I have put off writing this blog until the last possible moment—a clue as to how difficult the topic is for me. I’ve known for a while that I wanted to write it—should write it—but I haven’t been able to bring myself to do it. That’s how much being called a fat child wreaked havoc on my soul and shaped my image of myself for the rest of my life. The discussion about fat shaming during the presidential campaign pushed me over the line. I can’t remain silent, as little as my opinion counts for anything. Any woman—or man for that matter—who has experienced shame because of weight must speak up and say no more. We won’t do it and we won’t allow it to be done to our children.
My parents put me on my first diet when I was in the fourth grade. I would’ve been about nine years old. They were worried that their daughter was getting fat. We didn’t call it obese in those days. I was the fat daughter. They didn’t understand that girls often go through a period in which they get rounder before they have a growth spurt and get taller. I’m not criticizing them; they did what they thought was best for me. So I began a diet that would stretch through middle school and high school and beyond. I began a lifetime love-hate relationship with food. In high school, I resorted to laxatives and diet aids to try to look like my skinny sisters. I was editor of the school newspaper and then the yearbook, on Student Council, and third in my class, but secretly I was at war with my own body. I stuck a finger down my throat if I felt I had eaten too much. I weighed for my dad so he could see if I was restraining myself properly.
I have gained and lost weight hundreds of times in my fifty-eight years. I will never be thin by society’s standard and stay that way.
Now I have Primary Lateral Sclerosis, a disease in which patients can lose the ability to swallow. With time, they become malnourished because they choke, even on liquids. I already have trouble swallowing meat. So I’ve been told I’m better off weighing more, having a higher BMI, going into this battle. Yet, I cannot bring myself to eat freely. It’s too ingrained in me to worry, to be ashamed of my body if my belly bulges, if my thighs rub, if my butt is too big. I have ovarian cancer. Women who die of this cancer often die of malnutrition because tumors block their intestines and they’re unable to absorb nutrients. Yet, I still cannot bring myself to eat freely.
The last straw that forced me to write this piece was having a mother tell me her daughter’s pediatrician has informed her that her three-year-old is obese, based on her BMI. Like the mother, I’m horrified and angry and disgusted at the doctor’s attitude. This little girl is fortunate to have a mother who sees her for what she is: an active, beautiful, healthy child who eats well—salad, broccoli, apples, green beans, peas—many things that might surprise adults who don’t eat them. She’s tall for her age and has long legs like a frisky colt. This mother wouldn’t dream of putting her daughter on a diet. But she will secretly worry and watch and wander if she is doing the right thing for her daughter.
Instead of focusing on healthy habits, the pediatrician did what this celebrity/model-thin obsessed society does. He marked this little girl with a big red F. Fat. I thought it was surely an aberration. But this mother tells me that she has visited on-line forums for moms in which numerous mothers complain about pediatricians calling their toddlers obese.
I understand that this is a difficult line to walk. Our children are much more sedentary than we were. Obesity is skyrocketing for children and adults. Too much technology, too many video games, too much TV. But parents control all of these things for children. It’s up to us how kids spend their time. We also decide what and when they eat. Our attitude about food and activity sets the example for them.
Surely, we’ve learned not to fall into the “clean your plate” trap. Surely we’ve learned to stop making food a reward. Surely, we’ve learned to drop the phone and the remote and head outdoors for a walk or a game of basketball or a trip to the park. We need the exercise as much as they do. Let’s focus on being healthy, not thin.
Let’s not raise another generation of girls who look in the mirror and cry because they’re ashamed of the way the person in the mirror looks.
Years ago I went to a writing conference at which author Liz Curtis Higgs was the keynote speaker. She reminded us that we are made in God’s image. When he made man and woman, he stopped and said, “It is good.” It was like he said, “ta-da!”
She said when we get up in the morning each day and look in the mirror we should say, “ta-da” and smile because that’s what God does.
So let’s raise a crop of boys and girls who look in the mirror and see themselves the way God does. Ta-da!
Natalie Kreitzman, Ed.D
Well I guess to some degree “fat shaming” probably saved my life. My mother was morbidly obese for years and I heard all the rude words and all the other things one wouldn’t say in public. My mother created a fat child, a fat teen, and a fat young adult because we had NO healthy eating habits. At the age of 20, I entered a program where I drank only “protein shakes” for 6-8 months. I lost 65 lbs, and my mother did NOT gain the incentive to lose weight. I credit this program for making me thrilled to eat salads. It made me appreciate an apple as a great food choice. We appear to have a lot of children who are starting off obese–8 year olds with rolls of fat. We have a generation that loves the fast food restaurants and the happy happy happy meals (I like the toys but not the meals). As a dysphagia consultant, I beg you to learn all the dynamics of swallowing. A person with infirmities needs to eat and needs to eat well and learn how to manage intake. Looking good is one thing; looking good and internally starving your body and your brain is quite another. Ta-da, abracadabra and have a blessed day filled with healthy food choices. L,N
Thank you Kelly
Stacy T. Simmons
Thank you Kelly for writing this post. My youngest in college did her last photography assignment on this subject. Her pediatrician when she was twelve said to not overeat, he made her well-proportioned tween self feel very small. I didn’t know what to do but just sit there in shock. It’s sad that this goes on in our society.
We are made exactly as the Lord wants us to be. I hope today finds you feeling well.
I agree it’s sad, Stacy. I wish those doctors would listen to their own words and think how it would make their daughters or sisters feel. It’s not helpful at all and has a lasting impact on vulnerable girls who are already insecure about everything as they enter their teenage years.
Thank you for addressing this difficult and heartbreaking problem.
You’re welcome, Linda!
Thank you for not keeping silent about this issue, Kelly. This message needs to be heard. I’m so sorry you were shamed as a child. That can run so deep. I’m also sorry you have difficulty swallowing and deal with ovarian cancer. Praying right now that God gives you healing, physically and emotionally. Blessings and hugs to you!
P.S. I love your books. 🙂
Thanks, Trudy! Your prayers are deeply appreciated!
Kelly, thank you for telling your own difficult story. My father only fat shamed me when my friends were around. They learned it must be OK to do to me if my father did. My mother comforted me with any high calorie ‘goodie’ that was on hand. Or if I was really upset, she would make something ….my favorite cake, fudge, etc, etc. So here I am, an adult, still being fat shamed by other adults, and comforting myself with food. I am amazed at the people who seem to be educated, polite, and say things as if I can’t hear them. My burden is visible to everyone, but that does not give them permission to shame me. Most people can put up a good front and keep their burden a secret….alcoholism, drug addiction, cheating on your spouse are not generally not visible. Thanks for the opportunity to vent. I pray for you often and thank God that you are sharing your gift of writing with all of us!
Kate, I’m so sorry you experienced this and from a person who should have given you unconditional love. As an adult, I look back and wonder how my parents couldn’t see that they were responsible for what I ate and when I ate it so how could it be my “fault?” I’ve worked hard to forgive and move on so I hate to bring it up, but sometimes you simply have to speak up. Thank you for your kind words. I’m glad you enjoy the books and thank you for your prayers. I will pray for you as well.
Raquel M Martinez
I was always the skinny sister until my later years, then I realized how difficult it was to lose weight. Even now when people notice the weight loss I feel they are talking about someone else. I still see a fat me in the mirror.
Yep, it’s crazy how it messes with our self images!
Thank you for sharing this. I am the mother of a girl who was always considered fat! She also was tall large boned. She has always eaten healthy and now cooks very nutritional food for herself. She will always be a big person. Nothing wrong with that! It’s society’s fault for stressing weight. I always told her God made us what we are. He doesn’t mess up!
Amen, Karla. You are so right. He made us in his image. I’m so glad you support and encourage your daughter. Such a good mother!