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Is There Hope For Fat Kids?

January 23, 2012

Originally posted on Body, Love, Wellness by Golda Poretsky.

Every once in a while, I meet someone in their 20′s who’s been part of the fat positive community since his/her young teens. Often, they found fat pride as a result of a late night Google search that led them to a blog or two. They often tell me they never(!) dieted and focused on approving of their body from a young age.  Sometimes, they even influenced their friends and spread body positivity in school, college, etc.

Marilyn Wann Stand4KidsI get so excited when I hear these stories.  If fat positivity was reaching kids ten years ago, imagine who it’s reaching now!  We could be supporting a whole new generation of kids to practice Health At Every Size ®, to know that dieting is not the answer, to know that their bodies are perfect just as they are!

I think this is definitely happening (and if you’re a young’un who reads this blog, please feel free to comment and say hi!) but at the same time, I feel like there is even more pressure on fat kids nowadays to change their bodies.  This is nearly unfathomable to me, because as a kid growing up mostly in the 80′s, I felt so much shame and pressure around my fatness, and it’s hard to imagine it being worse.  But according to people who  ignore statistics, childhood obesity is on the rise.  And rather than look at the real issues, like child poverty, food deserts and the fact that our fat shaming society is actually bad for kids and their health, groups like Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta decide to put the onus on fat kids, shaming them for, well, eating, and eating at places that actually donate money to the campaign.  (By the way, fat activists have been doing some amazing work to take down the so-called “Strong4Life” campaign.  If you’re interested in getting involved, check out this site and this Facebook group. For a quick action you can take, sign the petition.)

As I wrote last week, I would really like to live in a society where fat shaming and discrimination are a thing of the past.  I hope to meet more and more young folks (and eventually, older folks) who found body acceptance and HAES® early, felt supported in approving of their bodies, and went on to do great things because body image was never an issue.

One way to support this Body Love Revolution is to support the adults in fat children’s lives. So I’d like to share some tips for the parents/guardians/grandparents/aunts/uncles etc. out there.  If you’re reading this blog, you’re probably already aware of body positivity and want to instill it in the kids in your life.  If you have fat kids, you probably get pressure all the time to do something about their “weight problem.”  I can only imagine the pressure you feel.  And of course, you only have a limited amount of impact on your kids, since they live in this messed up, fat shaming society too.  But here are a few tips just to support you:

1) Demonstrate The Beauty Of Body Diversity — From the beauty industry to the medical industry, we’re bombarded with messages about the kind of bodies that are “good,” “healthy,” and “beautiful.”  These categories are often applied to only a tiny segment of the population, and the rest of us are expected to strive to achieve bodies that are more like this ideal.  As much as possible, try to show your children that a diversity of bodies is really beautiful.  Marilyn Wann’s Fat!So? book is particularly great for this — each chapter features a diversity of arms, bellies, legs etc. to show this beauty in diversity.  Whether you’re 7 or 70, it can feel great to have these reminders.

2) Bring Resources With You When You Deal With Authority Figures — There are probably people in your life and your kid’s life who pressure you to get your kid to diet.  Diets don’t work for kids or adults, but that doesn’t stop doctors, teachers, etc. from pressuring you to put your kid on one.  Having a bit of research in front of you so that you can better advocate for your child can be really helpful.  Check out Linda Bacon’s incredibly helpful letters that you can bring with you to help explain why you’re using HAES® with your kids (and yourself).

3) Make Your Home A Body Positive Space — Think of your home as an oasis from fat shame.  What might need to change?  Maybe there are a few magazines that idealize thin bodies that you don’t want to buy anymore?  Maybe you want to tell your friends that you’re going to change the conversation if they start talking about how “bad” they are for eating something.  Maybe your bathroom scale needs to be replaced with something snazzier.  Getting intentional about creating a body positive home environment can be great for you and your kids.

4) Don’t Make Weight Loss The Answer — Despite the fact that fatness makes kids a target for bullying, protecting fat kids from bullying seems to be a low priority.  Since you hate to see your kids get picked on, you may think that dieting and weight loss are the answer.  But they aren’t the answer.  They just set your child up for more physical and mental health issues, including low self esteem and negative body image.  I’m no expert on bullying, but the more you remind your child that the bully is wrong and that his/her body is perfect the way it is, the better.

5) Get Body Positive Support For Yourself — I think it’s the rare person who escapes childhood and adolescence without body image issues, whether they’re fat or thin.  Fat positive community tends to be welcoming to lots of body types, because people understand that fat pride is about acknowledging that body shaming hurts all of us.  So look for blogs and groups (whether online or local) that feel supportive.  Also consider talking to a HAES therapist or coach (like me!) to support you in feeling great about your body.

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