All posts in the puberty category

On Childhood Obesity and Healthy Kids

Published April 14, 2010 by Fat Heffalump

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.

Be Good to Your Daughters… And Your Sons Too

Published July 21, 2009 by Fat Heffalump

Well here I am, back at Fat Heffalump. Tonight I want to talk a bit about the messages we give to young girls about their bodies, and weight. And while I’m at it, you’re going to get to see some photos of me when I was a munchkin.

Let’s start with this one:
I think I’m about 7 years old in this one.
I can remember, from a very early age – about 5 or 6 is my first memory of it, being told by my parents that I was fat. I was called porky, told I had “lead in my arse” because I was “so heavy” and couldn’t run fast, and of course I’ve mentioned earlier my brother’s taunts of “fat heffalump” and “tub of lard”.
I did have a barrel shape (no waist at all), but how many girls before puberty do have waists?
And consequently, I believed it. All my life. I believed it right up until I found the photo above, about six months ago in a box of old photo albums.
Can I ask you something. Is that little girl there fat? Does the child in the photo above look fat to you?
What about this one?
I think I’m about 9 or 10 in this one. Would you say fat there?
Here I am just before puberty hit me:
Age 11. Just before my 12th birthday. Jesus look at those legs. Fat legs? I don’t think so.
So what are people telling girls that look like this, that they’re fat? Why was a girl of this body shape, being led to believe that there was something wrong with her? Maybe it was in jest. Maybe it was a way to “keep her in her place” and not let her get “too many tickets on herself.” But I think it’s a seriously sad reflection on people’s attitudes that anyone could think a girl with this body could be considered fat.
In that last photograph, I was taller than my aunt, who is 5’2″. Very tall for an 11 year old girl. I towered all of my classmates. I stopped growing in height by the time I was 13, and I’m 5’6″ now. I was the tallest girl in my class for a long time, until the others caught up later on in their teens. Consequently, I needed women’s sized clothing, from a very young age, otherwise I’d have been exposing what was at the top of those long legs! If I remember correctly, that school uniform was a women’s size 10 (Australian), a bit loose around the middle and under the arms, yet that’s pretty proportionate for a 5’2″ female body about to sprout boobs and stuff.
Yet I remember my mother complaining in shops that I shouldn’t be in women’s clothing. Girls in school made fun of me because I shopped in the ladies wear section. I was referred to as a “big girl”. However I look at those photos and I don’t think I was big at all. Tall yes, but certainly not big or fat.
But of course, I did get fat. Puberty hit just after my 12th birthday, and boy did it hit hard. Within 12 months of that last photo above, I actually was a fat girl. A fat girl with all sorts of hormonal shit going on (I won’t go into the gory details but let’s just say that I know now that it wasn’t normal). I also had D cup breasts by the time I was 13 and they weren’t just fat. Even in my late teens when I dropped a lot of weight, I still had huge breasts.
Consequently, I don’t have any photos of me in my teens. There is the odd school class photo, but until I turned 18, there really weren’t any photos taken of me. I wouldn’t allow it. And there were huge chunks of my life since then that I wouldn’t allow photos to be taken of me, because I believed I was hideous and didn’t want any record. Those were also the years that I was sticking my fingers down my throat to purge anything I ate.
Nowdays, I relish having my photo taken. I love to have those reminders of the times in my life, the outfits I wear, the laughs that I have. Here I am today (well, ok, a couple of weeks ago, smart arses):
Me - 2009
Oh yes, I am a fat lady. By many labels, I am “morbidly obese” – do I look morbid to you? I am probably at the fattest I have ever been (give or take a bit!) but I’m also at the happiest I have ever been, because my worth is no longer measured by the number on a set of scales, the tag on my clothing, or the size of my body.
My worth is measured by the size of my heart, the number of beloved people in my life, the use of my brain, the strength of my laugh and the depth of my respect for others and myself.
We need to think about what we say to our children. Not just the girls, but they do cop the double whammy because of the whole sexualisation thing, as well as body image. Even if they are fatter than their peers, instead of crushing them down with criticisms, we should be building them up with encouragement and strong self esteem. I can’t say I wouldn’t be fat if I hadn’t been criticised so much as a child (remember those hormonal problems I mentioned), but I can say I wouldn’t have done so much damage to my body with crash diets and eating disorders. I can say I wouldn’t have wasted so many years hating myself, and would have achieved so much more in life had I been allowed to believe in myself.