Thursday, July 12, 2007

Fat kids & the obesity epidemic

I was a fat kid. I started as cute and chubby but as my parents attempts to control my food choices increased, so did the amount of my lousy food choices… and my weight. Their focus on my size created a control issue that didn’t have to be. I went through middle and high school feeling like a fat outcast and failure. I remember once in high school my mother telling me that she didn’t think I would ever find a man to love me if I stayed fat. Around 10th grade, there was a kid in school who liked me and we started spending more time together. We would often go play tennis at a near-by school yard. My mom asked me why I wasn’t trying to lose weight now that I had a boy showing interest. The message was clear; fat girls are not worth loving.

Did you notice what I mentioned doing in that story? Playing tennis. I need to point out that during high school and college that although I was fat I was very physically healthy! I regularly rode my bike miles at a time to get where I wanted to go. And during college, my summer job was at a camp where I spent all day on the move, walking up and down hills. And yet the whole time I was hearing how unhealthy I was. Mom even told me she was worried I would die in my 20’s or 30’s because of my size.

It was not until I was a junior or senior in college that something clicked in me that started to question and reject these messages. I’m not sure what triggered it, but one day I marched down to the library (this was before the days of google!) to find a reference book that listed national organizations. I looked up ‘fat’ and found NAAFA and wrote them a letter. Next thing you know I had a big packet of literature from them that was the beginning of my understanding that yes, fat women are loved too.

It took time to convince my parents that it isn’t the number on the scale, but how one leads their life that determines their health. Mom always knew I was worth loving, she just was never sure if others would realize how great I was with the fat in the way. Eventually we managed to get to a place where we agreed to disagree and I think Mom even loved me more for standing up for myself with her about it. It also took some time to convince myself that I was worth loving romantically; sometimes this is still a work in progress.

But once I found the confidence in myself, my attitude and expectations shifted. And that has made all the difference!

It has always been socially acceptable to mock, judge and even harass fat people. As the “obesity epidemic” lingo has taken hold in our media I have seen an increase in the social acceptance of the judgment of fat people and I have wondered its effect on children.

I came across the article below today and cried when I read that obese children were found to often have the same quality of life as children with cancer.

Read that line again so it sinks in.... obese children were found to often have the same quality of life as children with cancer.

Overweight kids face widespread stigma

Although I agree that there is an increased need to help our society live healthier lives, we need to shift the focus to the food choices we make and our activity level... and not the number on the scale!

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