation to find activities that Simon enjoyed and pursue them together. Instead, it seems like Simon J was expected to be a mini-me of his dad. If Simon J wasn’t one to enjoy high intensity cardio activities (e.g. running) why not explore archery or skeet shooting or weightlifting or attending museum exhibits or the library or planning trips to places, or learning an instrument, etc.?

    In life I’ve had my share of fat shaming. Not easy to take. But having activities that I enjoy and feel good about partaking in helps take the sting out of the ugly words. I care for special needs dogs, enjoy a range of solo sports (as I won’t chance the team dynamic turning against me), garden, perform many home improvement projects (I’m an ace at installing shelving and storage units-who knew!), attend classes, read, play guitar, etc. I think about all that I do and all the things I have accomplished when the ugly comes out from other people. Screw the haters!

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