This is what I want to scream from the roof tops these days. My 9-year-old son, who isn’t even overweight by the clinical definition or any other definition for that matter, has had to contend with kids calling him fat at school. He is a classic “Dennis” (my maiden name)
male at this age–thin everywhere with a ponch in the middle. He looks exactly like both of my brothers did at that age, right before they shot up and became tall and thin. I also know that I am doing my damnedest to ensure that he eats real foods in balance so he doesn’t develop a weight problem.
Whether or not he has earned the moniker “fat” is beside the point. The fact that we have such a toxic attitude about extra weight in this culture is the point. Because of this attitude, I have been waiting for this day–the day when my son would hear the f-word used to describe himself and the inevitable pain it would cause him. I knew it was coming. Having endured years of cruel epithets from the same kind of boys who are calling him names, I know how cutting and damaging these comments are to his tender little spirit.
When I go and speak with people taking the Nutrition 4 Weight Loss series, I see and hear the pain that being called fat has caused so many of them. When I was obese, I felt invisible. Invisible, that is, until I would hear a cruel “hey fatty” yelled from a car window, or see the numbers on the scale under the disapproving eye of a nurse. Or, most humiliatingly, “waddle, waddle” being yelled at me by a group of boys from the back of my son’s school bus. Do these people have any idea what their casual cruelty does to people?
I have been very cool in dealing with the boys at my kid’s school. After all, I have 25 years of experience being called fat and that brings a lot of baggage with it. Baggage that would be unfair to unleash on 9-year-old kids. So, I deftly (according to my husband) handled the situation with politely worded emails to the parents and his teacher. I made it very clear what was said and by whom in the spirit of “clarity and fairness.” To their credit, I got no “boys will be boys” from anyone, but only cooperative, responsive action. The situation is better, thank goodness.
However, if I am honest with myself, I want to take a scorched Earth policy toward this flavor of cruelty. It is so damaging to people. When I think of some of the comments made by Roman B. in 3rd grade (whale!) or Jeff K. on the bus in middle school (made earthquake noises as I walked up the bus aisle), tears well up in my eyes to this day. I can’t remember the name of my best friend from third grade, but I can give you the names of every one of my tormentors and their stock-and-trade insults. Sad.
So, navigating these waters as a parent is awful. I know I can’t protect him from all the bullies out there with fat jokes in their arsenals. What I can do is be honest with him and empathize with how he feels. I kept most of my exchanges with bullies to myself. At least I know that he will come to me if this happens again.
By Lea Wetzell, MS, CNS, LN
Calorie counting; adding up points; weighing, measuring and journaling every ounce of food; countless hours at the gym; stepping on the scale day in and day out; and still fat? Does this sound familiar? If so, you are not alone. As a nation we have become obsessed with dieting and exercise, but all of these efforts have not put the slightest dent in our obesity epidemic. Currently in the U.S., over a third of the population is considered obese and two thirds overweight. Why are we caught in this fat trap? Maybe losing weight is more complex than just counting “calories in” and exercising “calories out.” Read the rest of this article