Kids can be so cruel. It’s one of those things that ‘everyone knows’… even children with life-threatening allergies are often threatened by bullies, who pretend the allergen is hidden in the classroom or has been in the child’s lunchbox. If anyone challenges this ignorant and reckless behaviour, they’ll get the bully’s stock response: “it was only a joke”. Why can’t you take a joke, lethal-allergy kid?
It only goes to show how some people will smell out another person’s vulnerability and turn it into terror if they can, just because they can.
Meanwhile just about every “expert” article I’ve read on bullying advises bullied children to control their emotions, acting as though all is well. Don’t let the bullies see you getting upset… As if a target of bullying needs yet another reason to believe that they’re in the wrong. A lot of adults I know would be in tears within minutes if they had to go through what some kids experience every day at school!
Children and teens who are overweight, afraid of gaining weight, and even those who used to be overweight are often relentlessly bullied. Nine out of ten British adults who were large as kids reported cruel name calling, ‘fat jokes’ nasty tricks and physical abuse from their peers, and American studies found the same. 70% also experienced taunting by so-called friends – leaving them confused about what friendship really is and vulnerable to abusive relationships down the line.
And then there are the adult bullies: more than four out of ten overweight kids had been chastised about their weight by games teachers or coaches, while one in five were deliberately humiliated by class teachers for being fat (more if you include being disliked and disparaged by teachers in ways that are obvious to all the children).
Reports like this prove that a depressing number of adults find it acceptable to bully and humiliate kids. Especially kids who are fat. ‘Words will never hurt me’ – what rubbish. Words are the worst kind of weapon, leaving scars which may never fully heal.
If only it ended when young people leave school. But it doesn’t, does it? Abuse focused on body size and shape continues into higher education, into the workplace, anywhere and everywhere.
In today’s world we’re apparently unfazed by sex, violence, peeing in public or any of the social taboos of the past. Yet simply having the nerve to be fat still attracts sharply negative reactions – especially when ‘caught in the act’ of eating! People can and do take aim emotionally at fat people who dare to feed in public. They stare, make rude gestures, make loud remarks and so called “fat jokes”. Live and let live? Fat chance!
In the Introduction to her book Bodies, psychoanalyst Suzie Orbach writes:
“The individual is now deemed accountable for his or her body and [is] judged by it. ‘Looking after oneself’ is a moral value…our body is our calling card…showing the results of our hard work and watchfulness or, alternatively, our failure and sloth” (Page 6). I think she’s onto something. Let’s take a walk down memory lane…To gain approval a century ago, middle class types were “respectable”. That meant you kept yourself clean and sober, your clothes were mended, your manners polite, your children ‘seen and not heard’. You kept your front yard tidy, you kept your dignity and you did your hair. You helped your friends and neighbours, took an interest in your community. Man or woman, you wouldn’t have been seen dead in a track suit and trainers… There was ample social pressure to conform – but nobody thought it important to weigh yourself, calculate a BMI or fat ratio, watch your carbs, combine food correctly, or identify yourself by your clothing size (“I’m a Size Zero”). None of the above had anything to do with social status, success or morality then: other values were more important. “Handsome is as handsome does”, people said; or “beauty is skin deep” – and as a person of that time, you believed it. You took care of your appearance, but that was to show respect to other people. People knew that your look was just that – the outside of you. Not who you were as a human being. They also knew what it meant to go without food, to make do with short rations, to substitute favourite items and make a meal ‘go further’.
How things have changed…. Orbach points out that very few people today actually make or grow things for ourselves. We don’t surround ourselves with home made objects of beauty, pleasure or practical usefulness. Instead, in addition to work whose products are seldom at hand to show others, we produce our own bodies – built up in the right places, trimmed in the right places, toned, shaved and smoothed. We’re always ready to talk about them or show them off. They are living proof that we’ve made it in life – or evidence that we haven’t. Being “morbidly” fat in a social climate like this is like having a great big target on your back. But here’s the thing: you can’t shame somebody into losing weight. Fear tactics, if they work at all, will have no more than a temporary effect (doctors: take note). And depression and self-loathing drives those affected to the one thing in life that always delivers comfort and security – food. I’ve met so many people who completely lost control of their weight after an emotional trauma. Many of these same people already have a background of nasty teasing by peers or male relatives. Those cruel words of rejection surround them every day like a wall of thorns. Meanwhile, there’s one thing I do know about losing weight – or any other effort to make life better: what cannot be done in the power of love, cannot be done at all. And self-loathing can never do the work that must be done by love. So if this is you behind the thicket of thorns, show yourself some love: pick up the phone and ask for help. Chances are that when you kick out the misery and self-hate, you’ll find it easier to work on your weight problems too.
Share your experiences in the comments section.
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