Note: this post was inspired by a Facebook comment by one of my best friends in life about the fat shaming her child/ren have been forced to deal with at the hands of other kids.
Kids aren’t simply cruel. They’re the very best and very worst of whatever any human could ever be. No, this doesn’t mean that this applies to all kids or that I am an authority on what is “best” or “worst” – but as a former kid who was constantly attacked for her physical appearance, I can tell you that my understanding of people grew more between the ages of 0-12 than it ever has since.
The want to marginalize someone else for being different is horribly pervasive in our society. People – kids – do it for all kinds of reasons. To be popular, to blend in with others doing it, to make sure they’re not the ones getting picked on, but what it ultimately does is subjugate someone else. The struggle society layers on everyone is one of power. Kids, in particular, want to feel powerful in a world where the majority of their routine is mandated by someone else.
For overweight kids, the subjugation is not just every once in a while – it’s monthly, weekly, daily. It doesn’t seem to matter that society is getting collectively larger. The understanding around weight, appearance and size is still an overly simplified one: you are fat (and know that this moniker can apply to kids across a spectrum), you did this to yourself somehow, you deserve to be diminished. The saddest part in all of this is the perpetrators. While not wholly innocent (there is, in my mind, a base understanding of right and wrong and an intuitive barometer of others’ feelings… at even our earliest ages), kids are still kids. I agree that most kids learn behaviors and language from those closest to them, but there’s another dynamic at hand here that’s informed by the sheer volume of bullying and ridicule I personally faced as a kid: society is the other influential parent. All of society is the other perpetrator.
What does that mean? It means kids are learning, above and beyond their families attempts at teaching, that to fat shame others is somehow ok. The usual suspects feeding into this include TV, film, media and social media. But there are all of the other nuanced places where kids are likely picking up cues as to the non-ok-ness of a larger weight or size. Mannequins at the mall, company logos, descriptions of characters in their favorite books, who is and isn’t popular in class, etc. In addition to popular media’s assault on size (particularly for females), all of the other “teachers” are in front of kids’ eyes and whispering in their ears on an almost hourly basis.
I won’t take parents and families out of the equation or divorce them from their responsibility in cultivating amazing and kind and productive little humans, but the conversation around building self-esteem is a far broader one. For those who crave power will (in my experience) always crave it – and this singular issue puts every single kid in jeopardy. Not just the kids who don’t fit the standardized mold – all kids. When we, as a society, champion power and dominance over empathy, understanding, and basic respect and civility, we fail. The self-fulfilling prophecy – which appears to be proliferating already – is one where kids no longer pin their basic person to confidence and character, but one where they simply want to be “better” than the next person. In this model, kids run the risk of having no identity, no anchor, and no self-built sense of confidence.
Not much has changed since I was forced to navigate grade-school meanness at Devon Aire Elementary; however, it appears to me that the frequency and relentless march toward inflating peoples’ egos (even the tiniest ones) in favor of power and at the sacrifice of someone else is something that has grown exponentially. The horribly mean child isn’t just destroying the kid next door by calling them “fat” (or any other ill-perceived label). He/she is destroying themselves.
We have a collective responsibility to build. The same cannot be said for destruction.
A new favorite link to share: http://allbodiesrejoice.tumblr.com/