I got the following question from a reader:
Do you know of any reading or articles around what can be done to help reverse or heal a fat shamed child? My niece Leila has had several bad experience with her doctor. As a fat woman, and a formerly “fat-shamed-for-my-own-good” child myself, my heart breaks for her. At nearly fifty, this issue has been with me all my life. I have asked my sister to please find a kinder, more compassionate doctor for her daughter. But as an aunty, how can I help? I have done some power googling but am struggling to find some ways I can have conversations with Leila that can help reverse the emotional damage already likely done. Do you have any suggestions?
This is a really tough situation. The plain fact is that the War on Obesity has casualties and those casualties include parents and kids. There are several tactics that I might use in this situation,
First, which the reader tried, is talking to the parent(s)/guardians. You can tell them your personal story if you think that will help, you can try to help them see that logically kids who hate their bodies are much less likely to see those bodies as worthy of care. You can also give them statistics and research. whatever you think will help them see the problem and support their kid. If you actually witness the fat shaming, here are some options to try.
You can model Size Acceptance and Health at Every Size talk about how much you love your own body, appreciate the beauty of bodies of all sizes if beauty is your thing, compliment the kid on things other than just appearance – how strong they are, graceful, creative, funny etc.
I have a talk called “The World is Messed Up, You Are Fine” that I’ve given to people from third graders to adults and I think it’s a really important message for kids to hear – that a lot of times adults, including adults we’re supposed to trust, do super messed up things, often meaning well. When it comes to body size and health right now the world is pretty messed up -people insist that bodies are good or bad depending on what size they are and there’s a lot of prejudice, negative body talk, and bullying that happens around size. There are even some doctors who believe this, and even think that they can make guesses about how healthy someone is by what they look like. The truth is that people come in lots of different sizes for lots of different reasons and all bodies are good bodies.
Help the kid explore different activities that they might like, help them try a variety of foods, explain that neither our health nor our size is completely within our control, and that people should never be bullied about either. Explain that our bodies are wonderful and they deserve to be taken care of just like anything important that is ours, explain that taking care of our bodies can be fun,and that it includes listening to our bodies and appreciating them.
Give them books like Amanda’s Big Dream by Judith Matz and Elizabeth Patch (you can check out the book and the conversation guide at www.amandasbigdream.com, and the Girls Are Not Chicks Coloring Book. Buy them some cool body positive art for gifts.
Point the kid in the direction of role models of lots of different sizes, colors, dis/abilities, ages etc. who do lots of cool things – singing, dancing, acting, sports, writing, crafting, activism and more.
Talk to the kid and let them know that you are there for them and that they can always talk to you about anything.
If you have other suggestions, by all means leave them in the comments. We can do better by our kids than body shaming them, and we should.
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11 thoughts on “How to Help a Fat-Shamed Kid”
This is great. I have a fat-shamed mum who fat-shamed me like crazy when i was a kid, telling me I would grow up to be fat, ugly and lonely, and i would have to cling onto the first man who showed the slightest bit of interest because there wouldn’t be another. I did nothing about my mum’s treatment of me, but when she started getting on my sister’s case in a similar way, I intervened. I (admittedly, rather harshly) told her that it was her constant tearing down of my body confidence that had caused me to be the person she had never wanted me to be, and that she needed to leave my sister alone and never EVER mention her weight to her.
I asked my sister, at the tender age of about 14 how she felt about her body and she said she hated it and wanted her to lose weight. I told her not to as she was still growing and developing. I advised her to eat well with lots of different food types, not to diet. My sister is now 23 and a size 10. with the same genetic history, but a very different psychlogical experience with regards to food and her body.
Smartphone is being difficult.
Projection is a powerful thing. She’s projecting her own issues with her body onto you.
In other words, if SHE was fat, she thinks SHE’D be ugly, lonely, etc. Therefore, you must feel the same way too.
Logic is lacking here.
There is a wonderful, body-positive blog by a teen girl named Ally at http://losergurl.com/. She has been at it for a couple years, and has written a children’s book.
I wonder if we have enough talented people to do some children’s books – aimed at various levels where kids of all sizes, races and abilities are shown doing things, some are active, some are less so, some are good at sports, some are more clumsy, some have disabilities or health conditions like asthma which limit what they do.
Might work well as one core work at each level following the group, with books about individual characters to bulk out the series. Start with the kids as babies, and age them so they are about the age the books are aimed at.
The group stories would touch on various different things like the kids getting to know each other, putting on school talent show etc, while the individual stories would deal with individual circumstance in a bit more depth.
Makes me want to fire up Word and see what I can come up with.
Must mull on this a bit.
I think this is an amazing idea. As someone who wants to be an author (granted of a completely different genre) I feel like this is something I can do and/or help with. Is anyone willing to work with me on it?
I don’t know how far back your family photos go, but when I went and looked at mine, I can see that people in my family are generally stout, going back a few generations. It made me feel better about myself and reinforced the concept that genetics does play a part in size and shape.
Maybe you could check your photos and see if you could use looking at them to talk about how your niece takes after her relatives.
NAAFA’s child advocacy toolkit.
I know that personally, it really made me feel better as a kid to have an aunt who was fat and happy. I really admired her and her fun, creative personality. Depending on the relationship with the parents, as an aunt you can make a real effort to form a close relationship with the little girl and show/tell her that she is fine and her doctor is a piece of crap. Everyone needs someone to do that for them 🙂
I haven’t read it yet, but there’s “Fat Kids: Truth and Consequences” by Rebecca Jane Weinstein. Could be a very useful read for the aunt and/or the mother.
I’d like to second this recommendation. “Fat Kids” is an amazing book.