Studies have recently shown that overweight children are actually bullied by the adults in their lives--often loved relatives or respected teachers. Not only is bullying by adults common, it's overlooked. Looking back on my long struggle with body issues and weight, I heard more fat-shaming from adults--friends and loved ones--than I ever heard from other students. A wonderful article in the NYTimes recently listed suggestions for avoiding such body-shaming. I quote it in its entirety as it elucidates damaging ways we talk about children's bodies that do such harm.
I know because I've heard them all.
And none of them, not one of them, ever made me thin. Or feel good about myself.
PLEASE be very aware of what you say to or about children because it will stay with them the rest of their lives:
¶ Don’t blame your child for his weight. Dinner-table comments like, “Do you really need another piece of bread?” will make your child feel badly about himself, which will undermine his efforts toward health. “Powerful biological forces maintain weight differentially in people,” explains Dan Kirschenbaum, president of Wellspring, an organization that runs weight-loss camps and boarding schools. In other words, some people are genetically predisposed to be heavier, and since the human body is designed to hang on to calories, weight loss for some requires severe and even punitive measures.
¶ Don’t engage in “fat talk,” complaining about weight and appearance, whether it’s your own, your child’s or a celebrity’s. Saying “My thighs are so huge!” teaches your child it’s acceptable to disparage herself and puts way too much emphasis on appearance, says Dr. Puhl.
¶ Don’t promise your child that if only he lost weight, he wouldn’t be bullied or teased. A study published in the journal Obesity by researchers at the University of Hawaii showed that stigma around obesity often persists even after someone loses weight.
¶ Don’t treat your child as if he has — or is — a problem that needs remedying. “This will make him feel flawed and inferior,” says Ellyn Satter, a dietitian and therapist in Madison, Wis., and author of “Your Child’s Weight: Helping Without Harming.” Instead, she suggests, focus on a child’s other good qualities, and encourage traits like common sense, character and problem-solving skills.
¶ Don’t ignore or dismiss bullying. If you suspect or know your teen is being stigmatized, talk to her about it. “Questions as simple as ‘Who did you sit with at lunch?’ can open a dialogue and help determine if she has allies or support at school,” says Dr. Puhl.
¶ Explore your own biases around weight. “If parents can get past their own inner bigot and be accepting and supportive, they can be of great help to children,” says Ms. Satter. “I’ve seen kids with that secure foundation come up with their own effective solutions to the teasing.”
¶ Focus on health, not weight. “Promote a healthy environment for everyone in the home,” says Dr. Puhl, not just the child who is overweight. Serve delicious, well-balanced meals, and encourage everyone in the family to be active in ways they enjoy. Emphasize the value of healthy behaviors rather than looks.
¶ Speak directly and matter-of-factly about your child’s weight if he asks. Don’t try to avoid the issue with euphemisms like stocky or solid, says Ms. Satter. Instead, she advises, tell the truth but reframe the issue, saying something like “Yes, you do have fat on your body. Why, do people tease you about it?” Children are looking for information and guidance. “You can neutralize a message that’s often meant in a derogatory way,” she says.