16-Year-Old’s ‘Fat Kid’ Memories Will Change the Way You Talk to Your Kids

I Stand Against Weight Bullying
Kate Summers, right, and cousin Virginia Sole Smith
When Kate Summers was a little girl, no one told her she was pretty. The compliments would come, but not until she lost weight. This is why Kate struggled with low self-esteem through her early teens. This is why 16-year-old Kate has volunteered her picture for the I Stand Against Weight Bullying Campaign.

Her photo is now part of a movement to counteract Georgia's controversial Strong4Life anti-obesity billboards. The campaign was created by Ragen Chastein to counteract the way the billboards have taken pictures of overweight children and used them to make kids feel shameful about their bodies.

But for Kate, getting involved allows her to do something even bigger.

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As the high school junior from Ann Arbor, Michigan told The Stir when we caught up with her via phone, it's a way to remind parents that the words they use can be dangerous.

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Kate was the so-called fat kid. Already 80 pounds at 7 years old because of hormones, things got worse when she was put on a medicine to help control her allergies. Her weight skyrocketed even though she was a competitive swimmer getting regular exercise. Her confused parents took her to doctor after doctor, specialist after specialist, but it would take well over a year until someone finally connected the dots between the medicine and her uncontrollable hunger. By that time, Kate had gained an extra 40 pounds, and she had to fight to take it off.

"I started dieting some, and I lost it all," she says, "but I had become very self-conscious."

And then came the compliments.

"They would tell me, 'Oh Kate, you look so beautiful.' No one had ever told me that before, and it was because I'd lost weight. I felt like I had to stay that way, I had to stick to this beauty standard," she says.

The troubling part, Kate admits, is saying someone is beautiful sounds so positive. But when it was tied up into her weight loss, it had the power to make a young girl feel bad about who she'd been, and who she might become. "They thought of it as a nice thing," she explains. "But I would hope people would be aware of why they're saying this to a kid. Is it because they lost weight or because they really have always been beautiful?"

Be aware too, Kate says, of how you talk to a child who is struggling with their weight. For young Kate there were the warnings, especially from older people, not to "eat that cake, you're going to get fat again!" as if one piece of indulgence in a balanced diet were going to destroy her life. And as she struggled to take off the weight, people were fond of telling her that she ought to exercise as if she wasn't -- even though she was a competitive swimmer who was constantly on the move. The constant judgement was hard to take.

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Asked if she could say one thing to parents, Kate's answer was simple.

"Be aware of what you're saying and why you're saying it. Be aware that a kid is probably really self-conscious about their weight already!"

Want to make your own statement to the world about weight bullying? Today is the last day to submit a suggestion for the official I Stand Against Weight Bullying Campaign Billboard!

Do you struggle to find the right words to talk to your kids about weight?

 

Image via Kate Summers

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