Angela Meadows wrote a piece for The Conversation called “Why do heavier children do worse at school? It’s not their fault.” The piece takes a critical look at the research that suggests that larger students fare worse in schools, and the oft-drawn conclusion that if it’s true it must be directly attributable to the student’s fat.
I’ll let the article stand on its own. What I want to talk about are the comments and the ridiculous lengths that people will go to in order to defend the idea that if research says that a negative outcome is more common in fat people, then it must be caused by our fat. I wrote recently about the things the people often overlook, often with disastrous consequences, in research like this. But this isn’t about people overlooking it, this is about people sticking their fingers in their ears, yelling LALALALALA and ignoring it on purpose.
The piece suggests that things like low teacher expectations due to size bigotry, and the stress of the bullying, shame, stigma and oppression that come from being at the losing end of a war on childhood obesity, could be the root cause of larger students performing more poorly (if, in fact, they do.)
But our society’s pathological need for fat to be the cause of everything bad, and for shaming fat people to be anything from a lighthearted past-time to a brave and laudable act of social good. but certainly never something that harms fat people, means that the comments include suggestions like:
Maybe it is that fatter children and students don’t do things in an energetic manner.
Might it not be simply that students who are heavier exercise less and so deprive their bodies and their brains of the many benefits which physical activity is know to bring?
all teachers know healthier, fitter children tend to achieve more – those who carry too much weight are more lethargic and are slower to respond.
I think that the third one is illustrative of the problem with the first two “All teachers know [insert stereotype about fat students]” First of all, any time we are saying “Everyone knows” and following it up with a stereotype about a group of people we’re headed down a bad path. When we are talking about fat kids, we are talking about a group of people who can face tremendous and ceaseless stigma and shaming – bullying from classmates, bigotry of students, teachers who look at them and “know” they will be “are more lethargic and are slower to respond,” gym teachers who “know” that they are un-athletic and disinterested in sports – who purposefully or accidentally kill any interest fat students have in movement or sports, coaches who assume fat kids aren’t athletic and so fail to give them the attention thin kids get, a world that tells them every day in so many ways that their bodies are wrong and bad, that they should be ashamed of themselves, that they deserve the poor treatment that they get because they aren’t thin, and that the only solution for the oppression is to fight their own bodies, while bowing and scraping to thank their oppressors.
So even if those three comments were true, the root cause could still very well be the stereotyping, shaming, stigmatizing, bullying, and oppression that those kids face. All things that we could stop immediately with absolutely no negative effects. And since people’s efforts to make kids thin is ending in kids with higher weights and higher rates of eating disorders (and since there’s no non-stigmatizing way to say “I’m working so that in a generation nobody who looks like you exists”) it seems like society might have to trade in the cheap high of “fighting childhood obesity” if we ever want to do something that has a chance of actually helping kids be happier or healthier. So we might all want to start a war on the poor treatment of fat kids, rather than continue to fight a war against them.
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