Creating the Problem In the First Place

Published March 6, 2013 by Fat Heffalump

This morning I awoke to see a constant stream of retweets and shares for an article on a major Australian women’s online magazine (give you two guesses – I’m not naming or linking to it) about a woman who found a note in her 7 year old daughter’s bedroom, labelled “Diyet”[sic] and listing the food she ate (not much) and quite a considerable list of daily exercise.

Now yes, I agree, it is awful that a 7 year old child is making diet plans.  It is awful that a 7 year old child is obsessing over her body and diet and exercise already.  It shouldn’t be happening and I understand her mother being horrified that she would find this item in her child’s room, and despairing that her daughter is being influenced by this stuff already.  I find no fault at all with the author of the piece or the story she tells.

But seriously, for this particular online women’s magazine (let’s be honest, most online women’s magazines and most mainstream media) to be clutching their pearls over children dieting is a bit fucking hypocritical if you ask me.

This shit doesn’t happen in a vacuum.  These same media outlets publish story after story beating the “obesity epidemic” drum, and wringing their hands over “childhood obesity”, and then wonder why children obsess over their weight from a ridiculously early age?   These media outlets crap on about being “healthy”, which is just diet-talk reworded with no actual conscientious addressing of holistic health of all people, and then they get all up in arms about children dieting?  They allow the most hateful, bigoted crap about fat people to be published in the comments and call it “opinion”.  Not to mention that every single time I go to a mainstream media site, women’s or not, I am bombarded with ads for weight loss.  Where do they think kids, and their parents, get all of this stuff in the first place?

Some of my earliest memories are of my mother dieting.  From as early as I can remember, there were stories in her magazines, and on the TV my father always had on, and in the Sunday paper, talking about the latest, greatest diets, the importance of being thin and how fat was “bad” (think of lazy, fat, beer drinking, old Norm in the Life: Be in It ad campaigns, fellow Aussies of a certain age).  Even if I hadn’t been told I was fat from my earliest memory (I wasn’t fat for most of my childhood) by my family, all I had to do was pick up one of the women’s magazines laying about the house, or sit and watch TV with my father and I was getting those messages.  Right from my earliest memories, I was hearing that fat is bad and that I should do ANYTHING to avoid being fat.

So what did I do?  I was put on my first diet at 11.  But I had already been experimenting with dieting and exercise regimes some years before that.  I was maybe 7 or 8 the first time I put myself on a “diet”.  I was very good at sneaking the various diet products that my mother had about the house, and I was an excellent reader, so I just read the magazines and followed the diets in those.  I was 13 the first time I was put on meal replacements (powdered shakes that were VILE).  Soon after I started engaging in purging after an older girl taught me how to do it.  I also started stealing laxatives and worming medicine because I’d heard those helped you lose weight too.  Once I got busted for stealing those out of the medicine cabinet at home, I started stealing them from the local chemist.  I can remember watching an article on one of those current affairs shows about childhood obesity when I was in Year 8, and this was in 1985 – long before the current obesity epidemic hysteria kicked off in the 90’s, which has magnified the situation hundredfold.

It has to stop.  The media are never going to take responsibility for the shit they publish, so we have to stop supporting the media that publishes shit.  Even when they do publish something that is worthy, like the story I mentioned above, we have to view it through the lens of the other stuff they publish as well and call them out on it.  We need to promote outlets that share the worthy stories without all of the fat shaming and stigma.  If we are worried about what our children are being exposed to, perhaps it’s best to start by examining what WE are exposed to.  Because if you think kids aren’t seeing this stuff, you’re seriously delusional.  Even if you don’t give it to them directly, if it is around, they find a way to get to it.  Or they hear a second-hand version from other kids at school.  We need to teach our kids critical thinking.  But first we have to learn it ourselves.  To question the source of information and to ask what their motives are.  We need to discuss these issues with kids and teenagers and each other, openly and critically.   We need to look at the ethics behind these outlets and their sponsors.

If these media outlets come up lacking, we need to stop supporting them.  We need to walk away and not give them clicks, not give them airtime, and not signal boost them.  Instead, find alternative outlets that take responsibility for the messages they are sending and don’t engage in hypocrisy.  Or that at least TRY.  If you know that an article that people are sharing from a media site is a cross post/re post from a blog (most of them say so somewhere on the article) – share the original version, not the re-post in the dodgy mainstream media.  We need to tell our stories and have them untainted by fat shaming that undoes the message that we are sending.  Want some suggestions?  Try here, here and here.  You’re welcome to share others in the comments that you like.

I dabbled myself with writing for mainstream media (was also offered a regular writing gig at several of them) and was burned more than once by them selling me out to some disgusting fat shaming story as a “follow up”, so I decided that I would rather tell my story here and keep it’s integrity than taint my readers with contradictory information.    It might mean I reach fewer people here and now, but the message gets through clearer and un-sullied by shaming to those it does get to.

The mainstream media is never going to change until we walk away from it and stop giving them the clicks, the reads, the purchases and the support.  Give that support to those who don’t perpetuate bigotry and hate while then decrying the state of the world that THEY created.


42 comments on “Creating the Problem In the First Place

  • couldnt agree more, I was about 11 when the dieting started, every mouthful I took was monitored, and my mother went as far as making me maternity dresses because, according to her, if I wanted to look pregnant, I might as well dress the part. I still have food issues, but I’m finally living in my own skin, and screw the fattists. I’m as good as the next person, and it’s blogs like this one that help me get through the bad days.

    • It’s definitely not a new thing that children are dieting, that’s for sure. It’s just compounded now because the obesity epidemic rhetoric has got deafening in it’s constant stream of fat stigma.

  • I became bulimic at age 12 because the message had been drilled into me that fat was bad and ugly. I know this will seem strange when I say it, but I honestly never hated fat people, I just hated the way they were treated. I was already bullied enough as it was and quite literally felt that I would die if I were bullied even more for being fat. This was in the mid 1970’s, just to give some perspective of how long this sort of thing has been in existence. It’s hardly a new phenomenon. It has gone on well past long enough.

    • I don’t think it sounds strange. I think fat stigma is often sold as a reason to lose weight – it’s so hard to be fat because people treat you badly, so you should lose weight! I think it’s understandable to buy into that, especially when you’re a kid, and I most definitely did. But of course it’s flawed logic. If being fat is had because people are cruel to fatties, the stuff that needs to change is the cruelty, not the fatness.

    • I don’t think it is strange either – that’s how I felt. I have never thought other fat people were gross or disgusting – only myself, and my primary motivation for all of the attempts to be thin was to avoid the bullying. It sounds very familiar to me!

  • You are completely right. It is not until every woman, every individual takes responsibility for their own fat shaming and the way that they allow themselves to get sucked in by the media bubble. Of course a significant portion of the blame can be laid at the door of the media and entertainment industry, we are spoon fed this shit on a daily basis, but we all need to own up to our part in the problem only then will we be able to abandon these media outlets.

    • I don’t even think it’s about “taking responsibility” so much as being aware of just how hypocritical the media are. Once we are aware, then yes, we take action and make sure others know it. But the media is so invasive that we often believe that what they push is “normal” when it is far from it!

  • A child was exercising!!?? How much longer are we going to let the media corrupt the minds of the young with these concepts of physical activity? IT HAS TO STOP.

    • I’d better clarify – kids being active and engaging in sports and other activity is not a bad thing, but children exercising for weight loss is obscene. And you’re right, it has to stop.

  • Since I started reading yours and others’ blogs, I keep having a fantasy image of a world where everyone is accepted just as they are. It’s very interesting to look at the crowd and see all the different kinds of people in all of their different clothes being just content with themselves and world.

    • I had the same idea. I’m relatively new to the fat acceptance movement and the idea that fat people aren’t bad because they are fat, as a fat person myself this caused me a lot of harm and destroyed by self image. But since embracing these new ideas and confronting my own effed up thoughts about fat and what it means I’ve become a much more content person.

      Sometimes I forget how much fat people are vilified after spending time in fat positive spaces, and then I see a news article or a trolling comment and realise that some people would much rather tear each other down than build each other up.

    • I love seeing that diversity too lsstrout – fat activism and feminism have given me that gift – the ability to see diversity and enjoy people for being diverse.

  • ***This might be possibly triggering

    My older sister is a pediatrician and about a month ago she had a mother come in with her four year old daughter and ask if there was some kind of diet she could put the kid on. This happens all the time.

    My sister just advised her to balance her meals because it wouldn’t be healthy to but such a young child on a diet. The woman got really upset and started to explain that she had been a fat kid and teen and felt that she had lost her chance at a childhood / teenage expierence because of how brutally she was bullied and that she just wanted her daughter to have a better time in school than she had.

    My sister, who is at her biggest around a size 10, thought that this woman was terrible because the child “wasn’t even fat.” But although I don’t agree at all with what the woman was asking for, I felt immense sympathy for her because I feel the same way about my expierence growing up. My only memories are of being bullied. I really hope she straightens out before she hurts her daughter’s self esteem while she means to help her. GAH.

    And yes, those magazines are so hypocritical. They might as well be saying “she shouldn’t be obsessed about her diet until she’s a teenager!”

    • When I was seven or eight I remember going on my first diet. My mum took me to a nutritionist and broke down in tears in the office saying she didn’t want me to end up like her. Every time I remember that moment it’s crushing. She was so miserable, and so desperate that her daughter should avoid being miserable too.

      As it happens, I have “ended up” like her – in the sense that I grew up fat – but the difference is that now *both* of us are proud of who we are. I only wish she could have had that back then.

  • Years ago I read a very silly book penned by two of the members of the Monty Python team, though I can’t recall which two. Anyway, one of the better passages was an advice column from a teen girls’ magazine. No matter what the girl asked about (dating, school, fights with parents, doing better in sports) the answer was always about some product that would help the girl smell less revolting… because of course all girls smell revolting no matter how well they wash, right?

    The punch line was the final question where the girl actually asked about what she could do to get rid of her revolting bodily smells, and the advice columnist comes back with this shocked and disgusted reply about ‘but you can’t possibly smell, where do girls get these ridiculous ideas?’

    When I read that in the early eighties (and it was written sometime in the seventies), I definitely recognized what they were parodying. It’s only gotten worse since then, and they STILL won’t accept that they’re a significant part of the problem.

  • Thank you for that post. I actually couldn’t sleep last night because my head was full of thoughts about my life as a fatty. I read the post you reffered to before going to bed and it got me thinking about how awful it was to be a kid who was never happy about anything positive because you were always being told you were fat and disgusting and therefore nothing else mattered. I’ve always felt that all my success has been shadowed by the fact that I’m fat. And with cause as myfriends, family, strangers as well as society in general keeps telling my I’m worth less because I’m fat… Even finishing top of my class when graduating secondary school didn’t stop my folks talking about my weight, poking my belly etc. It’s like there is a subtext to everything you do: “it doesn’t matter because you are fat”. I’m so fed up with this… The worst thing is that I’ve internalized the dialog and now nobody has to tell me I’m worth less, I think it – even when I’m consiously trying to reverse this. The main point is that this critique hasn’t helped, it has harmed and made my life seriously more succy. But I haven’t given up, I’m still trying to rehabilitate myself – to get rid of this internal dialog and accept myself for who I am. And I have to say your blog has helped and for that I thank you. 🙂

    • Védís – you are NOT worth less than other people because of your body. You are as worthy and as valuable as any other human being on this planet. And your achievements are something you deserve to feel proud of.

      Walk tall and know that if other people have a problem with you because of your body, then that is THEIR problem, not yours.

  • We have all been there.. As a child ‘she’s could be so pretty, if she could just lose some weight’. I was unfortunate enough to grow up in a family of hairdressers and beauty therapists, I think 9 at last count in first cousins and immediate family. The criticism was incessant, the comments forthright and unwarranted. I can remember our family GP sticking the end of a blue pen in my infected ingrown toenail at the age of 10 and saying ‘this is what happens to fat children’, there started my hatred of the medical profession that 40 years on still exists but that’s a different story. Why, in this day and age are we treated differently? We know we aren’t size 10s duh we don’t need to be told it repeatedly. I grew up in a violent alcoholic household where neither parent was the good parent, of course I have battle scars, and yes I have a moat around me, but what Hines you the right to sit in judgement on me?

    I work with a woman, same age as me, who has to buy her clothes in the children’s department because even an adult size 8 or 6 (if she can get then) are too big. She is one of the lucky ones. She doesn’t exercise, eats like a horse and is still too thin. I’ve spent days away with her and breakfast is always something that I would avoid like sugary cereals, raisin toast lathered with slabs of butter, then by 10am she is starving & it’s off to the cafe for a couple of small sausage rolls or party pies, anyway you get the idea. She complains constantly about clothes and the trouble and expense she has to go through to buy them, sound familiar? Do you ever see stories of people like that? I am so sick of being being treated as 1. a fat person, 2. a person, it always comes first, my obesity is who I am apparently? I would like nothing better than to be a healthy size 14 but world I’m not, nor am I lazy, I exercise 3 hours minimum a week. Two 50 minute workouts with a trainer and then 10 – 15 mins on the bike each night, 4 or 5 times a week. My portions are small and healthy yet my husband, who eats double the amount at a minimum, is under 80kgs (and sneaks bags of chips on the way home from work, which I know about as soon as he kisses me). I am fed up with it, for once in my I would like to be treated as a person first, not a fat person, just a normal person, because folks, THAT’S WHAT I AM! Just in closing, in the office my girlfriend and I are called ‘Laurel and Hardy’, which is very hurtful, funnily enough my friend agrees with me about the names and finds it disgusting that she is so openly judged by her weight.. honey want to step into my size 8 shoes for a day??

    • It’s interesting Krys Juliet how thin people are allowed to be “naturally thin” but fat people are not allowed to be “naturally fat”. You may appreciate the This is Thin Privilege blog on Tumblr if you haven’t seen it already.

      I long for the day where we are treated as people, not just “fat people” (or any other title). But until then, I am going to OWN the word “fat”!

  • Yes, and the same media outlets profit from publishing things on both sides of the coin. It’s similar to food manufacturers who also have a stake in dieting programs or diet foods. You pay them coming and going. They perpetuate the very problem they are supposedly “fighting” (or clutching their pearls about), and they make a profit from doing so.

    • (I realized last night that this comment sounds like I’m implying that junk food perpetuates fatness. I just wanted to clarify that I think some food manufacturers sell food that people feel guilty about eating, and then they sell them diet foods/programs in an attempt to assuage the guilt, which then leaves people feeling unsatisfied and eventually going back to the guilt-inducing foods. I think it’s a disordered cycle. Just to be clear!)

  • (Note: possible triggers regarding health care and parental… neglect, I guess is the word)

    When I was growing up in the 70s and 80s, U.S. women’s magazines would literally have on their front cover enormous pictures of desserts with titles saying that you were essentially a bad woman if you couldn’t make these for your family/kids/man. Right next to that were diet tips. I still see it today of course, but it took me until relatively recently to realize how much it affected me as a kid.

    I started dieting at age 7 or 8, I can’t remember which. I had a chart up on the wall and weighed myself daily, and was praised by mom and the doctor, who had said my rapid weight gain over the past year was me “sneaking cookies.” His “prescription” was for my mom to cut my food intake in half. I still gained, and now I know it was in part because of central sleep apnea; I was having seizures by the time I was 13 because of it. But by then, I had gotten thin(ish) by not eating, so even though tests revealed sleep apnea, no doctor cared because I wasn’t fat, therefore couldn’t have SA. (Which is baloney, of course.) So the seizures were chalked up to me faking it, until I finally had one at school, at which point I was yelled at for not eating enough and my mother, the nurse who had been encouraging me to not eat, was embarrassed by me all over again.

    I had hidden in my dresser a “workout” by Mary Lou Retton from one of these magazines, which was unquestionably geared toward kids. Not teenagers, but girls 12 and under. We were given pamphlets at school on how horrible we were for being fat.

    My entire adult life has been compromised by the health shenanigans from my childhood, which began with clueless doctors and parents, and were in large part urged on by these magazines with the double standards and an entire, systemic anti-fat bias. It’s been going on so long I don’t know that it will ever stop, but we can at least try.

    • You know, how often were we accused of “sneaking cookies” or something similar? When I was a kid we didn’t know where the next meal was coming from and often had NO food in the house, yet my mother (and doctors, and other people) STILL accused me of sneaking food!

      We had the arse out of our pants but somehow we were sneaking expensive snack foods. What the??

      And every one person we help off the ridiculous roundabout of fat loathing and weight cycling is worth it, you know?

  • The media outlet Kath is talking about has published some shameful articles.

    One was about one person who was really happy her kids weren’t the fat kids because they were gross to look at. I almost broke my computer screen. This was an adult woman saying she was so disgusted by the sight of fat children swimming in a public pool she had to write an article about it. I complained on the comments section – I couldn’t say nothing – and most of the comments were from women/men saying that they felt the same way.

    Only a few said that the author was being fatphobic and horrible. I hate that it’s so okay to hate fat people.

    I have so much respect for you Kath – what you do is amazing!

    • Ugh, kateonthenet – Thank God I never saw that article you mention – it sounds VILE! I know now to NEVER read the comments on that website… or any of them for that matter.

      Thank you for your kind words!

  • It’s not just the media, but also the people who have access to various media outlets e.g. Actors, comediennes etc. I don’t think many people would have missed the abuse that that lovely British singer, Adele, copped from Joan Rivers the other day. After all the trouble that women has gone to to remain, in her opinion, beautiful, I’m surprised that she felt it necessary to be visicious about Adele’s size. I love Adele’s attitude; she really doesn’t give a shit how people view her and is comfortable and confident in her appearance. I wish I could take a leaf out of her (and yours) book….but too many years of conditioning have made me hate myself. I love your blogs and find them very heartening, please don’t stop.

  • I can relate to this. I am fat because I have had an eating disorder since I was 7 years old- I started bingeing and purging because I was being sexually abused. My mother was horrified by my chubbiness and made matters much worse by taking me to Weight Watchers with her at age 11. It’s incredible to think that they would let a pre-teen child with only 5kg of “excess” weight join, but they did. Fast forward 20 years and I’m still struggling with bingeing and purging, and “morbidly obese”.

    • Petal, I hope you find a path out of these behaviours soon, and find peace with your body and eating/activity. It is possible – it isn’t easy and it isn’t straightforward, but know it can be done.

  • Comments are closed.

    %d bloggers like this: