Monday, August 24, 2009

What about the kids?

Some very smart folks from Canada put together a website to teach kids about size acceptance and HAES. It is called "The Student Body" and this description appears on the "about" page: "The Student Body training modules are designed for elementary school teachers who work with children in grades 4, 5, and 6. This is a primary prevention resource designed to help children develop positive body image and reduce their risk for developing unhealthy eating behaviors."

As I looked through the site (it is amazing) I thought of myself in grades 4, 5, and 6. It was an awful time for me. I was the fattest kid in school. I was ashamed of my body. I loathed gym class where I would have to change in the locker room with the other boys, who would tease me about my size. I was the slowest kid. The gym teacher, Mr. Engman, a short, stocky, typical ex military type would bark at us to do this or that. To this day I can remember the start of one gym class where he sent the entire class out to run around the field behind the school. I remember as the last of the kids left my line of sight and I was alone out there, huffing and puffing, making my way back to the gym. As I walked passed the windows of the classroom I wondered who was looking out at me, seeing my utter inferiority and dreading the fact that my tormentors, the kids, would use this embarrassment against me for days. As I made my way inside, the teacher had all 50 or so kids sitting in the center of the gymnasium giving them some sort of lecture. As I sat down I scanned at light speed all the kids eyes looking at me, seeing my fatness and my slowness and my not good enoughness. As I sat down in the back, the teacher told the class that we have the fastest kid in the school (pointing out Billy McCarry) and he paused and then he said "but we also have the slowest" and the kids burst out in laughter. It was my bucket of blood over my head from the movie "Carrie" moment. I can see in my minds eye all the kids now laughing at me in slow motion. I feel such love and sadness for that little me.

As I looked through this amazing Canadian website I thought about all the little fat boys in elementary schools all over this nation walking around in shame of their bodies and their physical abilities. I feel awful for these young boys as many of them are not only ashamed of their size and abilities but, like I was, ashamed of who they are. This shame is reinforced by all the Fat Hating stuff that if you are reading this blog you are all too familiar with.

I always thought that I might find myself back in those schools as a teacher or a therapist or a public speaker sharing with kids about the evils of Fat Hatred. Training teachers to be sensitive to the special needs of kids who were suffering from the same stuff I suffered from. (not that anyone would want a fat guy in the schools as an example of anything other that what you do not want to become)

At the convention I was chatting up a flight attendant who was at the hotel bar the same time I was ordering something and she told me that her son was upset because the teacher he was assigned to for second grade was fat and none of the kids wanted to be in her class because she didn't take care of herself. If our fat hating culture has captured the minds of first graders, I wonder if grades 4 5 and 6 which the program targets might be too late.

If the war on obesity has positive effects at the expense of crushing the self concept, self esteem and sense of worthiness of (being conservative) 1000 young boys, would not that be considered institutionalized child abuse?

What is wrong with us that we can let this happen?


  1. We need to turn thinking around and get people to realise that fat hate actually makes more people fat than it makes them thin.

    Not sure how to do it, but I believe that's the solution.

  2. Sleepy, I agree! I Think things are starting. Fat Studies programs developing in universities, scholars challenging false conclusions from studies, and of course we on the net creating a community of support that we can go forth and address the very thing you commented on.

    cheers, ivan

  3. i think part of the answer to your question lies in the language we use to frame the issue. a War on obesity? a War? are you kidding me?!

    can anybody say Weapon of Mass Deception? ;) our bodies, our children's bodies are not foreign enemies to be hounded until they surrender.

  4. I also wish as a kid that there had been more opportunities for me to GET into better shape. The problem I had with gym class was that if you weren't someone who remained naturally athletic, or if you weren't coordinated you were penalized and humiliated. Why don't they take the slower runners and the more out of shape kids and give them some kind of NON humiliating conditioning program to help them GET into better shape.

    We seem to recognize that humiliating kids who are bad at math or english doesn't help them learn more. (Or at least we seemed to where I went to school.) Why is their no similar recognition that some kids have to work harder to be good at sports?

  5. I'm 45 years old.

    I still hate my grade school and high school gym teachers with a depth that sometimes astonishes me.

    The funny thing is that once I took the chance to learn what my body could do in a non-competitive environment, I turned out to be reasonably athletic. Just not thin and athletic.

    I agree this program may be too little, too late. But remembering my own experiences, something is better than the nothing there was.

  6. I'm actually lucky enough to be getting to go speak to a 6th grade class about size size acceptance, size diversity and body image. I plan on using the site you mentioned, Ivan, for ideas and brainstorming and on my list of resources to provide teachers with. If it goes well, they'll let me speak to the rest of the middle school.