There is a long tradition in the U.S. of picking on the "fat kid." It's "as American as apple pie." Generations of kids have lived through being bullied, or watching others be bullied, for being heavier than their peers. Picked last for gym games, shoved in the lunch line, taunted on the playground -- these are memories many people have from their childhood. It's a culture of bullying that reaches beyond individual scenarios. Today, with the spike in childhood obesity, and social media that allows new, cruel ways of bullying, this trend is more significant than ever. One we need to address head-on.
Bullying for any reason is always a concern (or at least it should be.) It damages children in deeply emotional and psychological ways, permanently impacting them. Yet, we parents don't seem outraged enough by this targeting of overweight children. In fact, adults are often just as guilty of bullying their heavier peers. It's socially accepted to criticize people who are overweight. And kids aren't always bullied by their peers alone. Adults (coaches, teachers, parents, strangers) are guilty of targeting heavier youths.
Childhood obesity has tripled in the past 30 years; this means there are more chubby kids to pick on. And with Facebook, Twitter, and other social media outlets through which to bully, overweight kids today have more daunting public attacks to overcome. The Cyber world reaches beyond their classroom, school, or neighborhood, so they are being victimized by a much larger audience. According to the Obesity Action Coalition (an organization that represents individuals affected by obesity), peer bullying is not the only problem; 48-79 percent of children report being cyberbullied by strangers!
We still need to combat childhood obesity, but without the stigma. We need to learn how to strike the balance between stressing healthy eating/exercise habits to our kids without communicating judgement of those who are overweight. Many of us are guilty of thinking, "why don't they just lose weight?" But it isn't so easy for everyone. There are many factors that contribute to obesity, and not all are under the control of the individual who suffers from it. We need to educate ourselves on this fact, and pass the knowledge on to our children.
This little girl's weight issues haven't been solved with diet and exercise; she has been bullied for her weight; With the help of her parents, she is standing up to her bullies, by becoming an author.
It is very important to ensure that you and your children eat healthy foods and get plenty of physical activity, but this does not guarantee a certain number on the scale, or physical look. It will help your family maintain a weight that is healthy for them, and that is what's ideal.
Find fun, kid-friendly activities to do as a family that encourage physical exertion, like running:
Disney Royal Family 5 K - February 22-24
Run for Haven Hospice & St. Patty's Day Costume contest - March 16
The next step for our society is accepting different sized people! We need to teach our children that "healthy" comes in lots of shapes and sizes, not just the ones displayed in the media. Holding ourselves to someone else's beauty standard is dangerous. We need to be conscious of this, especially as parents. Encourage activity, not disordered habits. Then, we need to model that truth by not criticizing our peers for appearance (especially in front on our children!) Bullying is unacceptable, at any age! Remember not to bully yourself either.
Behavior toward others should define worth -- kindness, generosity, compassion -- not physical attributes.