Michelle Obama, What Are You Thinking?

The President and First Lady gave an address about the anti-bullying conference that they are having tomorrow (March 10) that included the quotes:

“Our children deserve the chance to learn and grow without constantly being picked on, made fun of, or worse…”

“… make our schools and communities a place where no one is made to feel alone, or afraid for being different.  Where all of our children can thrive.”

“Because putting a stop to bullying is a responsibility we all share”

I absolutely, positively, could not agree more with this.  Hell to the yeah is what I’m saying here.

Now, let’s talk about her “Let’s Move” anti-childhood obesity campaign:

First, I continue to believe that Michelle Obama has the best of intentions with her Let’s Move program. But it’s time for some accountability:  Mrs. Obama could have chosen to be FOR children’s health:  FOR fun movement options that kids enjoy, FOR healthy lunches, FOR healthy behaviors.

But she didn’t.  Instead, Mrs. Obama chose to be AGAINST childhood obesity.

The major problem with this is that you can’t be against childhood obesity without being against obese children.  Obese kids are not thin kids covered in fat, they are fat kids and the last thing that they need is the First Lady having an anti-them campaign.

But there she is, using her considerable platform and public profile to be sure that obese kids know that there is a war against them.

Both she and the President have called their own children chubby on national television.

She put her 8 and 11 year old daughters on diets.

Despite the fact that obesity is not a disease and intentional weight loss has only a 5% long-term success rate, Mrs. Obama felt comfortable saying “”This isn’t like a disease where we’re still waiting for the cure to be discovered.  We know the cure for this…this doesn’t require new technology, or, you know, new research. We have the solution in our hand.”

Thereby setting up the 95% of kids who will statistically fail to become thin for a heaping helping of bullying for being fat – because Michelle Obama says they could have been thin if they tried hard enough.

She repeatedly refers to childhood obesity as a “problem” that needs to be “fought” and “fixed”.

Yeah, that’s going to lead to fantastic treatment of obese kids.  They will in no way feel bad that the body they live in 100% of the time is a problem that needs to be fought and fixed according to this National Campaign targeted at parents, teachers, doctors, and kids.  For a kid, being told by your doctor, teachers, parents, and the First Lady of the United States that your body is unhealthy and a problem is not just charming, it’s superb for your mental health and will have absolutely no future negative ramifications.  That is certainly the kind of thing that gives kids the “chance to learn and grow without constantly being picked on, made fun of, or worse…” (sarcasm meter is a 10 out of 10 on this.)

While I’m on a sarcasm roll, apparently kids shouldn’t be made to feel “afraid for being different” unless the difference is their size.  It’s ok for everything in nature from horses, to trees, to rocks, to feet to have a wide array of sizes, but if their body doesn’t fit into a very narrow range, it should be considered a problem that needs to be fought and solved – and do let’s point that out as often as possible. It’s not about being healthier, it’s about being smaller you see.

Since the First Lady says that we don’t need any “you know, new research”, let’s go with some research that we have:

According to sources sited on the non-profit National Association of Anorexia and Associated Eating Disorders website:

•47% of girls in 5th-12th grade reported wanting to lose weight because of magazine pictures.

• 69% of girls in 5th-12th grade reported that magazine pictures influenced their idea of a perfect body shape.

• 42% of 1st-3rd grade girls want to be thinner.

• 81% of 10 year olds are afraid of being fat.

So our kids don’t need the First Lady’s help to be unhealthily obsessed about their weight – they’ve got that going for them already.

While we’re at it,  there are some compelling reasons not to put kids (like, say, for a random hypothetical example, 8 and 11 year old girls) on diets:

Again according to ANAD:

  • 91% of women surveyed on a college campus had attempted to control their weight through dieting.
  • 22% dieted “often” or “always.”
  • 35% of “normal dieters” progress to pathological dieting. Of those, 20-25% progress to partial or full-syndrome eating disorders.
  • 95% of those who have eating disorders are between the ages of 12 and 25.8

So maybe we could back the hell off of fat kids and be a nation that is for kids and their parents having healthy options, and against telling obese kids or adults that the bodies they live in 100% of the time are a “problem” that needs to be “fought” and “fixed”.

For the record (so that I can feel justified when I mock the commenters who will accuse me of exactly the opposite of what I am trying to say):

I am for healthy kids and if Mrs. Obama’s program was also for healthy kids I would be behind it 100%.  I am against conflating health and weight and singling out fat kids when it’s completely unnecessary to the goals of the campaign, and does nothing more than create panic, fear, poor body image, and the perfect environment for bullying.

I am against bullying.  I am very happy that they’ve started this anti-bullying campaign.  However, I am also against hypocrisy and I would like them to apply their anti-bullying standards to programs like “Let’s Move” so that they are very careful not to accidentally encourage bullying when they intend to encourage healthy behaviors.

For more clarification, I talked when Let’s Move first came out:  Michelle Obama, Good Intentions Are Not Enough

Published in: on March 10, 2011 at 7:29 am  Comments (49)  

49 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Hell to the fucking yeah on this! I can’t tell you how many times it has crossed my mind that it’s not tolerated to bully anyone on a myriad of things, but it is still completely acceptable to bully someone simply because their body shape and/or size does not fit into the examples set by a magazine cover or even something as arbitrary as the BMI scale. It never ceases to amaze me that it is not only acceptable but it is damn near expected. It makes me want to bang my head against something very hard and possibly sharp. As Strongbad would say “Do. Something. Anything. Bang. Head. On. Keyboard!”

    Also, I had no idea that the Obama’s had put their little girls on diets. My son is the same age as their youngest. I can’t imagine ever putting him on a diet, but bloody hell, even if weight loss were proven to make a healthy body in adults, we have to remember that a child’s body is still growing! One thing that children’s bodies need is fat in order to aid in brain function and growth! The reason I do not point the finger at just Michelle Obama on this one is because unless a parent is dead or denied access to a child for legal reasons, then both parents are and should be involved in all decision making when it comes to the health (both mental and physical) and wellbeing of a child. I am just dumbfounded that this would be done. Dumbfounded and truly saddened.

    • Hi Karen,

      What we need is some enforcement from Trogdor the Burninator.

      Ok, seriously – the fact that kids bodies are still growing is one of the things that really concerns me. I remember a LOT of kids when I was younger getting progressively bigger and then getting a lot taller in a shorter time. They weren’t even measuring this back then so the standards or childhood obesity are really arbitrary and I wonder what the consequences of this will be.

      It seems completely irrational to concentrate on kid’s size during a time when it varies a lot instead of focusing on their health.

      ~Ragen

      • I had this discussion with my mom when she started getting on my niece about her being chubby. Girls’ bodies get chubbier as they near puberty. As I understand it, they need those fat stores to get the hormones rolling. I know I’m simplifying the process. Still, girls will go through a “chubby” period. Making them feel bad about it helps no one!

        xo Susie

      • Burninating all the peoples…in their glass houses! *lyrics modified for appropriateness to situation

  2. Btw, I don’t know how to change this other than to take the thumbnail away, but when I attempted to share this post on Facebook tonight (technically this morning I suppose) the thumbnail was a picture of a woman wearing a blue dress. She’s pretty but has absolutely nothing to do with the post and it kinda loses it’s meaning that way. I simply clicked to not show the thumbnail. Hmmm…

    • Um, weird. I don’t have a picture like that anywhere on the blog- I wonder if it was picking up from one of the ads? Sorry :(

  3. Would it be appropriate to post these blogs on MO’s facebook page?

    • I think it would be awesome if you did that. I don’t personally do it because it’s often seen as poor internet etiquette or tacky self-promotion.

      ~Ragen

  4. Instead of promoting skinniness=health, Mrs. Obama should be promoting Health at EVERY size. Health should be the focus, not skinniness. Offer kids healthy choices. Encourage them to participate in exercise during gym class and recess and immediately stop any bullying from their classmates. Skinny does not immediately equal healthy any more than fat immediately equals unhealthy.
    What can be done to mobilize people to send the message to Michelle Obama that we should be promoting Health at Every Size for children rather than demonizing fat kids?

    Its sad, but she is setting up her two beautiful daughters for a lifetime of disordered eating by putting them on diets. And referring to those girls as chubby? Shame, shame, shame!

  5. Awesome beatdown Ragen. When I saw a news article about the anti-bullying conference I had EXACTLY the same thoughts.

    WHY do people come out with these anti-bullying campaigns but in the next breath sanction the shaming, humiliation and bullying of fat people?

  6. Let’s not forget that when fat kids are bullied no one steps in to help. Because it’s their own fault for being fat!

    This just makes me sad. Very, very, very sad.

    xo Susie

  7. WARNING: Comment includes extremely questionable statistics, fear-mongering, and opinions stated as fact.

    Over the past three decades, childhood obesity rates in America have tripled. Today, almost one in every three children in our nation is overweight or obese. The numbers are even higher in African American and Hispanic communities, where nearly 40% of the children are overweight or obese. If we don’t solve this problem, one third of all children born in 2000 or later will suffer from diabetes at some point in their lives. Many others will face chronic obesity-related health problems like heart disease, high blood pressure, cancer, and asthma.

    • I’m not sure if you have a point here or if you just like to spread really questionable statistics and fear-mongering. (I cover some of the diabetes stuff here: http://danceswithfat.wordpress.com/2010/11/25/the-truth-about-diabesity/

      Even if you’re right I maintain that a campaign for children’s health would be more effective in making kids healthier than an anti-obesity campaign that does a tremendous disservice to kids who remain thin despite unhealthy behaviors and compromises the mental health of obese kids.

      ~Ragen

    • I’m assuming someone who agrees with Ms. Robinson (what is it with strong, intelligent women still having to take their husband’s name??? Hillary that means you too!!) has just quoted her here holus bolus.

      In response to this description of the fat holocaust that is descending upon us, I would refer the poster to everything said above.

      If it were so damn easy to become slim, then most people would probably do it. The fact is, it’s not. So why the hell aren’t we working like maniacs to ACTUALLY improve or maintain our health rather than berating and shaming people simply for the bodies they were born with?

      We need to be out in the streets with our HAES posters, showing the world that health comes in all sizes, goddammit.

  8. I fucking love this article. You hit the nail on the head so hard on so many aspects of this issue. It’s like Michelle Obama thinks ONLY fat kids eat candy bars and play too many video games, and that they’re the ONLY ones who need help.

    • Thanks! I didn’t touch on that in this piece but focusing on obesity instead of health is really dangerous for thin kids who aren’t partaking in healthy habits but manage to be thin anyway.

      ~Ragen

      • I was extremely thin – and unhealthy – as a teen. I didn’t have an ED, but was one of those teens who just couldn’t keep fat on her body. (Ten years later, totally different story. But anyway.) I also never exercised, never ate healthy (I pretty much spent high school surviving on vending machine food and beverages), and no one ever said crap to me about it. As a college student, I experience severe digestive ailments and physical pain issues due to my lack of health — while still falling well within the body norm. As an older, wiser person I make better choices, but I wonder if I hadn’t been so damn skinny if someone would’ve bothered to give me some fruit or veggies, or make me do a little stretching or cardio, it would’ve spared me a couple of years of health misery in college (with possibly unknown long-term consequences).

        (FYI, being thin didn’t save me from bullying. As geektastic as I was, there was no escaping that.)

    • Yes!!

  9. I know that when I was in school, most of the kids that were bullied were bullied because of their size. It was always the chunky kids that were labeled as “not cool” and thus harassed. Therefore, it seems like common sense to me that in order to prevent bullying, we also need to teach kids acceptance and how to be healthy at any size. But, I’m not a big politician so what do I know.

  10. I’m not the science and fact maven you are, Ragen, so I tread dangerous waters when I start quoting reports. BUT, I do recall seeing some startling data lately. Seems there was a really strong correlation/indication that the earlier a person starts dieting to control their weight, the more likely they are to have a really high BMI in adulthood.

  11. I’m a big anti-bullying advocate, but I’ve actually avoided reading about the summit for this exact reason. They’re inevitably going to leave some groups out, and I just can’t properly invest my anger in all that research atm. We’re supposed to call it progress when we “improve” the outlook for one group (i.e. making it suck slightly less) while further marginalizing another. The whole thing has just become exhausting.

    And I have to wonder, where were all of these “concerned” people a couple of years ago? Nothing’s changed except the media has finally found these cases newsworthy. The parents of these children have been trying to get people’s attention for years with virtually no success, but now we care?

    Maybe sentiments will take the same turn with health at every size. I do hope that it becomes more deeply embedded in society, though. My biggest fear is that the public will have a tolerance level for these bullying cases. I’m afraid that after so many kids have committed suicide, they’ll tire of investigating the system and just go back to blaming the victims.

    (Also, Trogdor comment reference ftw.)

  12. Bullying in ANY form is unacceptable period and to be the cause of an action that will enable it is horrendous. This is a great blog, so good in fact I had to re-blog it! Good job love!

  13. AMEN! My first thought with the “ANTI Obesity” campaign was that she is setting up ever fat kid in the U.S. to be teased, ridiculed, and bullied to the breaking point.

    As Always Thanks For Posting Your Brilliant Thoughts!

    Lauren

  14. Michelle Obama and jamie Oliver should join forces. Jamie’s on the right track

  15. Its more of the same failed answers. I am not an Obama supporter–actually fed up with both parties but watching this, it is upsetting, if Mrs. Obama really wanted to help fat children, she would make recess and gym mandatory and would have helped Jaime Oliver out a bit.

  16. Here’s a great suggestion from Darliene Howell on something to do!

    http://www.facebook.com/notes/darliene-howell/write-your-senators-asking-to-amend-the-safe-schools-improvement-act/10150113851766097

    • Hey Marilyn – the page says “This content is currently unavailable.” Can you double check the link and repost?

    • Thanks Marilyn! The link doesn’t appear to be working at the moment, but I saw this one on your facebook that I thought might be useful.

      http://wdcrobcolp01.ed.gov/CFAPPS/OCR/complaintform.cfm

      ~Ragen

  17. There are so many things that we’ve declared war on that it’s a pretty useless phrase in the social or health sectors anymore. The “Let’s Move” campaign could have been an AMAZING force for good if they’d framed it in positive (for healthy kids) instead of negative (against obesity) tones. I’m with you on this one: too much hypocrisy.

  18. Thank you for saying this. I totally agree.

    It’s a fine thing to focus on health and fitness, but a war on fat kids is not the solution. (Just like the war on drugs is not the solution.) I also think the mainstream will eventually understand that the primary cause of this “epidemic” is the high-carb diet we all think is so healthy these days. (And promote with huge federal subsidies for corn and wheat.)

  19. The saddest part about this whole Michelle Obama/War on Fat Kids debacle is that there are so many adults who have been so damaged by our thin-centric society that they literally don’t even know why this is a negative thing. My husband was a chunky kid whose father used to drive him around the house by his spare tire. When I talked to him yesterday about how upset the whole War on Childhood Obesity thing makes me, he didn’t get it. I literally had to spell out for him why it isn’t okay to bully fat kids. And why this is bullying in the first place. This is a smart, socially-conscious man who has had it so ingrained into him that being fat is a sign of laziness and a character flaw, since childhood.

    • It’s such a constant message, I think it’s easy to be indoctrinated without ever realizing it. I meet intelligent, well meaning people who truly just CANNOT wrap their head around the concept of health at every size. So frustrating, but I feel like the best I can do is keep being true to myself and talking about it.

      ~Ragen

  20. I started on a “diet” when I was 10 yrs old. My mother said, “You look like your father’s side of the family and don’t want to grow up FAT like your Aunties”. So, now, after 50 years of dieting, the yo-yo kind, I am over 200 pounds and 5’4″. My mother, bless her skinny little self, is now dead from alcoholism, because she could never be the “perfect” Marilyn Monroe type, even though she was never as heavy as MM. I am no longer concerned about my “Obesity problem” because I think (and so does my husband) that I am beautiful and very happy at this size. I exercise, I love people and my job, I love my family and I especially love myself, now that I have declared a truce with my body. I am sorry that Michelle Obama has put her daughters on diets at their tender ages, because they too, will end up with problems later on after they have matured beyond the “chubby” stage. I don’t let anyone bully me about my weight anymore, I just tell them, I have been on diets and look what the diets did for me!!

    • I’m so sorry that you had to go through this, but I’m really glad that you found your way through it to the other side. Thanks for the comment, and for telling your story – I think it’s really important that people hear these kinds of stories to balance out what the diet industry tries to sell us.

      ~Ragen

  21. While I’m all for promoting activity and fitness for children, the implication is that fat kids are fat because they’re sloths who never get up off the couch and spend their waking hours two-fisting cheeseburgers. This couldn’t be farther from the truth. I was a fat kid, growing up in an era when there were no video games, when parents forced you outside to play until it got dark and the street lamps came on EVERY DAY, when kids had physically rigorous chores (raking leaves, mowing lawns, etc.), when eating out was done only on special occasions. I rode my bike all the time and yet still was a fat kid.

    People, children included, come in all sizes. Promote the activity for health’s sake for ALL children, not because OMGFATKIDS! Increasing activity is great, but it’s not gonna make fat kids thin. It didn’t in my case. Nor did the diets my mother started putting me on by age 10.

  22. UGH DIETS FOR CHILDREN!

    I really hate that on the Let’s Move website, there’s this emphasis on diet-y food. Why not eat full-fat cheese, less often, than low or fat free diet cheese most of the time? I feel like those kinds of dietary suggestions just encourage people to go out and eat more highly-processed diet-y foods than whole and fresh foods. Children should learn how to eat healthy in a way that keeps them satiated and happy about it, not be on Weight Watchers.

  23. AMEN!

    And for another thing, whether Michelle Obama is “against obesity” or “for health,” she COULD use her considerable influence and power to fight the corn lobby and end the subsidies that make HFCS so cheap and make us all sicker. Just sayin’.

  24. Hey there,
    I just found your blog tonight, and I love this post. It reminded of an article I read lately where they said one school district is offering “Health Grades.” (or something like that) The kids who have a higher BMI will be asked to participate, parents will sign up and then the kids will be tested throughout the year. Their parents will receive the report card. UGH!

    I was overweight since third grade. I hated gym because I was teased, and I hated the physical fitness tests. I felt like my gym teacher hated me because some things were harder for me. I think it made me afraid of exercise at that age…so I shied away from it. I hated when they took my weight in front of everyone and I got teased. It sucked! I can’t imagine if they had those report cards like that when I was younger…it would have made it 100 times more awful. I would have FEARED going to school on those days. Poor kids that have to go through that.

    We need to uplift our kids and encourage healthy habits like you said. As an adult I still have issues with weight, but mainly try and eat healthy and exercise. I am focusing on being happy and love ideas like The Edible SchoolYard. I think giving kids the knowledge about food, how to cook it, what’s healthy is so important. Like you said to focus on the FOR not the AGAINST. I would have loved a gym teacher who encouraged us to enjoy ourselves. This stuff has to change for our kids’ sakes!

  25. Dear lord! I was a chubby kid, and would diet and restrict calories by the time I was 10 due to my mother’s obsession with exercise and thinness. When I went through puberty, I grew into a skinny, petite young lady, standing at 5’1 and 95 lbs, but this didn’t stop be from developing a full-fledged eating disorder in my teens. I STILL struggle with horrible body image and disordered eating at 23, even while knowing how much this disorder has taken from me. A LOT of youngsters are “chubby”, many will grow out of it, and many will adapt to their natural, larger shape. What good does shaming children do besides setting them up for future mental health repercussions that can cause a lifetime of pain?

  26. If you think the campaign is bad, have you heard any of the radio commercials for LetsMove.org? “In Beauty and the Beast, Belle learned that beauty came from within, and she and the beast lived happily ever after. But now our happily ever afters are being threatened. (Cue the OBESITY CRISIS OOGA BOOGA statistics.)
    What the flaming, clean-fuel driven fuckety fuck.

    • Oh what in fatty hell? Why would they even bother with that first part. It just creates an awkward juxtaposition and makes it seem like the take-away supposed to be that beauty used to come from the inside but now we should focus on being thin? I roll my eyes in its general direction.

      ~Ragen

  27. Sure glad I was not the only one to feel like Mrs Obama was bullying fat kids. My son learned that the President and his wife think he’ll be worthless since he’s fat. Ok, first, I was democrate, I am now a Republican. No way will I stand back and let some women say my son is worthless and should be ashamed of himself b/c he is husky. 2nd- normally his wt is about 15 lbs lower than normal until he had to start on a anti-depressant b/c of learning fat people are hated and wanted to kill himself at age 9.

  28. Well said!

  29. Mom talk: My youngest son went thru a phase where he had a little more around the middle, 6 months later he’s 6 inches taller and all his (too short) clothes are falling off. I just don’t get this whole be worried about a little weight gain in a teen or pre teen. My kids eat the same damn things but one is a giant and the other is average. As a matter of fact, the average one regularly scarfs whole bags of chips while the other one doesn’t. Genetics. it’s a predisposition. ;)

  30. Wow I just want to say that the way you wrote this article is so moving and stick to logic and facts so well that I can’t deny anything you just said. This is a really well written article that makes a incredible valid point. Lol someone should tweet this. I think its great that your putting your opinion out there. :D

    • you stick*
      an*

  31. I had no idea she referred to her own kids as chubby and put them on a diet. That really sucks. I don’t know how much research she’s done on the possible causes of obesity and eating disorders, but it’s clearly not enough.

  32. I love that you write what I’ve allways thought. I’m not from America, but I’ve allways felt that the “bullying” from doctors, teachers and other adults, have Been much worse than the kind that came from the kids my age. I’m just now, at the age of 31, starting to read your blog and others like it. Thank you! I feel my life improving allready.


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