When I read an article on CNN last week that declared "Fat is the new ugly on the playground," I immediately felt like crying in the corner. In part because I lived through the torture of being the chubby kid for the better part of my grade school experience. In part because it just about kills me to read that children as young as FOUR are worrying that they're fat and, thus, worthless. But above both of those reasons, I wanted to scream and sob, because guess what -- unfortunately, fat is not the "new" ugly.
Kids have been cruelly taunting their peers by calling one another "fat" for decades. I lived through it in the mid-'90s, and my mom lived through it in the early '60s. And now, for it to be 2012, and we still haven't figured out how to help our children evolve beyond body image bullying? And the problem seems to have gotten even worse and started affecting children even younger? It's shameful and embarrassing.
More from The Stir: Anti-Obesity Ads 'Shame' Fat Kids for a Good Reason
And let's not give ourselves a break by thinking we can exclusively point the finger at the media -- TV, Kim Kardashian, magazines, movies, slim Disney princesses, etc. Inescapable entertainment and advertisements are just a piece of the puzzle. As the CNN story notes, it "doesn't even matter anymore if your children don't watch television, adore Disney movies, or adore Barbies." They're still going to be affected, because "it's not just TV, it's the entire culture" that is the problem, according to Dickinson College professor Amy Farrell, author of Fat Shame: Stigma and the Fat Body in American Culture.
In other words, we as adults (not just parents, as I think all family members surrounding a child play a part in "modeling" what's right and wrong) have to take more responsibility for the problem. We can't use language that associates fat with lesser than in any way (be that stupid, lazy, pathetic). We can't put our food issues on our kids. As CNN puts it, we shouldn't be talking about food in moral terms, like "I was so bad today!" This is a big one to me -- my mom had my best interests at heart, but I grew up witnessing her very much passive-aggressive relationship with food. (She would keep Twinkies in the house, but then stash them way up high, as if that would prevent a kid with a sweet tooth from getting to them -- ha! She would be "on Atkins," but then "cheat" while out at a restaurant. That kind of thing.)
More from The Stir: 16-Year-Old’s ‘Fat Kid’ Memories Will Change the Way You Talk to Your Kids
But above all, we have to be constantly reiterating what it means to be special, smart, valuable -- to our daughters, as well as our sons (who are sure to echo what they see/heart at home while out on the playground). Even as an aunt, I'm super-aware of how much I say "You're so pretty/cute/beautiful" to my nieces. I feel like it's fine to say it once in a while, but more so, I hope they internalize "You're so smart!" or "You're so funny!" If there ever was a safeguard against this cruel seemingly-undying trend, I believe that helping younger generations value those things is it.
Do you agree adults play a major role in putting a stop to body image bullying?