Fat Shaming Preteen Girls Harms Them For Life

I have a good friend in great distress. Her sister’s ex-husband and his new wife, whom I shall call Nimrod and Bandersnatch, have decided to fat-shame and torment my friend’s niece because they think she is ‘out of shape’. The little girl is only ten years old. Although she is not overweight or obese in the technical sense, she lacks the bony appearance of a half-starved waif and GOD FORBID that little girls have a range of morphology from Tinkerbelle to Amazon. Nope. They must all be twee or they are “fat” and must be harassed and humiliated by their father and stepmother.

Nimrod and Bandersnatch decided that the child, whom I shall call Norma in honor of her normal weight for her larger-than-average height, was disgustingly slothful when she became winded walking up a flight of steep steps. You know, because kids that age aren’t physically smaller than adults and don’t breath faster than adults or anything. Nope. Only obesity and sloth can explain a child breathing hard when walking with adults up a flight of stairs!

To make sure Norma doesn’t turn out to be an icky fat person (like me, and golly look at how bad my life is?) Nimrod and Bandersnatch implemented draconian food restrictions and exercise regimens. They have bought the little girl an electronic exercise/calorie tracker which they want her to wear round the clock. Norma’s aunt told me that they “will only give her a teaspoon (yes, teaspoon) of dressing on her salad, and if she wants to swim, she has to run a mile first (because swimming isn’t exercise?). She is ten. TEN.”

If Nimrod and Bandersnatch say they are hassling Norma for her “health” or “her own good”, they are displaying massive ignorance rather than capable parenting skills. Nimrod and Bandersnatch are actively harming Norma’s nutritional needs.  You NEED fat (salad dressing) on your salad in order to digest the leafy greens correctly: “eating fresh vegetables with a little fat, such as oil-based salad dressings or cheese, helps the body absorb valuable nutrients found in vegetables, such as lycopene and beta-carotene, which have been shown to help prevent heart disease and cancer. In contrast, eating a salad without any fat in it may deprive your body of these healthy nutrients, which are known as carotenoids.” For the love of God, give the kid more than a teaspoon of salad dressing!

Moreover, getting a kid to restrict healthy calories (not junk food or processed crap, but good foods) is so incredibly dangerous to her long-term health it is beyond the telling.  Fat shaming a tween and making her worry about food is a damn good way for her to develop and eating disorder.  A whopping 81% of ten year old girls are afraid they might get fat one day, and the rate of kids under the age of 12 being hospitalized for eating disorders has increased 119% since 1999. If Norma is lucky enough to escape an eating disorder, hassling her about her weight is practically guaranteeing that she’ll struggle with obesity because fat-shaming increases the likelihood of weight gain.  A recent study has “found that the overweight people who reported experiencing weight discrimination were more than twice as likely to become obese by the next check-in in 2010. And people who were already obese in 2006 were three times more likely to remain obese by 2010 if they had experienced weight discrimination.” 

They are also harming  Norma by teaching her the false information that eating and exercise equals weight.  Perhaps when scientists from Harvard talk about the multiple causes of obesity, including genetics, Nimrod and Bandersnatch would be advised to listen? By teaching her to “diet” Nimrod and Bandersnatch are eroding Norma’s future health as well as her current well-being. Diets do NOT work. They are repeatedly shown to make you physically and mentally less healthy. the human body fights ferociously against getting few calories than it needs, or even wants. It thinks it’s starving. Thus, it slows down your metabolism and makes you feel lethargic. That in turn means you have more trouble exercising and become more sedentary because you have been weakened by dieting. Calorie restriction also caused the body to dump cortisol into your bloodstream, making you feel STRESSED and nervous while simultaneously causing every fat cell in your abdomen to swell up like a puffer fish.  The cortisol and lack of calories cause you to become depressed and irritable. You develop an unhealthy obsession with food and how NOT to eat it. In one famous study Dr. Ansel Keys took normal college-aged men and put them on a typical calorie restricted diet, just like the ones almost all women have been on at least once in their lives and perhaps multiple times, and the men became neurotic, food-obsessed nutjobs. Their physical health, grades, and personal lives all suffered because of the diet. This wasn’t even an extreme diet, it was merely the kind of diet girls are encouraged to do all the time.

In fact, it would be HEALTHIER for Norma to get fat that it is to make her diet. Medical researchers have long known that fat/overweight people live longer than normal/thin people. This fact has been recently proven yet again in yet another mega-study, reporting “that overweight individuals had a lower risk of premature death than so-called normal weight individuals and there was no relationship between being somewhat obese and the rate of early death. Only among people in the high range of obesity was there a correlation between their weight and a higher risk of premature death.” This is because metabolic health – including aliments like diabetes, hypertension, hardening of the arteries, and kidney disease —  is not linked with far; ALL metabolic diseased much more closely correlated to the consumption of sugar and processed food and artificial sweetener than weight. Taco Bell and diet coke will kill you, not cellulite. Nevertheless, more stories about the “obesity epidemicproliferate in the media. Americans are bombarded with “news” reports that completely ignores factual data showing that fat itself isn’t deadly and that the rise of heart disease and diabetes is REALLY about American food staples.

Whether Nimrod and Bandersnatch can understand it or not, a fat/overweight person who gets at least some exercise is “healthier” than a thin person who leads a mostly sedentary lifestyle. Norma does not have a sedentary life style or an aversion to exercise. Her aunt said, “ when she’s with my sister she’s eating vegetables grown at home and working in the garden and helping feed the cow or whatever other animals they have. This is not a kid who sits around playing video games. But her father is telling her she’s fat. Do you know what she wanted to do the last time she was at their house? Not watch a movie. Not play the Wii. She wanted to go to the pool and dive for pennies. She wanted to to throw them all over the pool so it was more fun to have to find them. That’s her idea of fun. But, you know, she’s fat and unhealthy.”

Finally, Norma’s body is SUPPOSED to have some fat on it. “Adam Baxter-Jones, associate dean at the College of Kinesiology at the University of Saskatchewan in Saskatoon, explains how it goes: “Maximum growth in stature peaks in girls at 12 when the average growth is about nine to 10 centimetres [3½ to almost four inches] per year … Kids also tend to get a little heavier just before they have the growth spurt. Toronto paediatrician Miriam Kaufman explains, “That weight gain actually fuels some of the growth, especially with boys—they seem to need constant fuelling.” And girls will find that their weight distribution is changing—they’re getting breasts and hips and their centre of gravity is different … Not eating properly can be bad for kids’ bones (risking more sports injuries) and there can be a long-term impact on height and development.” Preteen girls SHOULD be gaining a little extra weight as normal and healthy part of their growth. Yes, some girls remain skinny, but that is because of their DNA rather than some sort of eating differential between them and their larger peers.

In my opinion, Nimrod and Bandersnatch aren’t fat shaming Norma because of her “health” in that 5 minutes of research could have told them not to restrict her calories or fat shame her. I think they are fat shaming her because they have received constant overt and subtle cultural messaging that fat is repulsive, that it is visual evidence of sloth and gluttony, and that it denotes an “inferior” specimen of humanity. They probably subconsciously view fat/overweight people as repulsive, ugly, and weak-willed, and do not want Norma to be one of “them”. Norma, having been subjected to the same cultural messaging, will start to believe them and – since no girl considers herself thin “enough” for the beauty ideal” – she’ll start to hate herself. That will make her venerable to abusive relationships and other spiffy things like that.

Nimrod and Bandersnatch may not be just wrecking her health for life, they make be wrecking her WHOLE life.

Norma, if you ever see this, YOU ARE FINE JUST THE WAY YOU ARE!!!!!

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