Filled with despair, Julie Askew watched her 13-year-old daughter try on yet another outfit in the mirror — then fling it on to the growing pile of clothes on her bedroom floor.
“I’m fat and ugly — and I look horrible!” a tearful Amie wailed. ‘“I can’t wear this to the school disco. It’s just not fair.”
That’s how The Daily Mail begins its profile of a young girl who had already internalized severe body-image issues. The question always arises: where do such negative views come from? And most of time people will blame the household from which she comes.
Julie, 48, a business development manager from Maidstone, Kent, says: “Normally I would have blamed the shops for selling clothes which are cut too small, told her the style didn’t suit her, or insisted she looked lovely.”
“But by this point she weighed more than 13 stones (182 pounds), and the hissy fits about how awful she looked were becoming so regular that I had to say something.”
“So this time, instead of denying it, I blurted out: ‘Yes, Amie, you’re right. You are overweight — and the only person who can do something about it is you.’”
A response that holds her daughter personally responsible, somewhere a Republican is smiling. But when is it ever okay to tell someone they are fat, which is now the new “f-word.”
Stateside, Americans have tried to figure out the best way to engage the obesity epidemic. In Georgia, the Georgia Children’s Health Alliance spent $50 million on its Strong4Life campaign last summer to address the state’s pressing childhood obesity epidemic.
At the start of this year, the organization ramped up its efforts with a series of billboards and TV ads meant to “stop sugar-coating” the problem. “We needed something that was more arresting and in your face than some of the flowery campaigns out there,” Linda Matzigkeit, senior vice president of Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, told ABC News.
One of the black-and-white posters of a gloomy-looking overweight girl is emblazoned with the statement: “Warning. It’s hard to be a little girl if you’re fat.” Another ad, under a sad-faced boy, reads: “Fat prevention begins at home. And the buffet line.”
The campaign’s videos are equally frank and grim. In one, a plump girl says, “I don’t like going to school because all the other kids pick on me. It hurts my feelings.” In another, an obese boy asks his overweight mom, “Why am I fat?”
We even saw reality-stars trying to figure how to motivate people who they feel are overweight and “embarrassing” themselves. On the popular Braxton Family Values, the Braxton sisters were in engaging in an honesty session with their therapist, when the time came for Toni to be honest with her sisters about how she feels towards each of them, Toni decided to tell her sister Traci that she wanted her to lose 20 pounds immediately and get rid of her tummy.
Already feeling like an outsider, Traci understandably went into a rage, I mean who wants to hear they’re fat…and on national television at that.
What women must pull from the remnants of the feminist and womanist movements is what bell hooks calls an oppositional consciousness, a way of thinking about life that enables one to have positive self-esteem even in the midst of harsh and brutal circumstances.
Even though studies suggest black women are comfortable being overweight in comparison to their white counterparts, they have to be self-defining in ways that are healthy, a self-esteem built from a foundation of love not material reward.
Granted, black women seem to do what they’ve always done — stay as positive as possible in the face negative factors such as food deserts, no local farming, and grocery stores full of refined sugar, fat, and salt.
But it seems more productive to rebuild self-esteem from one’s relationship to oneself, not from feeling superior to any other person. True self-esteem promotes life sustaining love and compassion for oneself, not from the urge to eliminate one’s attackers, a revenge urge that always creates more problems than it solves.
Right now, our capitalist culture gives women false senses of security by suggesting that, through weight-loss, women can access a materially-rooted self-esteem — purchasing power — where a desirable, form-fitting dress or some designer shoes are stand-ins for true love for oneself.
And ultimately, what’s the reward? A man who is as equally messed up in the head; a partner who can’t help her from the verbal, physical, and psychological assaults of this culture. So is the goal to live comfortably within an unhealthy system — forgetting the struggle? It seems like no one wants to destroy and re-build the system that harms young girls; everyone just wants to manage the damage.
Is it wrong to tell a young girl, or anyone, that they are fat? How would you handle a similar situation?