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.