Monday, January 14, 2013

Bullied for fatness?

15 or so years ago, back in Retro Ska Librarian days, I wrote a few posts which included tales of my family and childhood, which upset some family members. While there's part of me that thought "it's my site, let me do what I want," the eternal life of the internet has made me realize that dirty laundry never gets cleaned and put away once you post it. So, I'm always a little wary about posting family or work stuff.

But this new Streamlined blog has already had some rather raw confessions on it. And although I do keep planning on posting some more light-hearted entries with recipes, various weight-related articles keep popping up and I feel I have to write about them, because they relate to me. Which means they may also relate to my family. I look at this as "no one is perfect" but perhaps it can be an object lesson for all of us.

Last week the NY Times posted a piece on their Well Blog about children feeling bullied about their weight by their parents. What got to me more was all the comments, with many folks chiming in on their own childhood interactions with parent and their weight. 

It certainly struck a nerve with me. I was a chunky kid and had been told by everyone that I was too fat. I think my mom put me on my first diet at age 5 or 6. I know they thought it was a good idea, but it certainly is a shaming and a mind-f*ck thing to do to a kid. Especially when neither one's siblings nor one's parent are put on this diet, but rather they can eat what they want. So, I did what any kid would do...I hid food and ate it in secret. I began the still addictive practice of eating bad stuff alone, knowing it was wrong but filling up those feelings. And thus began a very unhealthy relationship with food, and most likely it helped lead to my binge eating.

I never liked photos of myself because I believed I was an obese child. The thing is, the extreme overweight Ska Librarian didn't really begin until my college years. My childhood weight was not incredibly big, so it seems. Check out this picture I found of myself through the magic of facebook. I'm the one in the middle:

This certainly gives a new meaning  to the phrase  "happy campers!"

I'm 8 years old in this picture. A good head or more bigger than the other kids, but I don't look incredibly heavier than anyone else. Having two very skinny siblings probably didn't help comparisons at home. 

Seeing this picture now makes me pretty angry. Maybe if I wasn't constantly harped on about my weight as a child, I wouldn't have had such a hard time of it later on in life. 

My weight continued to be an acceptable discussion and criticism in the family until the age of 30 when I explicitly asked that it stop.

What I find interesting is that the NY Times article and the report on which it based explicitly refer to this as bullying. And that 37% of children responding to this survey said bullying about their weight was done by their parents.

I'm not sure I agree with this. To me, "bullying" strikes me as intentional attacks to hurt someone. In some cases with parents, that might be true. But I think this is probably more of a misguided attempt to help one's children and doing it in an exceptionally bad way. It's not intentional bullying but it is a real straight attempt to destroy a child's self-worth, especially if they're singled out in the family. 

And what is bullying is the tacit approval of letting other people bully your children over their obesity, because there is always an acceptable stigma about fat people. Sadder still, a 2012 study shows that formerly obese people still face that same stigma.

You can see why a parent may fret over an overweight child, for both health and social issues, because it sounds like the child will never escape that fate. But why then single the child out for that? An entire family deciding to eat healthier is a better alternative. A recent study by the NYS Dept. of Health showed that families that received a more healthier WIC food package (with fruits and vegetables and whole grains) resulted in a decrease in childhood obesity levels. But these foods weren't just for the kids. The entire family is on this new eating lifestyle.

Forcing only your child to "diet" is just creating lifelong problems. I do not believe my parents bullied me. But I will say they did help along my body issues. 

And now that I am in my Streamlined way, do my friends and peers think I'm bullying them? I do have take a step back sometimes and think, "How would I feel if I approached the Retro me and talked about weight maintenance and lifestyle changes?" I would probably feel the same way as when my mom hid cookies and posted my weekly weight on my wall, or made me roller skate for 30 minutes one afternoon so our family portraits wouldn't include my "belly." (Is that how we think effective weight loss happens? In one 30 minute enforced guilt trip?)

That's the real issue. Unless one has that "clickable" moment and does it for no one but themselves, it won't work. I want to be available for those that want help, but I can't be a busybody, telling folks how to live. 

All I can say is, I've been there and I'm around if needed.

Chiasson, M. A., S.e. Findley, J.p. Sekhobo, R. Scheinmann, L.s. Edmunds, A.s. Faly, and N.j. McLeod. “Changing WIC Changes What Children Eat.” Obesity (2012): n/a–n/a. doi:10.1002/oby.20295.
Latner, Janet D, Daria S Ebneter, and Kerry S O’Brien. “Residual Obesity Stigma: An Experimental Investigation of Bias Against Obese and Lean Targets Differing in Weight-loss History.” Obesity (Silver Spring, Md.) 20, no. 10 (October 2012): 2035–2038. doi:10.1038/oby.2012.55.
Puhl, Rebecca M., Jamie Lee Peterson, and Joerg Luedicke. “Weight-Based Victimization: Bullying Experiences of Weight Loss Treatment–Seeking Youth.” Pediatrics (December 24, 2012). doi:10.1542/peds.2012-1106.
“Feeling Bullied by Parents About Weight.” Well. Accessed January 14, 2013.

No comments:

Post a Comment