I read this article today [Warning: Triggering in almost every possible way] A special needs student was repeatedly verbally and physically bullied in school. Not by students, but by her teacher, Christy Wilt, and her teacher’s aide, Kelly Chaffins. The girl’s parents hid a tape recorder in her clothes to get tangible proof. The aide was fired but the teacher signed a statement that said that she “engaged in conduct unbecoming to the teaching profession when she made inappropriate comments to a student with disabilities and allowed a co-worker to make inappropriate comments to a student with disabilities.” She was given probation and has to take an 8 hour class on how to recognize child abuse and bullying.
We MUST do better by these kids. A teacher shouldn’t need an 8 hour class to know that it’s not ok to tell a kid that because she’s fat “No wonder nobody likes you.” I’m a big fan of the “It Gets Better Project”. People create videos to give hope to GLBT youth who may be dealing with bullying from classmates, teachers, even their parents now, that it will get better. But can we tell fat kids that it gets better? And if not, what can we do?
Bullying is Bad for Kids’s Health
I think that we need to decide that even if we’re not in agreement about what would be best for kid’s health, we are sure that making them feel bad about themselves isn’t it. Kids live in their bodies 100% of the time and they don’t separate themselves from their bodies. If you say “childhood obesity is a problem that needs to be fixed, let’s have a war on childhood obesity” they hear “I am a problem that needs to be fixed, they are fighting a war against me”. In order to make good choices for physical health, it helps a bunch to be in good mental health and to feel like you are worth taking care of.
Food is Their Friend
Studies show that girls are starting to diet at 8 years old and that they would rather lose an arm, a parent, or get cancer than be fat. According to this report in the peer-reviewed journal “Pediatrics” hospitalizations for eating disorders among children under 12 years old are up 119% in the last decade. Research published in the October Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine found that twice as many Canadian kids had eating disorders as had type 2 diabetes. I think that we can teach kids about healthy food without terrifying them about becoming fat.
Studies have shown that dieting is a predictor of weight gain, obesity and eating disorders, but not a predictor of weight loss or normal weight in later years. Childhood weight loss programs lead by the Child and Adolescent Trial for Cardiovascular Health and Johns Hopkins University (which were quite similar to the First Lady’s “Let’s Move” Initiative) were spectacular failures at creating thinner kids, but they did create healthier kids which, based on all of the above, might be what we want to focus on.
The End of Dodgeball as We Know It
We need to design physical education programs that give kids a chance to develop a lifelong love of movement and pride in their bodies. In school we can look at PE with options – you can walk around the track, take yoga, or play basketball for example. After school we can start fun movement programs and sports leagues for competitive kids and sport leagues for kids who just want to play around. We can provide safe places for kids to play, community centers with free, low cost, and sliding scale options. Everybody giving them the message that the best thing that they can do is find some movement that they love (rather than telling them that they need to punish their bodies with exercise because they’re too fat or might get fat).
After a dance competition once a fat little girl came up to me with her dad in tow. She told me that she didn’t take dance class because her dad told her that she was too fat to dance. I said that her dad was wrong. Her dad then apologized and said that she would be starting dance classes on Monday. That was one of my happiest moments as a dancer. But I and several of my friends who do talks about Health at Every Size have been invited into schools by a teacher and then had the school cancel because administrators are scared that seeing us be athletic will promote obesity. Mary Lou Retton is a very popular motivational speaker but nobody’s afraid that she’s promoting shortness. (just to be clear, I’m not IN ANY WAY comparing myself with Mary Lou Retton, just making a point.)
It is foolish to think that we can give fat kids a constant message of “Your body is wrong, you’re lazy, you’re unhealthy, you’re unattractive”, then never let them see anyone who looks like themselves being active, and expect them to believe that health is possible for them.
Let’s keep working until we can say that not only does it get better, but that it IS better.