Tag Archives: bullying

Bullying is Ugly, But we Need to Look at it with “A Brave Heart”

schoolHallwayThis ugly, UGLY picture was taken today of a poster that was taped to a wall at Northern High School in Calvert County, MD.  There’s a lot of argument about the poster–which we will get to in a minute.  But in the meantime, let me tell you just what interesting timing this poster has for me personally.

As I sat in the audience last night at a Producers Guild Pre-release screening of “A Brave Heart–The Lizzie Velasquez story” I heard the people around me gasp.  We had reached the part of Lizzie’s story where she recalled at age 17 finding an unauthorized video of herself posted on YouTube.  The video was captioned “The Ugliest Woman in the World” and had been seen over  4 million times.  And the comments–oh the comments.  People said things like , “Why didn’t her parents abort her?” and “Kill it with fire!!!” I heard people whisper things like, “oh my God!” and “I can’t believe it.”

I could believe it.  I haven’t lived Lizzie’s Velasquez’ story.  Nobody but Lizzie has lived that amazing life.  But I’ve lived with the hate.  I’ve read comments like that on my own blog and twitter feed and especially my YouTube account.  I’ve swapped stories with other fat activists about the death threats and the rape threats and the doxxing and all other forms of online harassment that so many of us experience on a daily basis.  And I thought how privileged some of the people in that audience were–that they didn’t really know that sort of online hate existed.  That they found it difficult to believe.

I was so proud of my husband, who stood up during the Q&A to relate that he had been completely ignorant of how bad the online climate was, of how unbelievably ugly it could be, until he started reading some of the comments that people have directed at his own wife.  He reiterated how important this movie was–how relevant it was–because adults need to understand just how bad it is out there.

The movie, directed by Sara Bordo also talked about how dire the consequences of bullying can be.  Lizzie arose triumphantly out of her bullying experience.  But Tina Meier’s daughter didn’t arise from the bullying at all.  After some particularly bad cyberbullying by her peers, Meier’s daughter committed suicide.  Tina and Lizzie have teamed up–working to get new federal antibullying legislation passed in the US.

Again, as the audience came to this point in the story, many gasped or covered their mouths in shock.  I simply nodded my head and cried.  Because I already knew Megan’s story.  I knew what had happened to her.  And I knew, just a little of what she felt.  Because as I told Lizzie and Sara after the screening and the Q&A, I could have been one of those kids.  I might have not made it out.  I was bullied relentlessly as a teenager.   I came home sobbing, vomiting and covered with hives from the stress of it.  At times I felt I could no longer take it.  But I got relief.  I didn’t have email or a Facebook account.  At the end of the day, I could escape at home to my loving family.  I had two whole days per week free of it.  Today’s kids do not.  Because of social media, these kids have to deal with this 24 hours per day and seven days a week.  Given that situation, I honestly don’t know if I would have made it.

Lizzie and Sara at the PGA screening.

Lizzie and Sara at the PGA screening.

But this is not a fun or easy or comfortable subject.  Many people who don’t have to deal with this sort of bullying would rather imagine that “it’s not really that bad” or “it’s not that big of a deal.”  Which leads me to the picture posted above.  A student took a photo of that poster.  The picture was posted online and has gone viral.  The original poster stated that the photographer believed that the poster had been taped up with the at least tacit permission of at least one teacher.  And the feathers are flying.  Many people are demanding answers.  Did a teacher know about this poster?  Did a teacher give permission or at least know it was being posted?  Who is the kid responsible for this thing?  And are they being disciplined?

Naturally the social media frenzy puts the school in a bad light.  But in a classic case of spin cycle, the Superintendent stated:

We are aware that a photo is being circulated on social media of a poster from NHS that makes a mean and inappropriate reference to obese students. That poster was not approved by any teacher or staff member and was up no longer than five minutes. The matter is being appropriately handled by the administration.

This is a good example to all of how a 5 minute bad idea can live forever on social media and be distributed with inaccurate references to good people. Rather than having a lifespan of 5 minutes, this poster (with the help of many well-meaning people) was effectively copied and posted in every hallway, classroom, and home. You can help put an end to the unfair reference to NHS staff and the continued distribution of this inappropriate message by deleting or, at the very least, refusing to pass it along. Thank you.

There is a certain amount of sense in choosing not to spread hate with wild abandon.  That’s why I didn’t link to Ms. Arbour’s nonsense and don’t give clicks to a lot of other ugly things out there.  But there are some problems with this response.  First of all 5 seconds in the eyes of a particularly vulnerable person are enough to do irrevocable harm.  5 minutes, in a high school hallway, is an eternity.  And while I respect the school’s right to deal with this problem according to its own policies, I have to vehemently disagree with the idea that simply not sharing this photo will make the problem go away.  (It won’t.) And I think that people need to be confronted with the level of nasty that truly exists before they are tempted to say they don’t have time to be “P.C.” that fat people are just whining and that fat shaming is an imaginary concept.  It is so very, very, very real.

That’s why I applaud Sara Bordo and Lizzie Velasquez for having the courage to show the bullying it all its true ugliness.  Refusing to censor Lizzie’s hate messages along with refusing to drop Megan’s suicide story resulted in the movie receiving a controversial PG13 rating.  This means that most schools won’t be able to screen the film because of the rating.  I find it fascinating that any kid old enough to move a mouse can be exposed to this online without warning and without context or support.  But a movie that explains how bad it is and gives kids and adults tools to discuss it is rated PG 13.

JeanetteAndLizzie

With Lizzie at the screening.

I really want to recommend that you and yours find a way to see this amazing film.  It is a stark look at the brutality of bullying.  It is also a warm, ultimately uplifting story about how bullying can be (sometimes) overcome.  It’s a great starting point for the deep conversations we need to be having about this topic–however more comfortable it might seem to simply walk (or run) away from it.

Love,

Jeanette DePatie (AKA The Fat Chick)

P.S. I’d like to remind you that the Fat Activism conference is just a few short weeks away.  Ragen and the organizing committee and I have put together an absolutely amazing lineup of speakers who can help you figure out just exactly what can be done.
Register for the Fat Activism Conferenece!

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Weight (Stigma) Affects School Children’s Grades

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My dear friend and colleague Angela Meadows recently penned this important article for The Conversation discussing the issues surrounding weight, school children and academic performance.  There have been  a number of studies over the years linking higher weights with lower performance in school–particularly among female pre-teens and teenagers.  Many of these studies have sought and eliminated co-variables in other health issues, potential depression and the onset of menses in women.  However, many of these early studies seemed to avoid what would seem the most obvious connection between school performance and weight–the impact of weight stigma on school children of all ages (especially girls).

Angela then shared with us the results of a new study from the Harvard School of Public Health specifically documenting the results of weight stigma on kids  in school.  For the most part, the study which followed over 3,000 kids for over 10 years found no significant difference in test scores for the kids who became fatter.  However, the study indicated that as the students weights went up, the teacher’s evaluation of the kids abilities went down.  (Primarily for reading in girls and math in boys).   And to a certain extent, as weights went up, the students evaluations of their own abilities went down.  Although, the studies didn’t specifically measure attitudes of weight bias in teachers, Angela pointed to other studies that do just that.

Angela goes on to discuss important research linking weight stigma to bullying by other children as well as studies that indicate that much of the lag in academic achievement by fatter kids can be explained by bullying from both fellow students and educators.

I have not been shy in the past in saying and saying and SAYING that stigma does not make people healthier, happier or thinner.  In fact weight stigma makes people less likely to seek medical treatment, leads to disordered eating and risky behaviors, leads to more stress, anxiety and illness and yes, leads to lower academic performance.  And since there is literally no scientifically proven way to help most people lose a lot of weight and keep it off, perhaps telling people to lose weight to avoid this stigma is ill advised.

We know that weight-based stigma is harmful for people of all ages, yet we continue to march in the war on obesity for the fatties’ own good.  We continue to fight body fat and ignore the plain fact that it is our societal attitude towards fat people that is causing much of the damage.  We continue to wring our hands and shout “What about the children?” as an excuse for maintaining this war on big bodies, without addressing the simple fact that the number one casualty of the “war on obesity” seems to be from “friendly fire” on the folks we are purporting to help.  At what point will we finally realize that stigmatizing children into a fruitless attempt to change their body size so that they can avoid weight stigma is at best, seriously messed up?

I hope that moment is coming and I hope it is coming soon.  Our kids have enough to deal with just trying to grow up in this world without being victimized by the very people who we engage to help them.  I hope that we can start some efforts to seriously help our educators and child caretakers recognize weight bias in themselves and work to push past it.  I hope that we can stop allowing our kids to be collateral damage from a war that it is nearly impossible for them to win.

Love,

Jeanette DePatie (AKA The Fat Chick)

Kids, Bullying and Plastic Surgery

plasticsurgeryI was somewhat floored this weekend as I listened to a brief radio report on my local public radio station about kids and plastic surgery.  The story (which made reference in the intro to Renee Zellweger’s altered appearance at a recent awards show) talked about the number of kids having plastic surgery and the reasons behind it.  The report opens by talking about the number of teenagers who have had Botox (TM) in 2013.  According to the report, that number is 17,958.  Now the report was careful to state that most of these procedures were for medical reasons.  Botox is used to treat migraines, strabismus (cross eyed) and facial spasms.  Yet when all was said and done, over 1,000 of these Botox procedures were performed on kids in America for “purely cosmetic reasons”.

Now I’m not going to tell any parent or kid what they should do with their own bodies.  It’s their body and their choice.  I don’t think I would let me kid have Botox treatments (if I had one).  But you know what, I think it’s a lot easier to judge if you are not in the situation.  In fact the report went on to state that cosmetic procedures are on the rise among young people, and experts suggest that the reasons for that rise probably include social media culture and the rise of the “selfie” as well as a rise in bullying in our schools.

My knee jerk reaction at the time was, why aren’t they fixing the BULLYING?  Why are kids undergoing the risks and rigors of plastic surgery all because kids can’t stop being mean?  And then I remembered my own school days.  There was a period in my school life, after I had moved to a new school where I was bullied relentlessly.  I was verbally abused and physically abused.  I had my property repeatedly stolen or damaged.  It was so bad, that I often got physically sick from the stress of it all.  My parents were extremely worried, but I felt that their involvement would  only make it much, much worse.  There was no surgery that could have fixed my situation.  And even if there were, I doubt we could have afforded it.  But I wonder, if there were a medical fix, that we could afford if we would have used it.  I was miserable.  My parents were deeply concerned.  Would we have undergone a medical risk if it meant that the problem would go away?  I don’t know.

What I do know is that not all people who are bullied can have that problem fixed by surgery.  The reasons for the bullying are not always physical or may not be easily physically corrected.  And even for surgery that is readily available, a whole lot of people cannot afford it.  And this lack of access to procedures that can make our social media selfie red carpet ready is just another gaping chasm between the haves and the have nots in our world.  So on the one hand I sort of feel like the families that are “opting out” of bullying by changing their physical appearance are making things even harder for the families that do not have that privilege.

It’s easy to heap scorn on the families who seem to take the whole notion of cosmetic surgery very lightly.  The report stated that husband/wife cosmetic surgeries are followed only by mommy/daughter plastic surgeries in popularity.  It’s easy to heap scorn on the privileged families who hand out boob jobs as high school graduation presents.

But I’d like to suggest that not all cases of kids and families choosing plastic surgery over bullying are quite that simple.  If I could have had a surgery to make the bullying stop, might I have done that?  I honestly don’t know.  And if I had done it, how would my life have turned out differently?  Would I be as strong?  Maybe not?  Would I be less fearful now?  Would I take greater emotional risks at this point because I spent less time as a target–less time being wounded?  And if my parents had chosen that route would they be wrong for perpetuating the need for perfection just because they wanted me to live my best life, be less in pain?

I don’t really know all the answers here, and I think that’s a good thing.  In my mind this is not a simple or black and white thing.  I sincerely believe that we need to change the culture of perfectionism, social media shallowness and cruel bullying among young people.  And I think that erasing differences by changing whatever faults the bullies choose to target in their victims ultimately make things worse for all of us.  But I think it’s important to view this subject through the lens of compassion.  Because if back then, when I was a kid, I would have been able to undergo a brief medical procedure that would make the bullying stop, even for a minute, I don’t know that I wouldn’t have done just that.

Love,  Jeanette DePatie (AKA The Fat Chick)

P.S. Want me to come to your school and talk about bullying?  BOOK ME!

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The Childhood Obesity Challenge

Uuuuugh!  Well we’re halfway through “Harass Kids About Their Weight Month” otherwise known as “Let’s Build Eating Disorders As Young As Possible Month” or “Childhood Obesity Awareness Month”.  I’ve mentioned before how I feel about this.  I can’t think of any adult or child in this country who is not aware that the dominant culture likes little kids to be thin.  I don’t know of any kids who aren’t aware, by age five or six, that thinner is better.  And this whole month seems designed to amp up the shame felt by larger kids and parents of larger kids to “11”.

This was brought home to me in a very visceral way today as I read a facebook post by a parent who had a negative reaction to being nominated for “The Childhood Obesity Challenge” on facebook.  I have no idea how widespread this “challenge” is.  Apparently a “friend” in this woman’s feed posted an apres workout “sweaty” (that’s a selfie where the folks are sweatin’ y’all) with the following text:

“Another sweaty for (fb friend)’s call to action for childhood obesity. Children learn from example. I will challenge some amazing parents I know to do the same. You all inspire me and make me better.”

Only problem, the parent with the negative reaction had been a fat kid.  She understood the real challenges of being an obese kid in a fat-hating world.  And her kid was also not as thin as some in society deemed acceptable.  And her kid was facing health challenges that made exercise difficult.  Yet there she was, nominated to post a picture of her sweating after a workout to prove to kids they shouldn’t be fat.

Seriously.

Yes, kids do learn by example.  And if we want our kids to be healthy, here are a few options of things we could model:

1.  Let’s choose not to judge by appearances.  You don’t know what is happening in another person’s life by looking at them.  You don’t know if they are healthy by looking at them.  Let’s not make snap decisions about a person’s health or moral worth because of how they look.

2.  Exercise can be fun!  Let’s not ruin exercise by making it about arbitrarily changing our body size.  Let’s make it about getting together and having a great time!  Because sometimes moving our bodies feels awesome!

3.  Exercise can be fun, but it’s not a moral obligation.  And exercise is a whole lot easier for some people than for others.  Let’s decide not to worry about how much exercise other people are doing.  And let’s decide on exercise for ourselves based on our own bodies and how we feel.

4.  Let’s not panic about our body size!  People come in all shapes and sizes.  There are greyhounds in this world and there are pit bulls.  Everybody looks a little different than everybody else and that’s okay.

5.  Let’s not boil down a very complex issue like childhood obesity into some silly facebook game, okay?  Let’s choose to accept that body size is influenced by a wide variety of factors–both inside and outside of our control–and learn to love our bodies as they are.  That way we won’t feel quite so much need to judge other people’s bodies, okay?  (See point #1).

And if modeling points 1 through 5 doesn’t work, we could always model how to fake a sweaty. (A little blush, a little water spritzed on the face and hair and TA DAAAA instant sweaty!)

Or if you want to be more professional about it:

I can’t help but be frustrated by the whole notion of Childhood Obesity Awareness Month as it currently stands.  It’s time for a Childhood Weight Stigma Awareness Month.  During this month we could talk about how to help kids avoid eating disorders, we could talk about how bullying based on size is at record levels, and we could talk about how social media is pressuring kids and parents more than ever to have “perfect bodies” at all times.  That’s a movement I could get behind.

Love,

Jeanette DePatie (AKA The Fat Chick)

P.S.  Want to hear me speak with YOUR group about how to teach fitness to kids in a way that isn’t damaging to them?  Book me to speak!

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A Sensible Approach to Healthy Kids

Folks of ALL ages dancing their hearts out!

Folks of ALL ages dancing their hearts out!

I have to admit that the blog post I did on Monday broke my heart.  The idea that it is even possible that a six-year-old girl may have died because of weight stigma is just so sad.  I need to reiterate, that none of us can know precisely what that doctor was thinking.  But the testimony she gave at her own trial makes me more than a little suspicious.

And you know what?  It doesn’t have to be this way.

There are far simpler ways to help kids be healthy.  Not the least of which is simply helping them find safe places to play and joyful places to move their bodies.  Because one of the best things we can do to help kids be healthy is offer them fun ways to get exercise. Yet another study came out this week that indicates that cognitive abilities among kids have a lot more to do with fitness levels than BMI.  But this fact, doesn’t seem to deter those who feel the best way to help kids be healthy is to send home a BMI report card.  Despite the fact that BMI is very loosely correlated with health in young children, and that focusing on BMI makes kids more likely to develop eating disorders, and that focusing on BMI tends to lead to shame in kids which not only makes them develop other bad health behaviors, but also tends to make them gain weight, we are STILL PERPETRATING THIS NONSENSE IN SCHOOLS.  Let’s focus on helping kids be healthy without increasing the risk from eating disorders.  Remember this chart?

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Helping kids be healthy can be positive and fun.  This past weekend I led some fitness demonstrations at a local event.  The City of Hope hosted its Foothill Fitness Challenge event here in Duarte and over 1,200 people showed up.  It was so much fun!  I led two fun dance demonstrations and was so excited to see moms and dads and kids all dancing together and having a good time.  Check it out:

It made my heart so happy.  Little kids and big kids and grandmas were all dancing together.   If we want to help kids be happy, LET’S DO THAT!  Let’s find some kids, put on some music and dance with them.  Sure maybe it’s simplistic, but it’s also fun and is likely to do no harm.

So what do you say?  I challenge you to connect with a kid and go out and play this week.  Dance, bike, throw a ball around–whatever makes you (and them) happy.

Love,

Jeanette (AKA The Fat Chick)

Talking about Bullying

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This past Saturday, I  had the great privilege to speak on behalf of the Size Diversity Task Force at the Stop The Pain Anti Bullying Conference in Riverside.  I spoke about all bodies being good bodies and I talked with them about the fact that weight-related bullying can come from many sources including parents, teachers, doctors and coaches.  It seemed like many of them were interested in the topic and I had a great time.  But one of the moments that really touched me, came from a Dad in the back of the room.

The room was overfilled and he had stood against the wall for the entire presentation.  At the end I asked for questions and he raised his hand.  He said that he had come to the presentation on behalf of his sixteen year old daughter.  He said that he came with his beautiful wife (and he gestured towards her) because he wanted to know how to help his daughter.  He said that his daughter had always been somewhat heavier, and that she was having a hard time accepting herself.  He said that he and his wife told her that she was beautiful every day, but that she was having a hard time believing it.  He wanted to know what he should do.

I told him first of all, that he should keep telling her that she is beautiful.  That maybe it doesn’t seem like it’s sinking in, but that she’s hearing it.  I told her that sometimes we aren’t ready for that message at that moment in our lives, but that there will come a moment at some time in our lives when we are ready, and we will gather those words and those memories to us at that time and we will treasure them always.  I told him that he could offer help, but that he has to be patient.  She will only accept help when she’s ready.  I suggested that he could direct her towards support groups like the Size Diversity Task Force that could some day help her find her way through the prejudice out there and help her emerge triumphant as a size positive freedom fighter.  And I thanked him for asking the question.

Honestly, I was blown away by this guy and his wife.  They cared enough about their daughter to stand in a hot classroom for an hour and listen to me talk about my journey, size diversity, size prejudice, the near impossibility of permanent weight loss, Health At Every Size and more.  They were able to keep their minds open and see if they could learn something new.  And they were humble enough to ask for help.  Now I have no idea what it is really like for them in their house and in their family.  But I was deeply moved by the idea that there are parents out there willing to buck the status quo to really help their kids and there is hope in this world of size oppression within strong families willing to care for their kids in a way that may not be “socially acceptable” but in a way that works.

I am deeply grateful to Kandee Lewis and the Size Diversity Task Force for this opportunity to speak, but more importantly to listen and learn from other folks who are working to end bullying in their own lives and the lives of others.

Love,

The Fat Chick

Thursday Theater: Dancing Queen

It is difficult to describe just how happy this video makes me. You guys already know I have a thing for videos featuring spontaneous dancing. But unlike this video, in which the girl clearly carefully set up her video camera or phone to capture the moment, the “Dancing Queen” video subject doesn’t seem to know she’s being recorded. She’s just rockin’ out because she feels like it. She’s simply gettin’ down with her bad self! I especially love the punches at :43 and 1:41, the sassy finger move at :51 and the collection of awesomeness at 1:50 and 2:07. It makes me so sad when she finally gets on the bus and it all comes to an end.

It makes me feel so hopeful that in this world of stigma and shame and hate, people still find a way to let their inner groove thing out. Because this sort of spontaneous expression, this is what so often dies when people are shamed. This is the bit of ourselves that learns to hide when the bullies come out. This is what we lose when we insist on using shame and bullying to try to make everyone’s body conform to a single impossible standard.

This loss of our sense of wonder and playfulness and spontaneous joy is one of the great costs of a society that bullies people. And that is why I am so excited to be participating in the Stop The Pain Anti Bullying Conference this Saturday in Riverside with the Size Diversity Task Force. I’ll be giving a speech called “All Bodies are GOOD Bodies–Learning to Love the Skin You’re In” and participating in a panel discussing bullying. The event is already sold out, and over 600 young people aged 12 to 20 are expected.

I am hoping that I can help in some small way to help young  people learn to protect themselves from those who would teach them to be less than, to stay under the radar, to go unnoticed.  And I hope in small way to help them stop bullying themselves and one another, so they can take that ability to dance and live fully in the moment from when they were very small,  grow up to start whole spontaneous dance parties like this guy, and still be dancing like this lady when they are old and grey.

Because at every time and at every age, I hope you dance.

Love,

The Fat Chick

P.S. Want me to come speak at your school, business or special event?  I speak on a wide range of topics related to fitness, self acceptance, bullying prevention, body love, Health At Every Size (R) and love your body week!  Click here or just send me an email to learn more!