It Doesn’t Get Better: A Note to Fat Kids, Former and Present.

It Gets Better is a noble sentiment, and maybe for some people part of a stigmatized group it’s true. I certainly hope it is.

But I’m not convinced it’s an accurate statement for the fat kids out there; especially not those who grow into fat adults.

For people of size, I’m not sure it does Get Better, at least not naturally.

Left to its own devices, the Western Beauty and Culture Machine will happily crush you underfoot –for your own good, of course– for being too big for their britches.

Everywhere you look there will be pop-up ads and billboards and interchangeable vapid reality TV “stars” admonishing you from photoshopped pages to change your body into something society deems acceptable. Only then will you get invited to the cool parties, have a partner who loves you and finally be worthy of full human status.

Oh, and don’t you dare be angry. They’re just doing it so you’ll feel better about you! They’re “just worried about your health”. Did they mention you have Such A Pretty Face? Did they make the Pointed Sigh?

Sigh.

It’s not like people really need much of a push to treat fat people as sub-human anyway. We’re manifestations of weakness, of the laziness and sloth they fear in themselves, we deserve our bad treatment because really, we’ve brought it upon ourselves. (You can try pointing out science refuting the claim that size is more than just a case of calories in vs. calories out, but be aware it’s dancing-with-a-pig futile in many if not most cases.)

Nope, you’re a lazy cow and there’s nothing sacred about cows in this culture: They just get slaughtered…or worse, slaughter themselves.

Bullying is now news, after too many –one is too many– kids, perceived or identifying as something other than cut-and-dried hetero, committed suicide.

But bullying, we all know, is not new news and it’s not solely the domain of gay kids.

Yet how many front page human interest stories do you hear about the plight of the fat kid being bullied in school?

Whither our tearful congressmen? Where’s the garment-rending when a bullied fat kid commits suicide?

More importantly, where are our 24-hour specialized hotlines to stop those suicides before they happen?

Tormenting fat kids is less of a headline and more of a forgivable rite of passage, swept neatly under the Children Can Be So Cruel rug (Children Can Be So Cruel, a fully-licensed subsidiary of Boys Will Be Boys and She Was Asking For It In That Skirt Partners, International)

Yeah, children can be so cruel.

Is it a newsflash that adults can be too?  The “War on Childhood Obesity”, however good its intentions might be, is just another way to codify and institutionalize size discrimination against the people least capable of defending their own interests: children.

Regardless of age, if you’re fat, Society, either openly or covertly, wants you to hate yourself thin. Except we can’t hate ourselves thin, at least not in the long term. Sometimes only thing that sticks from years of being hit in the head with the anti-fat hammer until our ears ring with self-hate is…guess what? Self hate.

So it’s hard to say It Gets Better because really, it’s going to get worse. Subtler, to be sure, but worse.

What’s the solution? We can’t wait for it to GET better. We have to MAKE it better.  Individually. Put on your own oxygen mask, then help your neighbor.

Make it better by applying a critical eye (and okay, sometimes a critical finger) to anti-fat bias.

Surround yourself with positive, thought-provoking friends and resources. Read The Fat Nutritionist. Understand Health at Every Size.

Reject any media that celebrates a culture where our bodies are punchlines and our feelings don’t count but still want our precious, precious dollars. I’m not the smartest girl on the block (and it’s not even a very big block) but even I have a problem with giving companies money to insult me.

Stop watching E! and its equally abysmal coterie (Those channels make you stupid. They just do. Read a book. Watch a documentary. Just step away from the “Reality TV” before mindless describes more than just your choice in entertainment).

For the love of all things holy, stop buying women’s magazines.

Watch the runway shows if you want to be up on fashion, at least you’ll only subject yourself to the models and not hot pink headlines offering quadruple chocolate fudge bombs, plastic surgery tips and “630 Ways To Drop Fifty Pounds By Thursday You Pathetic Spinster Cow!” on the same cover.

Find your own path, define your self BY yourself.


McDonald’s (stay with me now) has served “billions and billions” and is probably technically the most popular restaurant in America, but it isn’t popular because it’s good or because it has meaningful value. It’s popular because McDonald’s is non-threatening, low-investment (mentally and economically) and easily accessible.

Those descriptors are fine if you want to grow up to be a Happy Meal, but consider setting the bar a bit higher if you want to be a Happy Human.

Speaking of being a happy human, getting to that goal is easier when you recognize just because someone is in a position of authority in your life, it doesn’t mean they’re right.

Easy to see on the macro level –we disagree with politicians all the time– but a little tougher in the micro.

One of the greatest gifts my mother ever gave me was the day she denied me a glass of juice by announcing “Orange juice has a lot of fat in it.”

My teenage brain wobbled with confusion.

How, precisely, does a product whose one ingredient is naturally fat-free get to have “a lot of fat in it”? Were the otherwise trustworthy and respectable people at Tropicana sneaking sticks of butter into my freshly-squeezed not-from-concentrate?

Maybe she meant to say orange juice has a lot of calories, maybe she was on some low carb kick and was convinced downing even a drop of juice was the nutritional equivalent of slurping from Satan’s own toilet bowl, maybe she honestly thought the big zero next to the grams of fat on the nutritional label was a mountebank’s ruse used to trick the foolish and unsuspecting into a life of obesity, though –it must be admitted– very little scurvy.

No, my mother was just wrong.

And if my mother was wrong about that, maybe she was wrong about other things too. Maybe other adults were wrong about things I never thought made sense.  That certainly would shed some light on the whole “You’re never going to get anyone to like you if you’re fat but don’t hang around black guys because they like big butts.” conundrum of 1995.

It’s not easy, this whole Making It Better thing, and we’re all dealt a different hand. Sometimes we come up with aces in terms of supportive family and friends and sometimes we’re playing five card stud with two baseball cards and the remnants of an Uno deck, but you CAN make it better, just a little bit at a time.

If you are a struggling young person, or know a struggling young person who could benefit from counseling, size-positive resources or heck, even a one-on-one chat with your not-in-any-way-professional-counselor Pal Plummy, please email me at plumcake@shoeblogs.com. I can’t promise to make things better, but I can promise to listen and try.

19 Responses to “It Doesn’t Get Better: A Note to Fat Kids, Former and Present.”

  1. Libby May 3, 2012 at 1:20 pm #

    Yes!

    While I embrace one of the messages of the It Gets Better campaign (don’t buy into the nasty things being said about you), I dislike the other one that I see: you have to be the bigger person and wait for everyone else to mature and then things will get better. My mercenary little soul despises that. It advocates waiting, rather than working towards changing the systemic problems that allow or embrace these dreadful behaviors. Being the bigger person has its place, but so does have the courage to step up and take ownership of your existence and tell the people who perpetuate this behavior (in a very non-violent, socially appropriate, but still flaying way) that they are not superior and, while opinions may differ, they can stick their judgey-pants up their collective tailpipes.

    In the spirit of transparency, I say all of this being a borderline big girl who spent her formative adult years in LA and ended up with an interesting self-image as the result. Its only 10 years later that I’m finally growing into my own skin and realizing that I am (and this entire community is) AWESOME.

  2. Dereth May 3, 2012 at 1:49 pm #

    I love this. Thank you. I think you’re right that it gets more subtle as we get older (although I am still haunted by some appalling behavior I witnessed between adults — where someone shouted “you should be ashamed of yourself. So disgusting!” as they walked by very overweight woman who was sitting down and catching her breath” Horrifying!). I used to see the looks on people’s faces when I got on the bus- the looks of “please DON’T sit next to me”- or that mortifying moment when I couldn’t pull the lap bar down far enough to latch on the roller coaster and was forced to take a walk of shame past all the other riders and wait for my friends while they continued to ride. Maybe that wasn’t bullying, per se, but it sure made me cry.

    Personally, I’ve stopped reading anything that gives me a list of magic beans, like “the 5 things I can’t believe you’re not eating, you stupid cow” or “If you would only to these 14 exercises right now, you can have a flat tummy by friday. What are you waiting for?” Um, I’d look really funny with a flat tummy and jiggly everything else… I’ve stopped buying things that make me feel bad about myself, because what’s the use in that. I’ve already got a tape of negative thoughts rolling in my head that I’ve worked very hard to record over. I don’t need magazines or the internet shouting at me too ;-)

  3. Jane May 3, 2012 at 1:49 pm #

    A salute to you and to all of us who are trying to Make It Better, for ourselves and others. And now that we’re grownups we get to have vodka in our OJ, so in some ways it really does get better…

  4. Velia May 3, 2012 at 1:58 pm #

    Plummy you have outdone yourself. Bravo for this rant, I loved it!
    I hope the entire f(*&ing world gets the message.
    But I’m not holding my breath…
    It only Gets Better if we Make It Get Better.
    And I for one am doing my best to do my part with any and all of every age,
    orientation and body size that cross my path.

    Keep up the good work!
    Admiring from Oz
    LVC

  5. harri p. May 3, 2012 at 2:04 pm #

    It Gets Better always strikes me as more self-aggrandizing backpattery than anything else anyway.

    And as a Big Girl who’s the mother of a Big Girl, I have to say Plumcake is right. Nobody cares if fat kids are bullied, mocked, or anything else.

    And the “War on Childhood Obesity” is exactly the same as my mother putting me on a diet when I was a kid. We can’t control our own weight, but at least we can try to control someone else’s! How about leaving the kids alone?

  6. JG May 3, 2012 at 2:10 pm #

    You are awesome!

  7. catrandom May 3, 2012 at 3:13 pm #

    I had this discussion with my thinner sister this weekend. She said she was tired of hearing me talk about about all the lies that are told about fat people. So I pointed out that people like me constantly hear at least a dozen times a day, every single day, that we are sick and disgusting and weak and ugly and the thing everyone should dread becoming, and of course a symbol of All That Is Wrong With America.

    And of course there are the drive-bys, where you’re reading or watching something on some random topic, and a nasty crack about fat people comes out of nowhere. So yeah, I do tend to run on about it sometimes.

    (My long-held opinion of It Gets Better? “Hey, kids, it gets better! Unless you’re fat. Then f*** you.”)

  8. mimi May 3, 2012 at 3:50 pm #

    I was at the gym just the other day when I was interrupted by the woman next to me who let know that she had lost 135 lbs and that I should keep going and not get discouraged. I just looked at her and then very firmly said that I don’t discuss my body with anyone, and repeated this statement over and over until she got the hint to leave me alone.
    So yeah, it’s not just the out and out hate, it’s also the condescending assumption that obviously my body needs changing.
    Also … total dibs on “Fatties on the Treadmill” as a band name.

  9. Ellen W. May 3, 2012 at 4:58 pm #

    There’s a sister site to a website I enjoy which I refuse to “like” on facebook because they claim to be about health but they keep, keep, keep falling into the fat=unhealthy/unhealthy=fat trap.

    So much so that today they had an article about how horrible it is that so many kids aren’t allowed to ride their bikes or walk to school by over-protective parents or fearful school administrators. Because of the Childhood Obesity Epidemic.

    And it just infuriates me because focusing on the kids who are big is completely missing the point- there are more kids nowadays who are unhealthy because of bad nutrition and inactivity. Some of those kids are big and some of those kids are average-sized, or even skinny. And some of the kids who are just fine – eating like a regular kid, doing regular-kid activities – are big and some are average-sized and some are skinny. Just having some kind of acceptable size limit above which they assume you need an intervention and below which they assume you’re fine means the wrong kids are getting the interventions. There are kids who need it and aren’t getting help and kids for whom the “help” is actually harmful.

    Okay, that was a bit of a rant there, sorry.

  10. Laurie May 3, 2012 at 4:58 pm #

    As a fat adult who was a scrawny, thin child who was mercilessly bullied from the time I was 4 until I was out of high school I have to respectfully disagree with you. It DOES get better. Why? Because now I have control over where I spend my time. I’m not a prisoner in a place where bullying is condoned or overlooked. I’m able to spend my time with people who value and love me. Are there bullies still out there? Yes. Does the media hate fat people? Yep. Still we have friends and life is worth living when you have friends. Added bonus: all those years of being bullied make any of the subtle bullying seem like small potatoes. Smile, be passionate and enjoy life because it can be good even when you are fat. I’m happier fat than I ever was when I was thin.

  11. Lisa from SoCal May 4, 2012 at 12:01 am #

    Nice post. I disagree that “It Gets Better” is self-aggrandizing–I mean, honestly, everything gets better after high school. Everything. It’s not just gay kids, or fat kids, it’s those of us who are at all different. Unless it was only my high school, but dang, how has Glee stayed on for so long if it’s only fat kids or it was only my school where the jocks and the cheerleaders treated all the rest of us like poo?

    The major message behind “It gets better” is…don’t seek a permanent solution (suicide) to a problem that will, in all likelihood, will get better. It’s not going to be perfect, but the people who are making you miserable now aren’t always going to be there.

    They may be more subtle (I’ll take subtle over punches to the face any day), and discrimination is unacceptable at any age, but I think helping people envision a better future is really important to making a different now.

  12. Jezebella May 4, 2012 at 9:18 am #

    Lisa, I agree. Junior high and high school are the absolute worst place to be if you’re not “perfect.” Even teachers bully non-conforming kids. Most adults are at least not being controlled by people who hate them. Hopefully, anyway.

    I sure wish Dan Savage wasn’t such a fat-hating a-hole, which pretty much waters down his anti-bullying rhetoric.

    In any event, great post, Miss P.

  13. Thea May 4, 2012 at 6:30 pm #

    I have a fantasy reality show where models, people who play personal trainers on TV and professional athletes are given a short course in C++ programming and then forced to attempt computer programming while the GEEK MISTRESS (Registered Trademark) stands over them with a bullhorn screaming “CODE MAGGOTS CODE!!!” until they all burst into tears. Then we dance around them and pop them with towels.

    I’m hoping the Gates Foundation will fund me

    Bitter much? naaaaah

  14. Lisa from SoCal May 4, 2012 at 8:51 pm #

    @ Thea. This has now become my new dream.

  15. Ali May 5, 2012 at 12:29 am #

    While I actually agree with what you are saying, I think it’s a bit dangerous to put it this way. Most of the article is about how terrible it is to be fat because of how society treats fat people. At some point you get to where you state that you CAN change your life and be a happy, fat adult if you do certain things (surround yourself with positive people , …).

    This is all correct. However, I used to be a fat, hopeless, sad, depressed teenager and if I would have come to this page all I would have seen is “You are fat, there is no hope.”. I think that’s why “It get’s better” is so important even if it might not be true for everybody because it gives kids hope. And sometimes that’s all you need to survive high school.

    And for me it was 100% true. I always dreamed about leaving my home-country and becoming the person I wanted to be. In my dreams of course I would do this while being skinny and incredibly beautiful. And part of me, I guess, thought my life wouldn’t change even if I moved to another country. I was terrified of taking this big step – leaving my life for a life that is exactly the same or worse. But it wasn’t. It took a lot of work on my self-esteem and – as you say surrounding yourself with the right people and avoiding the bad stuff – and it did change my life. It got SOOOOO much better. And all of this despite me still being fat.

  16. skye May 5, 2012 at 12:35 pm #

    Another excellent post! Perhaps a name like “It Gets Somewhat Better” would be more accurate? I agree with some of the comments – as a child in school, most of us were not only belittled by society at large, but more directly bullied by those in our smaller pond, our classmates. Yes, many of us are still slighted and sometimes infuriated by the comments/assumptions of our coworkers, but if one of them called us a “fat cow” or something similar, there is often recourse via our employer. On the other hand, society as a whole changes very slowly and it’s still considered open season on fat folks. The coming generations will have to continue the good fight until such bias is unthinkable for most, and buried/unspoken for those who are unable to evolve.

  17. Dana May 5, 2012 at 9:06 pm #

    Fat gain *is* about more than calories in vs. calories out. It’s about calories *stored* versus calories *burned.* Believe it or not, they are two different things.

    That’s what’s really insidious about fatphobia. Everything I have learned over the years tells me that obesity is one symptom of malnutrition, and a very particular type of malnutrition that doesn’t necessarily involve caloric shortage (there are people out there who are NOT lying about hardly eating at all, yet they’re overweight) but that does involve shortages of enough actual nutrients that the endocrine system is no longer working properly. And that’s a very, very oversimplified version of the actual science, and I don’t care what Marion Nestle or whatever your favorite registered dietitian might say about it. Fat storage is a function of the endocrine system, period.

    And it’s very, very difficult for us to correct malnutrition when 99.9 percent of the advice we’re getting tells us to not get enough food to solve the problem.

    And then on top of that, because we’re storing our energy more than we are burning it, our bodies scale back their level of activity because how on earth are you supposed to burn calories when *they are not available*? Same reason some fat people *do* eat a lot of food–and the bigger they are, the more likely to eat a lot of food, because they’ve gone for more years without being able to access energy between meals. It’s eat or not function, period, when they should be able to expect that constant energy whether they are eating or not.

    So yeah. It doesn’t get better for most of us. The only reason it gets better for any of us is because some of us figure out the nutrition thing and manage to save what’s left of our health. But until we can stop bickering about stupid crap around weight and health and start getting scientifically literate about this stuff, that’s not gonna happen.

  18. Andie May 6, 2012 at 7:35 pm #

    As a former fat child who has grown into a fat adult, I have to say, it DOES get better. SO MUCH BETTER than say, the school bus bully in sixth grade who, with the complete knowledge of the bus driver spent the twenty minutes to school not-so-tactfully reminding me what a whale I was. Much like the It Gets Better Project for LGBT kids, one of the reason it gets better for fat kids-turned-adults is because you have the ability to

    a. move to a bigger city with more open-minded people
    b. equip yourself to know who the right to let into your life are – though dealing with said whale-remind-y-bags-of-dicks like that kid from the school bus
    c. evolve yourself to forgive your past bullies and be a kinder, more open individual

    It Gets Better is a movement because it was started by a famous gay man and it picked up speed because of several factors. We shouldn’t be underscoring it’s merits because it focuses on a marginalized group that not all fat people belong to. I would wager to say that almost every LGBT adult I’ve ever met has ALSO been bullied, taunted, or discriminated against as in adult in the same subtle (or not-so-subtle) ways I have as a fat woman.

    I would hate for a fat youngster to read this and think things don’t get better. Things don’t get magically better for gay people or fat people – there will always be ignorant people. It Gets Better isn’t about changing the mind of ignorant people – it’s about saying that every day isn’t going to be like this day in seventh grade. You will evolve – this will teach you strength- you will develop tools to thrive and rise above this and be your best you.

  19. Fat Girl Dancing June 1, 2012 at 6:44 pm #

    Awesome post, Plumcake! Great feedback, too. Comment – yeah.

    Dana, you are correct about the endocrine system and fat storage, you left out the additional factors that disrupt the endocrine system functionality in addition to nutrition and there are several. Adequate and regular sleep. (Show of hands – how many get regular, restful sleep of 6-8 hours per night? Un-huh, thought so.) Regular rest and relaxation; the benefits of REST, not sleep, are also documented. Play. Or in more grown-up terms, entertainment. The psychological impacts of both of these can either benefit or impair the endocrine system. My favorite – Stress! (Another show of hands – who has little or no stress in their daily lives? Yeah, fewer hands than the first one.) Nutrition over calories, regular and adequate sleep, rest, play and a method of destressing. All that leads to better health. Unfortunately, it doesn’t always lead to a Barbie-like physique.

    Of course, that’s where Skye’s comment comes to the fore: society changes slowly. Ghandi may have been a martyr and didn’t seem to suffer a weight issue, but he was right about being the change you want to see happen. WE have to feel possitively about OURselves before we will see the society at large change. We also have to step up and make the changes in our own life – if TV and magazines can’t get the money they want, they will change their tactics. How else do you think they shifted demographics from the “30-something homemaker” to the “teen and young adult” market? We are money-makers and our $$ count!

    Perhaps what we should say is that It Does Get Better AND HERE’S HOW. I work in a very stressful, busy political office. Some days it’s on the razor’s edge of unbearable, other days its passing intolerable. This year it’s never good because it’s an election year with a tanked budget. Am I stressed? Yep. Am I getting “adequate sleep, rest, exercise, food, nutrition, play” – ah, NO. Still I go to dance class every Thursday night. I call ahead to get in the class after mine when I have to work late. So far so good. Am I still fat? Yes, I am. And I’m dancing. I’m feeding my soul.

    When my nephew told me about being bullied at school and wishing he could fight back, but fighting back was lowering himself to the level of the bullies (very wise young man) I asked if he’d talked to the school councelor or pricipal. He did. He was told “it gets better”. He was devistated. He says he feels like the oppressed middle class of Medieval England! (he’s smart, too)Did I ever feel like that? He was not impressed when I started laughing. Let me explain, I asked him, and tried to stop laughing. Yes, I have felt like that and wanted to mount a Barrett Lite50 on the top of my car and gun the bastards down when they bullied me. But, hey, I would go to jail. And Barrett Lite50s are EXpensive! It does get better. And just like the european medieval middle class, we have to take steps to MAKE IT HAPPEN.

    Here’s how: embrace YOU, the geeky/fat/LGBT/intellegent/band-camp/boyscout/dancer/artist/scientist/poet that you are. No you won’t “fit in” because you don’t need to. You will make a place for yourself and as you do you will draw to you more and more of your fellow “not-bullies”. Don’t fall into the trap of “bullying back”, that way lies grief. Write this on a piece of paer and read it everyday until it’s always in the forefront of your mind,”What other people think of me, is not my business” and “I am the best me I can be, everyday, and I can weather other people’s jealousy until they too are the best they can be.”

    It ain’t no magic wand, it takes time and effort and tears and learning. It does get better. To get better we have to actively participate.

    Maybe I can’t make it up all 6 flights in my building, but I can do 4 and I’m dancing on Thursday; because I make it so everyday.