Meet Josh. He’s 12-years-old, 5′ tall, and weighs a “hefty 15 st” (210 lbs). He “wheezes as he moves.” He is also way, way too young to be the lede on a Daily Mail article about our moral obligation to make fat people feel bad about themselves.
In what the paper calls a “classic case of parental denial,” the boy’s mother–also “seriously obese”–insists his weight (and what the Mail refers to as his “imposing frame”) isn’t a problem. And so begins their latest polemic against fat people, this one filed by Alan Jackson, lead practitioner and researcher for the Weight Management Centre in London and Discovery Learning. Jackson, at least, has been working with obese kids for “twenty years,” so this isn’t your average Liz Jones hate screed. At least.
Anyway, apparently there’s a whole anti-fat cabal in the UK, smothering opposition and plying children with delicious snacks:
In this case, no one has faced up to the fact that Josh is fat. No one dares use that ‘F’ word any more. Parents can’t say it, health professionals can’t say it, teachers most definitely can’t say it. But, I think it’s time we all did.
In the UK, a third of children are overweight or obese – another banned term. In some inner cities, this rises to almost 50 per cent. By cloaking the problem in evasive language, we are failing these children. We need to jolt parents into action – and bald terms help with this.
Way to take a stand against that shadow lobby of pudgy 12-year-olds. Evasive language may cushion their developing egos, but “bald terms” will definitely put an end to their reign of terror and shame them into dieting.
…No, it won’t. Making children feel bad about their weight isn’t going to help them with anything, because they’ll feel bad no matter what. But Jackson knows that, kind of:
People complain that calling a child ‘fat’ or ‘obese’ stigmatises them, but this is nonsense. It’s not the labelling that stigmatises the child, it’s being overweight that sets them apart. Society judges the obese very harshly
It’s always strange to see arguments like this–that making a child feel bad about himself is somehow for his benefit because it rescues him from an adulthood where people make him feel bad about himself (it doesn’t, PS–people will make you feel like shit no matter what).
The thing is, though, fat kids know they’re fat. And a lot of them feel a deep shame over it! Using “bald language” will make them feel worse; exercising with them and enabling them to make better food choices won’t. Our point is not that children should be fat; it’s that–if the ultimate goal is saving them from the oppressive psychological torment of being a fat adult–why the hell should the solution be tormenting them psychologically as children?
Jackson goes on to blame various aspects of the modern world for childhood obesity–more stress! less time! crisp sandwiches! lazy parents!–but doesn’t much bother with addressing all that complicated stuff about the food system itself:
People of my generation (fiftysomethings) remember that if we turned down healthy food, we would be offered no alternatives and would go to bed hungry. We learned to like the stews, the greens and the porridge because they were infinitely preferable to a growling, empty stomach.
This is inconceivable now. Many parents today will supplant the rejected food with a crisp sandwich or something equally appealing to a child’s palate, thinking ‘at least he’s eating’.
But it’s also worth noting that when I was a child, there wasn’t the huge array of unhealthy foods on offer.
What Jackson ignores here is the accessibility and affordability of those crisps, the scientific wizardly that engineers them to be as tasty and cheap as possible, and the government policies that facilitate their enduring ubiquity. Why change the food system when we can just make fat kids feel bad about themselves? It’s better for them in the long run. Apparently.
Jackson ends on a striking moment of sensitivity: “I believe if parents could see the distress and abject misery that awaits most obese children when they reach puberty, they would do things differently,” but still doesn’t seem to understand the distress and abject misery that “bald language” engenders at any age.
(Photo via Shutterstock)