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?

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  1. It’s one thing to encourage your kid’s self-esteem, it’s another to endanger their health. When I see overweight children, my immediate blame goes to the parents. Read the labels on what you stuff into your kids’ mouths. Stop feeding them sugar on top of sugar on top of sugar. Encourage them to do activities that involve movement. Both low self-esteem and childhood obesity must first be repaired in the home.

  2. I guess I’m the Republican that is smiling even though I’m not a GOPer. But when is it ever NOT okay to keep it one hundred with your child. If the kid is fat stop feeding him cookies and stop letting her eat ice cream all the damn time. If you don’t say anything don’t expect the world to be any nicer. This child worship – I can’t tell children they lost or they’re fat – is going too far. If the kid is obese tell them and back it up up with help like this lady did.


  3. I’ve seen a couple of those ads on TV and I think it’s great that someone is finally telling it how it is. So many of us are in serious denial about our weight and eating habits. Being overweight doesn’t make someone ugly, or mean they’re “less than” the next person. It just means they have a medical condition that needs to be addressed. Usually the only person who can address it are the individual (or the parents in the case of young children). I think these ads are very tastefully done. It brings awareness to the issue, tells the unpleasant truth, but without judging or name-calling. So many of us are in denial about our OWN weight, let alone our children’s. Phrases like “big boned” and “thick” are thrown around as a way to make being overweight seem ok or even favorable. We try to downplay how much we eat, or try to blame it on baby/hormones/thyroid/etc. It could be that we don’t know what a proper diet looks like, or we may just be fooling ourselves. But if you aren’t real with yourself, how are you going to be real with your kids? Furthermore, how are kids going to learn how to eat right without a proper teacher?

  4. I believe its all in the approach. You can be honest but remain tactful and aware of the person’s feelings. The mother’s response was a good one. Again, we’re reading the response so we don’t know the tone in which the response was said. I’m going to go out on a limb and imagine it wasn’t said in a hurtful manner. Furthermore, healthy eating does start at home. Eating fast food sparingly is cool but even with fast food there are so many alternatives out there where you can still eat healthy and enjoy it as well. Turkey burger and some sweet potatoe fries is just as tasty as a beef burgers and some regular french fries. Thick crust pizza from Pizza Hut is good but so is there thin crust pizza loaded with vegetables and maybe some meat. It’s all about choices and portion control. Anyhoo, I wish this young lady and all of the other kids struggling with their weight much success in gaining control of their lives. Yes if push come to shove they can do it alone if they have to but there’s nothing like a great support system. Encourage and motivate our kids to do better.

  5. I would have never let it get that far, at 23 & a height of 5’10 I’ve never reached over 160 lbs and even that was too heavy for me. If I have a daughter, I would be frank but not insensitive to the fact that she is overweight. I would put the household on a diet, without saying so, and enroll her in something athletic such as karate, kick boxing, dance etc something that she will enjoy but will get her moving and invested in her physical health. If none of that helped, I would make sure we see a doctor to check if there are underlying health issues. There’s no reason for a child to be that heavy.

  6. A lot of my problems with the Children’s Healthcare ads is that they were trying to reach parents by using images of sad, overweight kids and headlines talking about how horrible their lives are. If the effect they’re going for is healthier eating and a more active lifestyle, why are they using kids as tools to shame their parents? “OMG LOOK AT YOUR FATTY-FAT-FAT KID.” Kids aren’t tools or messages–they’re kids. They’re people who just aren’t very old yet. And you know what? It is hard for a kid to get singled out for her weight, and “tough love” isn’t going to be effective for someone who hasn’t developed the emotional resilience that comes with age. That ad campaign is a great way to send the message, “The problem is your fat kid,” rather than, “The problem is your unhealthy lifestyle.”

    And when it comes down to an obese 13-year-old, who is responsible there? Was Amie nice and slim and eating her vegetables like her mother until she hit 11, at which point she exploded out of her clothes like the Incredible Hulk? “You are overweight–and the only person who can do something about it is you.” No, she’s a 13-year-old girl, and you’re her mother, and you should have been working on this together from the start. And it’s going to be a lot less pleasant now that she’s likely to see it as food deprivation and forced exercise instead of just a healthy lifestyle.

    While we’re at it, let’s get away from the idea that a fat kid can’t be a healthy kid. I realize that “fat” is a convenient shorthand, but being overweight doesn’t guarantee heart disease and diabetes–it just makes them more likely. If you have an overweight kid who eats well and is active and has all of her markers within a healthy range, but she’s still overweight? Your kid is healthy. Get off her back.

  7. It’s all about how you say it and the example you set. As for the story, it explains that the girl lost her father suddenly which sparked her weight gain. Her mother even admits to seeing her weight gain over the years and excusing it as just ‘puppy fat’ and telling her daughter that she was perfect when even the daughter asked if she was fat! In this instance, the mother is wrong for just flipping the script like that. Luckily the girl took it and decided to lose weight but it most certainly could have gone differently. As a parent its important to encourage your child into doing things by leading by example. Even at 13, a child will need your guidance.

  8. It is all about starting the child off EARLY with proper nutrition and encouraging physical activity as a way of life. Lead by example and then you won’t have an overweight child barring any trauma or thyroid issues.
    Some kids like adults use food to cope after GOD forbid a trauma/stress/anxiety etc but if they have been provided a safe, nurturing and healthy environment in which to develop and thrive, then physical health and nutrution is very much apart of that.

  9. Fatness is a neurological dis-ease brought on by the food industries of America. I want there to be a full scale investigation into food-related crime. I think it would save us a lot of tax dollars and it would eliminate fast food restaurants on every corner in our nations cities. It’s a crime that corporations get away with push drugs in the form of food to everyone and face no consequences.

    • Really? Please tell me you’re joking. What ever happened to personal responsibility and accountability? If it’s all food industries fault, then how is it that there are so many people that are NOT overweight? Are they not living in the same society that the rest of us are, watching the same television shows, driving down the same streets with the same fast food joints on the corner? How about encouraging people how to choose the right foods and control portion size–it’s not only about what you put in your mouth, but how much of it you put in. And that part, the how much you put in part, is something that we all have control over.

  10. The mother did it in the right way. She didn’t just tell her she was fat or called her names, she put the ball inthe daughter’s court so she knew it was completley up to her to choose the body type she wanted by making lifestyle choices. Being compassionately honest is always the best choice in matters like these.

  11. I have a serious issue with these ads because, as suggested in the article it does not address the REAL underlying issues. It does not confront the issues of access or phys. ed classes being eliminated from school, or the fact that some parents cannot afford to put their children in extra curricular activities. These ads end up shaming the children, as its their faces splattered on billboards for all to see. And, as I read somewhere else, if fat shaming worked, THERE WOULD BE NO MORE FAT PEOPLE! There is not a fat person alive who hasn’t been fat shamed in some way and it rarely ever leads to permanent weight loss.

    Now, don’t get me wrong I do believe people have a choice as to what they put in their mouth and how much they eat. However, with supposedly labeled “healthy” food in grocery store containing sugar, and hfcs, and all types of chemicals (even on fresh fruits and produce) how can we expect people to make truly informed decisions about what they eat. In this country people are so far removed from how food makes it from the (factory) farm to their table, that they have no idea to really eat to nourish their body. Even doctors, nutritionists, and dieticians recommend chemical, processed foods. Now if adults cannot even figure out how to eat properly how can expect children to do so? There needs to be a total systemic change and less shaming.

  12. always use positive words… realistic suggestive ideas, supportive phrases…

  13. Has the love started yet?

  14. healthy food is way more expensive than fattening foods. i believe that’s one of the main reasons why so many people are so overweight.

  15. Being fat doesn’t excuse teasing or bullying. Just because a kid is overweight doesn’t mean others should treat them as if they don’t have feelings. That being said, parents should help their kids to lose weight because obesity is not healthy. The focus should be on health and happiness, not simply appearance.

  16. This is far from the childs fault, children don’t get a say in what the parents choose to feed them, simple as that if a kid is overweight then the parent is failing there prime job of raising a healthy child. Problem is most don’t know how or just can’t be bothered to cook so feed so much processed nutrient lacking foods out of convenience, schools also should start to sell only healthy food, I’m australian and i can honestly say when i was in school (finished back in 2005) you couldn’t even buy a banana or apple in the school canteen (tucker shop) yet there was piles of fatty greasy sugar filled processed crap!!!

  17. A fat child is the result of poor parenting, i.e. over-indulgent parents. Parents worship their children and are afraid to set limits and boundaries. Barring medical conditions, children should not be morbidly obese. I see fat kids all the time. They can barely run, are bullied, and continue to self-soothe by eating more junk…and the parents give in. Parents need to limit the amount of food kids consume and increase the amount of physical activity on a daily basis. There are no excuses, either. It’s free to go to a park and run around with a Frisbee or play tag or hide and seek. Churches and schools in most urban areas sponsor FREE after school and summertime activities to keep kids active.

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