“Is ‘fat’ really the worst thing a human being can be? Is ‘fat’ worse than ‘vindictive’, ‘jealous’, ‘shallow’, ‘vain’, ‘boring’ or ‘cruel’? Not to me.”
J.K. Rowling wrote those words years ago, and I’ve seen it posted time and time again on sites like Tumblr and Facebook. When put in such a context, it seems almost silly that we’d consider fat such an awful thing to be when there are so many less-desirable traits that are much more harmful.
But out in the so-called ‘real world’, the fear-mongering continues. Georgia’s Strong4Life campaign and the recent Disney Habit Heros exhibit are just two of the constant barrage new and inventive ways that media and corporations use to fat-shame children under the guise of health.
So it shouldn’t be surprising when stories like this come out. A Wisconsin couple starved their newborn baby against repeated advice of their doctor, convinced that their daughter was going to get fat. At the baby’s four month checkup, she weighed just 7lbs 6oz. Most children weigh more than that at birth.
“Mr Sultze reportedly told a doctor he didn’t want to have obese children and kept insisting his daughter would ‘get fat’ at the hospital.”
Without a doubt, this is terrible parenting and flat out child abuse. But do you know what that is? Fear. Instead of fearing that your child would grow up to be a bad person, that they’d be greedy or mean-spirited or selfish, god-forbid the child be fat. THAT would be the worst.
It’s almost (almost) understandable when you read stories like this, children torn away from their homes and their families because they’re too fat. These stories point an almost accusatory finger at the reader. “If you don’t watch what your child eats, it could happen to YOU too!” And yet we somehow are horrified and surprised when stories like the Sultze’s appear.
But that’s what shame and fear does, brilliantly illustrated. When you concentrate too much on the intake of a child, constantly deprive them or forbid them, what do you expect? When they grow up looking at billboards of fat children with headlines talking about disease and death, it affects them. When they’re required to measure their BMI in school, it affects them. And ultimately, it’s going to go one way or the other. The child will either end up eating more, as a coping mechanism, or end up restricting in an extraordinarily unhealthy way. Obesity rates may be largely the same in the past 12 years or so, but the rate of eating disorders (especially in children) has shot through the roof.
Why are we surprised?
But of course, it gets worse.
Just this past week a grandmother and stepmother were charged with murder for forcing a young girl to run for three hours straight because she ate a candy bar and later lied about it. She died. Let me repeat that: They made her run until she died.
This is what fear does. It paralyzes people and makes them act irrationally. And while people are so convinced that obesity kills, these terrifying ways that they’re trying to prevent fat are, in a number of ways, even worse.
Moving joyfully should be encouraged. Eating intuitively should be encouraged. Not using food as a reward, cutting out fast food as much as possible. But no matter how much activity some people get, no matter how healthy they eat, some people are always going to be fat. It’s nothing to be afraid of. We are nowhere near close to fully understanding the human body or how it works, but it doesn’t work in one uniform way. It works differently for different people. Based on genetics, based on environment, based on a hundred different factors. It’s so much more than calories in vs. exercise out.
Fear of being unhealthy is killing people. It makes them do more unhealthy things than they would if they just accepted and treated their bodies well without trying to change them.
The fear has to stop.