Through the Eyes of a Child: A Look at Fat Hate in Children’s Books

By Katie, 5:47 am

Hey, everyone! I’m so excited to share with you this guest post from McKella at the awesome blog Handprint Soul. She always has really insightful things to say, and this post is no exception. I’m also really excited to hear your thoughts on this important topic: the portrayal of fat characters in children’s media. Take it away, McKella!

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Hey beautiful readers, this is McKella from Handprint Soul. I’m so honored that Katie asked me to do this post. Health for the Whole Self is, in my opinion, one of the best body-image blogs out there and Katie is just incredible. She never seems to run out of wisdom to share with us.

A few weeks ago, I commented on Katie’s “Things Fat People are Told” post and it reminded me of the kids I’ve worked with over the years. Kids always say what’s on their mind whether it’s “appropriate” or not. I’ve heard kids say all kinds of things about fat people. Fat children are usually the object of ridicule and if a kid really wants to hurt someone’s feelings, he or she will probably call that person fat, because it’s the most awful insult they can think of. Where do kids get the idea that fat is a horrible thing? It comes from lots of places, but one unexpected source I’ve noticed is children’s books. Don’t believe me? Think of Augustus Gloop in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Dudley in the Harry Potter series, Bess in the Nancy Drew series, Piggy in Lord of the Flies, and the list goes on.

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  • How does this shape the way children think of overweight people?

Some of these characters are mean, but all of them are portrayed as dumb, gluttonous, cowardly, obsessed with food and ugly, or at least unattractive.

Fat portrayal is the flip side of thin portrayal in the media. The heroes are thin and therefore smart, courageous, likeable, complex, and good. Fat characters, if not the villain, support the main character and provide a backdrop to make the protagonist appear even better by comparison. No one wants to be the fat character, because fatness is made to seem wrong. Kids may learn to think that fat people have no self-control and are dumb or gross, especially if their parents think this way.

  • How does that cause overweight children to see themselves?

With a lack of positive role models in books and an abundance of negative ones, fat children might see their size as not just a size, but as a moral failing. Something is wrong with them. They aren’t main character material. They’re ugly. No one wants to be their friend. If other kids make fun of them, these thoughts get worse. Nobody wants to be Dudley or Augustus. If a child’s parents or teacher makes comments about their body or encourage weight loss, these feelings might take over their identity. They might have all kinds of brains and talents and things to offer, but what does it matter if everyone just thinks of them as “the fat kid?”

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It’s a tough issue. We want kids to read, but we want to protect them from negative influences. The Harry Potter series is a fantastic work of literature and I think everyone should read it. Who didn’t love Charlie and the Chocolate Factory?

So, how can we help kids to see past body size? We might feel the urge to lock our kids in a little padded room where nothing could ever hurt them, but I feel that the answer is education and love, not over-sheltering.

Solutions:

  • Be a role model of acceptance and true health. Don’t make comments about anyone’s body, including your own. Avoid praising thinness. Take care of your own body and encourage healthy habits in your kids without putting the focus on weight or size.
  • Conversation. Ask your children what they think of the characters they read about, their friends and other people they know. Pay attention to how children treat and talk about others and ask questions. “Would you like this person to be your friend?” or “Do you think they like to do some of the things you like to do?” The point is to gently help children understand that all people want friends and can be good people, regardless of size.
  • Media literacy. Older children can start learning to think critically.  Ask older kids what they think of people in movies, advertisements, and books. Ask if they think they’re realistic. Make sure they know what stereotypes are. You don’t have to bombard your kids with questions, but provide some gentle guidance. In today’s society, understanding the way media works is a must.

I’m not saying anything against these books or children’s books in general. These are all great books and many of them have contributed greatly to children’s literacy and education, but books are written by people and people have prejudices. Understanding how these stereotypes are perpetuated, even through seemingly innocent media like children’s books, is key to eliminating Fat Hate.

What do you think about how weight is portrayed in children’s books, movies, television shows, etc. How do you think we as adults can help the younger generations be more accepting of people of all shapes and sizes?

Moment of Zen: Tennis Edition

By Katie, 6:56 am

I’m no Serena Williams, but I enjoy a good game of tennis every now and then. I’d enjoy it even more if I were playing here! 8-O

(I believe this is at a hotel in Dubai…not surprisingly!)

Do you play tennis? What’s your favorite sport to play?

Moving Weekend!

By Katie, 6:22 am

Considering my apartment is currently overflowing with boxes, I’m ready to MOVE this weekend into my new house!

My biggest concern? Getting these two furballs adjusted.

 Have you moved before? Any insider tips for me? How about suggestions for moving with animals in tow?

Distressing News about Male Models

By Katie, 6:10 am

A few weeks ago I wrote a post claiming that our society holds men’s bodies up to an unrealistic standard the same way it does women’s. Turns out I was more right than I even realized.

I recently came across this article in Britian’s The Sunday Times exposing the horrendously unhealthy regimens used by male models in order to look as lean and muscular as possible. I cringed most of the way through it. Apparently the men completely dehydrate themselves for days – drinking nothing but alcohol – in order to draw water away from the skin, making it look more taut.

An excerpt:

Among models and many others in the industry, Martin says, there is an unspoken acknowledgement that the pre-shoot regimen is standard. “There is definitely a sense that magazines expect you to turn up dehydrated and dizzy,” he says. “I’ve been on castings for fitness magazines where there are six or seven models who are so groggy and out of it that they need to grab a chair to sit down and literally can’t speak.”

My jaw dropped when I read that last line. This is some seriously dangerous stuff. All to get that ab-defining look that has become the standard for the covers of magazines like Men’s Health. That look that supposedly anyone can get by eating healthy and doing crunches.

By and large, we have collectively assumed that those rippling abs represent the result of the kind of gym-dedication and healthy living that can only be admired. Behind the abs, though, is a far from wholesome reality.

Right now I’m feeling pretty powerless about the whole thing. Somehow I don’t think the editors of Men’s Health are going to read my blog and think, hmmmmmmm, maybe this isn’t such a good idea. As long as those images result in sales, they’re not going anywhere, and in the meantime the cover models are putting themselves in danger.

I truly believe, however, that our biggest weapon is our wallets. Putting our money where our mouths are. While I don’t personally purchase magazines like Men’s Health, I know some people who do, and I am going to e-mail them the article in the hopes that they will reconsider buying the next issue. Maybe some of them will even write letters expressing concern. And maybe if enough people do that, and the issue garners some more attention, the magazines will be forced to address it.

I realize this is probably wishful thinking. And yet we as consumers have a right to know what’s going on behind the scenes. So, if you’re so inclined, I encourage you to spread the word.

Were you previously aware of the dangerous stuff male models do to get that lean look?

AND/OR

How do you think we regular Joes and Janes can make a difference?

Three Steps for Managing Nighttime Emotional Eating

By Katie, 6:13 am

I am such a creature of habit.

Every day I wake up at the same time. Every day I wear my hair the same way. And every night, around 8:30 p.m., I have an evening snack.

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Most of these routines are harmless. Sure, some aspects of my life – and my hairstyle! - would be more exciting if I shook things up a bit, but overall it’s no big deal. Except for that last one.

You see, because of my history with disordered eating, I’m pretty wary of any kind of set-in-stone food routine. If my eating habits are the exact same day in and day out, it’s usually a sign that something isn’t right.

In this particular case, I’m noticing that my evening snack has been filling more of an emotional need than a physical one. I’m not eating it because I’m hungry; rather, I’m eating it because I find it relaxing to do so. For the past few weeks I’ve let my evenings get so busy that it feels impossible to wind down. Eating a snack is a signal to my brain that my work for the day is complete, and in that sense eating has been very soothing.

While that might not seem too problematic, for me it’s a slippery slope, and I’d rather not go back down that path of using food for emotional reasons. So yesterday I pulled out my e-book, and decided to take some pieces of my own advice. Here’s how I’m approaching the issue.

Three Steps for Managing Nighttime Emotional Eating

1. Ask myself if my hunger is physical or emotional.

Obviously I already know that it’s largely emotional, and yet simply asking myself the question in the moment can really help. If it turns out I am physically hungry – say, I had an early dinner – then of course an evening snack is perfectly appropriate.

But if I’m honest with myself, I’ll be able to acknowledge when the urge to eat is stemming from an emotional void. Just recognizing what’s going on in the moment is a huge step.

2. If it’s physical hunger, commit to eating mindfully.

A telltale trait of emotional eating is that I don’t pay attention to my food, like I want to ignore or deny the fact that I’m actually eating. So if I do end up going for an evening snack, I’m determined to eat it mindfully rather than scarf it down without even tasting it. That means I’m not eating it in front of the television or while I’m surfing the Internet. Nope, I’m giving my food 100% of my undivided attention.

3. If it’s emotional hunger, try something else.

If, as I suspect, the urge to eat really has more to do with a need for relaxation than with a need for food, I’m committing to finding alternative ways of winding down. Indeed, I’ve made a whole list of more effective possibilities: watching television (without multi-tasking!), reading a novel, flipping through a magazine, sipping a cup of tea, playing with my cats, etc.

I firmly believe that if the problem really is that I’m having trouble relaxing, doing one of these things is going to help me way more than a bowl of ice cream can.  

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Overall I’m not beating myself up for falling back into a little emotional eating. It’s easy to do, especially for a creature of habit like me. But some routines – especially ones that haven’t served me well in the past – are better off broken.

Have you ever struggled with the urge to snack at night even when you’re not hungry? How have you managed it?

Love is a Decision: My Wedding Toast

By Katie, 7:02 am

Good news! The wedding I was in this past weekend went off without a hitch. Pun intended! ;-)

I received a request for more details about the toast I gave as Matron of Honor, so I thought I’d share with you both the guidelines I used for writing it and the text of the speech itself. Besides the fact that I sniffled through the first half of it (it is impossible for me not to cry in those kinds of situations), it went really, really well.

My Five Toast Writing Guidelines

1. Write it well in advance.

I sat down and wrote out my toast two weeks before the wedding. That gave me plenty of time to practice and make edits.

2. Write it out, but still make it conversational.

Some people can speak very articulately completely off the cuff, and I’m jealous of them. I do best when I actually write out the full text, but do it in such a way that it doesn’t sound overly rehearsed.

3. Include a light-hearted, personal touch.

I think the best toasts include some kind of personal anecdote or memory. But I steered clear of any inside jokes that none of the guests would understand.

4. Include a thoughtful piece of advice or inspiration.

I decided to share my personal philosophy on love, but this would also be a perfect place for a well-suited quotation on love or marriage.

5. Keep it short and simple.

I knew from previous weddings I’d attended that long toasts are a no-no. Mine might seem long all written-out, but it wasn’t more than two minutes spoken. I also avoided any complicated words or sentences that could potentially trip me up!

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The Toast Itself

Kelsey, I am standing here today as your cousin, but we both know that we’re much more like sisters. We’ve laughed like sisters, we’ve fought like sisters, and in the summer when we were kids we even wore matching bathing suits like sisters. ;-)

So while this is surely the happiest day of your life thus far, it’s also a really happy one for me because since I’ve always loved you like a sister, I’ve always wished for the best for you. I’ve always wished for your life to overflow with joy and happiness and love. And that’s what we are witnessing right now – an overflowing of love.

And Drew, while I certainly haven’t known you as long as I have Kelsey, I can say with the utmost sincerity that she is very blessed to have found you. The light and love that you bring to each other’s lives is a very wonderful and beautiful thing, and I admire you both for taking this step of formalizing your commitment to one another.

I would like to offer you one small piece of advice. Even though I can’t claim to be an expert on marriage, since I’ve only been married for three years, in that time I have learned a very important lesson, and it’s this:

Love is a decision. It’s a choice. Love is more than the warm fuzzy feeling you felt when you first met each other. It’s greater than the excitement that comes with a first kiss, a proposal, or even a beautiful wedding like this one. Love is about deciding each and every day that you will do what’s best for the other person, that you will keep that person’s best interests at the forefront of your heart. When we fully grasp this notion – that love is more than a feeling, it’s a decision – we realize that it really can withstand any storm, and prevail over any challenge.

So that is my true wish for both of you today. That day after day and year after year, you will choose to follow the same loving path as the one you’re on today.

To Kelsey and Drew, and their decision to love.

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Have you ever given a toast at a wedding?

Moment of Zen: Bookshelf Edition

By Katie, 6:59 am

I always thought I was kind of cool for having a lot of bookshelves in my house. But compared to these, my bookshelves are BORING!

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Does your house have a lot of bookshelves?

The Big Day!

By Katie, 6:50 am

The dress has been steamed, the seating chart has been finalized, the bachelorette party has been thrown…

It’s time for these two to get hitched!

My plan for the day? Keep the bride calm and hydrated, bawl my eyes out during the ceremony, give a rockin’ toast, and then dance the night away!

What would be your #1 tip for the bride today?

Why I’m Not a Vegetarian

By Katie, 6:09 am

In order to understand why I’m not a vegetarian, you first need to know that I used to be one.

For about two and a half years in college, I was meat-free. And yet yesterday I enjoyed a turkey sandwich for lunch. What gives?

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Here’s what it boils down to. If you had asked me why I was a vegetarian in the midst of my meatless experience, I would have looked you straight in the eye and rattled off a bunch of facts about how many pounds of grain it takes to feed a human versus a cow for slaughter (the idea being that a whole lot of grain that could be going to feed the hungry is instead going to fatten up our meat). I would have insisted that I never really liked meat in the first place. And I probably would have thrown in a word or two about the environmental impact of a carnivore lifestyle.

But if you ask me now why I was a vegetarian then, I will look you straight in the eye and respond with a much different answer. Today I will tell you that I was secretly hoping to lose weight by limiting my food choices for supposedly moral reasons. Today I will acknowledge that it is no coincidence I was a vegetarian at the same time many of my peers and professors were. I stopped feeding on meat because it was their acceptance and approval I fed on.

Yep, I said it: I was a vegetarian because I wanted to be thinner and I wanted to fit in. I feel more than a little pathetic typing that. :-?

(For the record, I didn’t lose weight as a vegetarian because – veg or not – I was still stuck in the same trap of emotional overeating, and going meat-free didn’t magically make that any easier. Also, I now firmly believe that my peers and professors accepted me not because of my eating choices, but because of me.)

The other piece of the puzzle is that at the time I wasn’t lying about my reasons for going veg. I wasn’t trying to pull off some trick. I did care strongly about issues of hunger and the environment, still do. But back then I simply wasn’t self-reflective enough to even realize something else was going on; I wasn’t being honest with myself in many areas of my life, my eating habits included.

All of this is to say that I am still very compelled by the reasons people give for being vegetarians. I admire them greatly. And yet I will not choose that lifestyle for myself, at least not right now, because of my history of doing it with an unhealthy mindset. I became a vegetarian so that I had a reason to restrict my eating, and now I work hard to reject that same urge.

At this point in time I feel that vegetarianism would inhibit my efforts to ditch dieting/emotional overeating and instead focus on eating intuitively. I’m not saying that you can’t be an intuitive eating vegetarian, of course. I’m not saying that going meat-free is directly connected to an unhealthy mentality. But my vegetarian experience was. For me, going veg was just another diet.

So for now, in honor of my commitment to not dieting, I’ll continue to eat my turkey sandwiches for lunch.

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Are you/were you ever a vegetarian? What factors influenced your decision?

Has anyone else ever made a “lifestyle choice” that was really just a diet in disguise?

Note To Self…

By Katie, 7:15 am

Note to self: Yes, you are in a wedding on Friday. Yes, the other bridesmaids have naturally smaller body types. Yes, you will be wearing a strapless dress in front of 80 people. Yes, if you found a magic lamp today, you’d be highly tempted to blow your wish for world peace in favor of more defined triceps.

BUT deep down you know the day isn’t about which bridemaid has the most toned arms. It’s not a day for judgments or comparisons or insecurities. The theme of the day is LOVE – the love between the bride and groom and the love their family and friends have for them.

Your job on Friday is to be the most helpful and supportive Maid (Matron?) of Honor that you can be. And you will not be letting a little body image blip get in the way of that all-important duty!

Note to self: Get in the spirit of love, starting with your own body!

What’s your “Note To Self” for today?

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