Thursday, January 12, 2012

Another day, another Facebook argument.

So, I used to be the queen of long-winded Facebook arguments, especially when it came to weight issues. These days I mostly ignore Facebook, and I choose to unfriend or hide people who say ridiculous things about weight issues mostly because emotionally, it's frustrating. 

Recently, my roomie/BFF has been drawn in to a Facebook argument on someone else's wall. I've tried to shy away from it, buuuut it didn't work. She sent me access to the status, and I've been reading through it, giving her ideas for responses, and even tried to write my own response. The response became so big I decided I may as well just write something here. 

It all started over those deplorable anti-obesity ads which feature children front and center, and say shit like, "It's hard to be a little girl when you're not" or whatever. First of all, there's lots of reasons why being a kid sucked, and let me tell you, as a big little girl, the only problem my weight caused me was the way other people treated me because of it, and that sure as shit wasn't my mother's fault. 

But anyway, these arguments are usually the same when these issues come up, especially when you begin discussing children. 

1. Having a fat child means you are abusing your child. 
No, it doesn't. I was a fat kid. I can speak from first hand experience that being a fat kid does not mean your parents are feeding you badly, let alone abusing you. I was always fat, my younger brother was always rail thin. I was probably fatter than most of those kids in the ads, and my mom made me eat fresh vegetables (yuck) and all that crap. I had three meals a day, generally solid, good food. But I was still fat. Was my mom secretly stuffing Twinkies down my throat when I wasn't looking? To my dismay, she was not.

2. This will actually convince parents to feed their children better.
One, this is assuming that parents who want to feed their children aren't already trying, but their kid is still fat because they have a metabolism of fluffernutter like I did/do. This also assumes that parents who don't give a shit will all of a sudden give a shit. Let's face it--if they didn't give a shit with the fat child in front of them, it's going to take a lot more than a billboard to change that. Years of therapy, maybe, but we haven't really achieved the kind of mental health parity it will take to make change in all shitty parents. 

3. These kids have eating disorders. Being fat is not an eating disorder. Most leading experts in eating disorders agree on this. You cannot assume an eating disorder by looking at a person. Just as you cannot assume a skinny person is anorexic, you can't assume a fat person overeats. Weight science is way more complicated than you overeat = you're fat. However, weight-based bullying can lead to eating disorders later in life. A look at the literature will show that there is a correlation between weight-based bullying and the on-set of eating disorders (as in the diagnosable kind from the DSM) later in life. I'd consider these billboards to be a type of bullying, personally. 

4. All people have the same opportunities to raise their child in the same way. I often hear from people "Oh my family was poor and I still got x, y and z so there is no excuse why everyone can't do that." This is usually a bunch of shit from someone who refuses to acknowledge that they have any privilege. Look, I hear that your family was on welfare or food stamps, but welfare and food stamps in an area such as, oh I don't know, Tonawanda, NY is not the same as welfare or food stamps somewhere like East New York, Brooklyn. In Tonawanda, you don't really have to go very far to find fresh food to spend those food stamps on. In East New York, you may not be able to find fresh food for a few subway stops. I've had to carry fresh food for MYSELF on a subway, and that is without kids hanging off of me. It's difficult. This also assumes being able to afford a MetroCard, and I've worked with many people who can't afford those things. And so, it's a little easier to walk to the bodaga and get a box of Mac and Cheese. That is just reality, and trying to argue with that because your experience was different is stupid. It's stupid to make assumptions about how everyone on welfare or food stamps has the same opportunities because your experience was "ideal." If you have the urge to respond with, "Oh but really, my experience was that bad," check yourself because it's always worse somewhere else. For serious. 

5. Everyone knows what good nutrition is. Nope. They don't. For one, they may not have been taught good nutrition, but they turned out okay, so they're feeding their child the way they were fed. Two, many Americans lack a basic education. Some people can't read, let alone understand the food pyramid. And yet you think this mean campaign is going to teach them something? It's not. I'm glad that you were raised in a nurturing environment where doing things like attending school and paying attention in school were possible, but having spent some time in a inner city public school, I can tell you that is not the case everywhere. Again y'all, do not assume people's experiences. 

6. Other methods are not working, so we need to take more extreme measures. Dude, how quickly do you expect, even if you assume it is possible (which I really don't for reasons that aren't that fat people are lazy and fat kids have terrible parents), for the "obesity epidemic" to disappear? It's not like you have a few Let's Move PSAs and kids shrink the next day. There hasn't been nearly enough time for anything else to work, so why do we have to so quickly resort to name calling and being assholes? The term "obesity epidemic" has really only been in our vernacular a few years. Have some patience. 

7. Shame does not yield results. It never does. Scientificially, it will actually lead to a lot of the icky stuff we all supposedly hate about obesity like heart disease and diabetes. A good place to read about that is in an article titled The Stigma of Obesity, published in a peer-review journal. You know what those are, right? Because...

8. The Health at Every Size movement is just pandering to fat people who are too lazy to change and is not based in science. I don't know what people consider science these days, but I consider studies that have lived up to the process of being peer reviewed for revered journals to be close enough to science. You know, that whole evidence based practice thing? Yeah. Here's a bunch of citations. 

Bacon, L., & Aphramor, L. Weight Science: Evaluating the Evidence for a Paradigm Shift, Nutrition Journal, 2011, 10(9).

Bacon, L, VanLoan M , Stern JS, Keim N. Size Acceptance and Intuitive Eating Improve Health for Obese Female Chronic Dieters. Journal of American Dietetic Association. 2005;105:929-936.

Bacon, L., Keim, N.L., Van Loan, M.D., Derricote, M., Gale, B, Kazaks, A., and Stern, J.S., Evaluating a "Non-diet" Wellness Intervention for Improvement of Metabolic Fitness, Psychological Well-Being and Eating and Activity Behaviors. International Journal of Obesity, 2002; 26(6), 854-865.

Other relevant reading: 
Weight-Based Victimization Toward Overweight Adolescents: Observations and Reactions of Peers
Weight Stigmatization Toward Youth: A Significant Problem in Need of Societal Solutions

You know, just to start. 

The thing is, I don't think anyone disagrees that movement and good foods are good for kids. Pretty sure no one disagrees on that. I think we all just disagree about the best way to go about getting those results. Shaming children and parents, based on my experience and what I've learned, does not work. Most parents are fully aware of the fact that they are not feeding their children as well as they would like, and face barriers. To deny that parents have barriers is to be ignorant. If you want to be ignorant, I allow you the right, but I will not engage in civil discussion with you. 

Also, some parents just don't care. And you will not make these parents care with these ads. You will just hurt the kids who look a lot like those kids in the advertisement (not to mention the actual kids depicted in the ads). They will identify with these images and see themselves as a burden and a problem. I can only speculate as to what this will lead to, but based on what I know about developmental psychology, it probably isn't good.

And that's about it. Agree to disagree, world, if we must, but I really wish we could just agree that being fucking mean really doesn't work, and we should probably just stop with that nonsense.


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