Monday, February 22, 2010

Is Michelle Obama endorsing Child Abuse?

Okay, I think we can all agree that our First Lady, Michele Obama is a smart woman.

Could it be that Michelle Obama, in all the preparation for her "cause" never once was briefed on the negative effects of stigma on fat children. With all her resources and bright minds that must surround her, is it possible that this issue was never brought up? Could it be that no one ever put this information in front of her for her consideration? I just can't imagine that was the case. I suspect that because she has made some public comments that her cause is is not about the number on the scale that there had to be some discussion about this negative impact on many children in the United States.

Assuming that the information about stigma was considered by the First Lady, I tried to think about what her thinking and decision making looked like which led to the current program she is promoting.

One scenario is similar to something Paul Campos said after a panel he did on NRP where he pondered if there was a noble lie strategy being executed to get people engaged in her "cause". So I wonder if in a similar way that Mrs. Obama understood that her program would be the source of harm for many fat children but chose to ignore it and not speak of it, and allow it to happen as collateral damage in the pursuit of the "elimination of childhood obeisity in a generation".

One of the public comments made by Kevin Smith during the Southwest episode was he saw the face of his daughter in the face of the fat women who was humiliated by an employee of Southwest.

I wonder if Mrs. Obama could see the face of her children in the faces of all the fat children who will be almost certainly the subject of cruelty, bullying and other injuries as the result of her "cause". I wonder if she could allow this program to move forward with that knowledge.

Even if the number of kids that would be the target of stigma was 1% of all kids (which while I have no science to back me up, this # has got to be an underestimate) could she actually have made a conscience choice to let that harm happen to that 1% of kids? To chose to let it happen to any kid?

Is there any goal that could be worth creating that much hurt?

If she knows about that facts that this harm will happen, and yet she choses to go forward with her program without specifically addressing this, what does that say about her morality. Isn't choosing to harm vs choosing not to harm a moral choice?

Could she in fact be doing this to children intentionally? Even if she is actually not aware of this harmful aspect of her program, would that relieve her of the responsibility she has for the harm her program causes?

So after all of that, I wonder what population would be best to target with a noble truth strategy about the harm on its way to our nations fat children and what can be done to prepare children to have the coping skills to work through all this harmful stigma? Would it be the therapists that some of them will be lucky enough to be treated by? Could school psychologists be given some sort of tools to help them help affected kids? School nurses? Is there some sort of conference that could be targeted to help raise the awareness of this aspect of Michele Obama's initiative?

With all the hate noise out there, how can we avoid having that noise drown out this very important noble truth.

Okay, just some of my thoughts. What are yours?


  1. To give M.O. the benefit of the doubt, I think that she probably believes that the "epidemic" of "childhood obesity" is "curable" (or at least, the # of "obese" children can be reduced).

    So, she probably thinks that many children who are fat, and taunted and bullied for being fat, will become "unfat", and therefore accepted, if her program is successful.

    Cognitive dissonance at its finest!

  2. @Ruth Is there a difference between cognitive dissonance and denial? Could this brilliant woman be that blind to the harm her program is going to do?

  3. I really think that she sees the problem not with the taunting and abuse that the fat kids will face but with the fat kids, i.e. no taunting if you're not fat, so don't be fat! It sounds ludicrous, worse than ludicrous, to me, but then I started trying to be a not-fat kid when I was seven years old...

  4. You kind of hate to psychoanalyze people you've never met, but what the hell: I see Michelle Obama as a solid, optimistic person with blindingly good mental health. Growing up, she encountered obstacles and overcame them through a combination of strong genetic temperment and solid emotional support from her core caregivers. As a result, she just doesn't get it. She understands the health dangers of obesity as taught to her by the medical people paid to develop her appropriately first-lady-like project. She's not unsympathetic to suffering, but she just doesn't comprehend that there are a lot of people out there without the core self-esteem to shrug off the hate.

    So maybe she knows that kids will be stigmatized but not really get that some of them will develop lifelong harm from that -- either in eating disorders or just the loss of drive that comes with diminished self esteem.

    I agree with you that it is wrong -- not just negligent, but cruel -- to be declaring war on childhood obesity rather than just creating a "healthy kids" program, even if one of your concerns is obesity.

    Cynical me, I have some hope that not too much harm will come from it because it's mostly going to be a few inoffensive regulations and a bunch of photo ops.

  5. Ivan,

    I think that amazingly intelligent people can have enormous blind spots.

    I think that because M.O. is a naturally lean person, when she puts on a few pounds through careless eating and less than normal (for her) exercise, she merely has to "eat less and exercise more", and the pounds will peel off (which conventional wisdom says is the case for all of us--course, we know better).

    So I think she thinks the fatty kids can do the same.

    And also, maybe she has not experienced extreme cruelty from her peers in childhood.

    I, for one, experienced such intense bullying, as a "chubby" girl that I was, at times, suicidal. But I think if you don't experience that personally, or at least via a close family member, it is hard to get it.

    So yes, despite her intelligence, I don't think she gets it. There's a difference between having intellectual info, and really getting something on an emotional level. The emotional component is what M.O. is missing.

  6. rosenleaf - beyond ludicrous- do you think that because you and I suffered from the stigma and fat hatred as children, that our perceptions of the damage from the stigma are exaggerated and the actual harm is negligible enough to ignore it? Let me keep it in first person.

    I experienced a lot of emotional pain growing up as a fat child and I do not want to see that happen to other fat children because I know how much of an impact it had on me.

    So I am saddened to see that someone as smart as M.O. could be so blinded from the injustices that will be fueled and supported by her "cause".

    So I guess the question goes back to what can I do to counteract this?

    Trabb - I hope that not too much harm comes from it. I am scared though that combined with the changes (hopefully) coming to our healthcare system that we could see forced exercise under threat of a some non compliance clause eliminating access to healthcare. Sadly, I think as the parts of her program that affect public schools get implemented, that we will see an increase in the hate from both faculty, staff and students at our public schools which is where the lions share of abuse came from when I was attending.

    Ruth - Wouldn't it be nice if we could get her to feel that emotional component?

  7. Ivan,

    That would be a great project for someone--to collect various youth, of varying degrees of fatness, to give a presentation to M.O. in which they recount bullying and express their feelings.

    Someone would have to have a heart of stone to not be moved, and I don't think M.O. has a heart of stone--I just think she's thinking about fat-hating bullying in an ABSTRACT sense instead of feeling it CONCRETELY.

    I hope somebody does that. (Not me--I have no children, don't work with children, and am not feeling like opening that door to the past anyway, but I bet some FA advocates could do a great job with it.)