There’s a lot of talk these days on “childhood obesity” and what we need to be doing about it as a culture. It’s getting some very high profile names and faces attached to it, and appearing regularly in mainstream media. In the US, first lady Michelle Obama has taken up the “cause”. As has Jamie Oliver again, after his campaign in the UK, he’s headed over to the US to teach folks over there a lesson. Even here in Australia, names like Mia Freedman are weighing in (ok, yes, I did intend that pun, shut up) on the subject.
In my opinion, there’s are two very vital points these famous folk are missing.
Firstly, by demonising obesity in children, they are creating a “class” of children to be bullied, ridiculed, harassed and discriminated against.
Secondly, by focusing on fat kids, they’re totally ignoring the rest of the kids out there who are eating just as shitty food and living sedentary lives but are normal or thin bodied.
There is an assumption oft made about the fat acceptance movement that we are against healthy eating and exercise. This is not true. Many of us are against dieting and weight loss, but this does not mean that we are suggesting that healthy living is a bad thing. We believe that diet and weight loss ARE NOT conducive to healthy living.
As an adult who was not a fat child, but became a fat teenager, I can remember a lot of the messages I got both in my childhood before I really did become fat, and as a teenager when I was.
In primary school (let’s call it BF – before fat), I was never very good at speed or agility when it came to sports. When we had things like races or anything that required me to move quickly and deftly, I was always at the back of the pack. However, in life BF, and AF (after fat) as well, I have always had strength and endurance that far outstrips my peers, and in many cases, a lot of men.
In primary school, I can remember at the beginning of every physical education class, we were told to do a lap of the oval. The kids that came first, were always picked for teams by the teacher, or asked to “demonstrate how things are done”. Those of us who didn’t do so well, or in my case, came last, were ignored, or told “You will have to do better if you don’t want to be fat.”
I can remember trying and trying to be faster, be more agile and athletic, but for some reason I just couldn’t do it. So consequently I missed out on being on sports teams and was usually told to run more laps, or do some other kind of boring, repetitive activity, while the other kids “played games” on teams of soccer, softball, volleyball, cricket, you name it.
The irony is, in later years when I had a go at things myself, I found that I have a soccer kick like a cannon, can spike a volleyball with force and deadly accuracy, and am able to hit a ball with such force that I can break it. Yes, I can split a golf ball with a single hit, the same for a tennis ball. My mother has the same force when it comes to playing golf, I’ve seen her hit off the men’s tee and send a ball considerably farther than any of the men can.
As a child I also loved riding my bike, and could do so for hours, yet couldn’t win a race on the damn thing, and from about 12, discovered that I had a slow but powerful and enduring swimming stroke that I could plough away at for hours.
Yet I was never given the opportunity to exhibit these in PE classes as a child. Instead I was shamed and told that I was slow and lazy.
I also got the same messages at home. I remember being told by my parents that I was lazy and that I had “lead in my arse” because I was slow. I can remember being told that I was fat from a very early age (kindergarten is the first I can consciously remember) when I now know that I was a normal size and shape kid. I have blogged on this before.
Then of course, puberty hit and so did the fat. So I went from slow and poor agility to fat with slow and poor agility. PE classes in late primary school and then high school included lessons on losing weight, nutrition lessons, in which I and other fat kids were made examples of when talking about “bad” food choices and aerobics classes (it was the 80’s remember) for any kids that were considered fat because they needed the extra “help. Of course, that meant I was ridiculed, bullied and humiliated by the other kids because I was a Fatty McFattersons and they weren’t.
So you can see why it didn’t take me long to shun PE classes, can’t you?
However, I also remember kids who were not fat coming to school with copious amounts of tuckshop money, buying chips, ice-creams, pies, pizza, lollies and soft drinks and digging in happily. We rarely got tuckshop because we were always broke, and almost all of my high school life I just didn’t eat lunch. Nobody rode those kids who weren’t fat to diet and exercise did they? Nope, they were just left to their own devices.
What happened is it created two unhealthy groups. Those kids who were fat, learned to obsess about food and weight, many developed eating disorders and distorted views of their bodies, and had their self esteem and confidence trampled into the ground. Those kids who were not fat, were taught that it’s ok to eat crap and sit around so long as you’re thin. They were not taught healthy eating and movement, and were abusing their bodies through the neglect they had been taught was acceptable, so long as they were thin. Many of those became fat at a later date, or are still living sedentary, poor nutrition lifestyles that are making them sick.
Instead of focusing on “childhood obesity” how about we focus on positive health for all kids.
Teach them that their bodies will tell them when they are truly hungry and about good natural foods and how to prepare and cook them deliciously (this is one part of Jamie Oliver’s campaign that I actually think is bang on).
Encourage them to be active in whatever activity they enjoy. I recently read about a school that has a “play before you eat” policy for lunch times, where the kids go out and play for half an hour, in any way they like, in the school playground, before they have their lunch. This helps them build up an appetite so that they actually eat their lunch and burns off some of the energy stored up from sitting around in a classroom all morning, while also getting them active. Work towards their strengths – if they’re fast and high energy, get them out there burning that off. If they’re strong and have endurance, encourage that instead.
But most of all, we need to get rid of the arbitrary judgement of kid’s health and abilities based on the size, shape and weight of their bodies.