Dear Michelle Obama – Good Intentions are Not Enough

I sincerely believe that Michelle Obama has the absolute best of intentions with her war on childhood obesity.  Unfortunately, good intentions and $5 will get you a non-fat latte and not much else.

The war on obesity seems to be predicated upon the idea that there is a “thin person” buried in fat inside each obese person.  I think that’s why people feel that having a “war on obesity” is an ok thing to do. I’m betting they look at it like the “war on cancer”, where the goal is to remove the cancer and leave the person…they want to remove the “extra” weight and leave the thin person.

But I am not a thin woman covered in fat.  I am a fat woman.  I am my fat, my fat is me.  I may lose some fat or gain some fat, lose some muscle or gain some muscle,  and that’s fine. But all of me is always, well… all of me.

You can’t have a war against my fat and leave the rest of me out of it, so the war on obesity is a war against me and against the body I live in 100% of the time.

A war on childhood obesity IS A WAR ON CHILDREN.  These aren’t little walking statistics.  They are children.  Precious, impressionable children who already have to navigate a world of peer pressure, parent pressure, academic pressure, information overload, over-scheduling,  awkward social interactions, puberty, early sexualization, drugs and alcohol etc.   As if obese children don’t have enough problems without state sponsored teasing.  I’m already hearing horror stories of kids being weighed in IN FRONT OF THEIR CLASS and getting report cards sent home admonishing them for their BMI.

Look, in my childhood plenty of adults in my life, including family members, were just plain mean to me about my weight.   They did it under the guise that it was “for my own good”.   It was devastating and I know that I’m not the only person with a story like this (in fact I know some people who have never recovered).   I can’t imagine how much worse it would have been if their behavior was sanctioned by the school.

I’m not here to argue about causes or effects of childhood obesity.  I’m here to suggest that you can’t shame people into taking care of their bodies, and adding the stress of publicly being shamed about their weight just doesn’t logically lead to kids who are mentally healthy enough with high enough self-esteem  to make good choices in any area of their lives, least of all their health.  Making kids hate their bodies will not support them in taking care of those bodies.  Do you take care of things you hate? Neither do kids.  It’s not “for their own good” . Their own good is to be raised to believe that they are incredible beings who deserve to be respected and treated well by themselves and others, and taught true, correct information about what constitutes health.

If Michelle Obama was for childhood health, I’d be behind her 100%, but as long as she is waging a war against children I’ll find myself fighting on the other side, the side where we work to empower kids to be mentally healthy, have high self-esteem, and take care of their bodies without shame or self-hatred.

Published in: on April 28, 2010 at 6:23 am  Comments (20)  

20 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Complete nonsense!!! If you choose to continue to poison yourself as an adult, that’s fair enough! But don’t take innocent children in your morbid trip for goodness sake!

    Go to countries like France, Russia etc, where they serve healthy food and snacks in schools and at home to children and tell them they are doing wrong by teaching these children how to stay fit and healthy from a young age.

    Well done First Lady Michelle Obama and thank you for this national health issue that needed to be adressed.

    • It seems like you’ve missed the point of my post. I never argued against serving healthy food and snacks or teaching children how to stay fit and healthy. I think that those are fantastic ideas. To reiterate, if Michelle Obama was for children’s Health I’d be behind her 100%. I absolutely believe in supporting children’s health. In fact, I think children’s health is important for all kids – not just kids who are obese – so it can easily be taught to all kids from an empowering perspective without singling out kids who are obese for public humiliation and having a War against them. Michelle Obama could have started the Children’s Health Initiative – she could advocate offering healthy foods and snacks and empowering movement for every kid in school, and teach them all about health, without ever once making an obese child get weighed in in front of their whole class. I know kids who don’t want to go to school any more because of the backlash of teasing and bullying this War has caused. I have a friend whose child was throwing up before school every day because he knew that he was going to be humiliated in his health class. How is that encouraging children’s health? It’s not just about physical health, it’s about mental health too, and scarring a child emotionally is antithetical to to helping them be healthy.

    • First, how is “obesity” equated with “poison”? I’m obese, and I do not poison myself. I’m active, and I eat a reasonably healthy diet well under the 2000 calorie per day recommendation.

      Second, you completely missed the point of this post. The problem with Michelle Obama’s initiative is not her *intention* to improve health…it’s her decision to attack what is, at best, simply a symptom of a different problem. Target health…give schools incentives to serve healthy foods instead of cheap foods…that’s a good plan. Attacking children for the way they look is, however, wrong and mis-guided. To word the cause as going after childhood obesity is attacking children who are obese, and that is undeniably the wrong approach.

    • Once again, you fall into the trap of many anti-“obese” individuals in equating fitness with being skinny. How horrible would it be to find out your child is malnourished? Would you be any less horrified if your child were thin? Is it any LESS horrible when a thin or normal weight child has nutritional deficiencies, or scoliosis, or hip or knee or ankle issues, or brittle bones, or weak muscles? Or scurvy? Or any other disease which comes from poor food choices? Being thin does not mean you eat right. It means you’re thin. That goes for children and adults alike, and if you think that there aren’t incredibly unhealthy non-fat children out there, then you are seriously mistaken.

      • This is beautifully stated – thank you!
        ~Ragen

      • I agree with what you’ve said here, but to be clear, scoliosis is not a disease that comes from poor food choices. Hell, it’s not even genetic always. Both my sister and I had scoliosis, though no one else in our family ever had. Both of us had it to the point that surgery was necessary, and everyone was always trying to blame our parents for it: saying things like, “Oh, well, you were letting them carry too heavy a backpack,” or, “You should have made them drink milk more often!”, when in reality, even our orthopaedic surgeon confirmed that scoliosis has no for sure cause. It *can* be genetics, but it is never “poor food choices” or carrying heavy stuff. Thanks.

    • French food is your idea of healthy? *laughs*

      We all knew skinny kids who ate horribly but never gained a pound. It’s not as simple as pressuring kids about what they eat and how much they exercise. If it were that easy there would be far fewer obese people in this world. Instead of adding stress by singling certain kids out (stress, by the way, is show to be linked to fat retention) why not use a more positive approach that encourages all children to be healthy? How can you be against that?

  2. Here, here!! Let’s come up with new campaign slogans for Michelle. How about “War on USDA sponsored processed food in schools” or “War on cutting out gym class and recess in favor of spending more time prepping for standardized tests” or perhaps more succinctly, “War on crap food & sedentary behavior”

    • WELL STATED! Ragen, you should forward this entire page to The First Lady’s email!

      My big issue with the “War on Childhood Obesity” is that while she is trying to draw attention to an issue, I think she is really creating an environment where people/kids feel like they can be more cruel. Why not? The First Lady is pointing a finger, I think I will, too.

      The Disclaimer: I just type/write off the top of my head. I apologize upfront for any spelling or grammatical mistakes.

    • How about “War against misunderstanding what determines body size” :-)

  3. Interesting, I never thought of it that way. It’s funny I think of myself as rather attentive to the difference between thin/healthy and fat/unhealthy, and yet so many aspects of that way of thinking are so deeply ingrained in me I’m not even aware of them. Thanks for constantly challenging the way I think about health, I don’t always agree with every word you write, but your comments always force me to think twice about, review and refine my views. All the best to you :)

  4. I couldn’t agree more!! It’s like Mother Teresa said: “I was once asked why I don’t participate in anti-war demonstrations. I said that I will never do that, but as soon as you have a pro-peace rally, I’ll be there.” Instead of a war on obesity how about a “Pro-Health” campaign instead? And you’re absolutely right, our current society thinks that they way to get people to be healthier is to shame them into it (not that being thin automatically means healthy or that being fat automatically means unhealthy -though most of our society DOES believe that). What our society is really doing is teaching people to HATE themselves, and you’re right, no one wants to make the right choices for their bodies or take care of their bodies if they are taught to be disgusted by and hate their bodies.

    • I love that Mother Teresa quote, and I totally agree with you about a pro-health movement!
      ~Ragen

  5. I really almost teared up when you pointed out that people don’t take care of things that they hate. This is exactly it, for me, the exact reason that I never got into sports, or felt joy at physical exercise at all, until very recently. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve wished, out loud and to myself, that I could exist as a floating brain in a jar. I love myself in terms of my intellect, my sense of humor, my quick wit, my personality… I love my brain, but from the time when I was very young, and forced to endure physical fitness testing during PE in front of my classmates, I have always hated my body. I wish I had learned how to dance when I was younger. I wish I had the courage to learn how to dance now. My mother was a dancer, and there is no performance art I enjoy watching more than dancing. I think that to dance is the greatest expression of athleticism that there is. But I didn’t like my body, and I couldn’t imagine liking an activity, personally, where I was required to be so aware of it.

    I’ve just started swimming again, after years and years of missing it, and suddenly I understand liking what your body does. Thanks for being a strong fat person, and just for being fat, up front and center :)

    • Lesie, keep swimming, and don’t let anyone hold you back! If you want to dance, go for it!! <3

    • Hi Leslie, I really like the way that you explain the “brain in a jar” there were certainly times in my life when I felt that. I hope that you are having an awesome time swimming and that you find a way to dance, even if it’s in your living room :)
      ~Ragen

  6. Hi Leslie – Your post is making me tear up. I’m sure the details of our stories are different, but I relate deeply and directly to elements of your experience.

    I’m still living a quite sedentary life (for various reasons), but perhaps I’ll keep reading your and Ragen’s posts and attempt to exorcise my exercise demons.

    Thank you!

  7. I love that you are so positive and happy with yourself. If only others could be more accepting of their own bodies.

    However, what about children and adults whose weight is based on a poor diet? If they switched to vegetables and fruits and home cooked meals instead of burgers and fries, doughnuts and soda. That’s not good for you, to eat that much junk. If those children switch to more nutritional food, and lose fat because of it why does that make Michelle Obama’s program an attack on the people themselves?

    • Hi Ruthless,

      You can be for healthy food without being against obese children. There are thin children who don’t eat well but whose bodies don’t put on weight. Being against childhood obesity (instead of being for healthy children) stigmatizes obese children and gives children the false sense that they are healthy just because they are thin. There is absolutely nothing to be gained by being against childhood obesity that could not be accomplished by being for health children, and you could get those things accomplished without encouraging obese children to hate their bodies, but Michele Obama insists upon being against obese children instead of for healthy ones.

      ~Ragen

  8. I just love this post, and your blog.

    I was overweight as a child, but looking back, I wasn’t nearly as overweight as everyone made me feel. I think I went on my first diet when I was 6. My parents got divorced and my dad moved 1,000 miles away. We had been inseparable. I gained weight, and my diet-obsessed grandmother immediately intervened. I think she made it worse, but I’ve blocked out a lot of it because I knew it wasn’t right, even then. I used to think just reading diet books would make me thin. I actually avoided P.E. by joining choir because I was afraid I’d be made fun of. No one ever made fun of me. No one was ever even overtly unkind. They just controlled everything I put in my mouth, whenever they were around. It led to a lot of closet eating… literally.

    As horrible as it was, I like to find the positive whenever possible- it really put me in a place where I was able to embrace the body positivity movement with open arms! I first discovered this blog in high school. It was the best thing that came out of that time, and has set me on a wonderful path in university.


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