Thinking through our culture of pediatric fatphobia, via Virginia Sole-Smith's new book, Fat Talk
I was a slightly chubby kid in a family of extremely thin people, and at the age of 10 or 11, I was told that I was borderline fat and should endeavor not to increase further in size. I didn’t know how to do that, and it set off a decade plus of extreme self torture. First anorexia and compulsive exercising, then laxative abuse, then full blown vomit bulimia, then binge eating. It kind of ruined my life. I still don’t really trust my parents or my siblings. It exposed the underlying sociopathy of society at an age when I still needed to believe that people truly cared. Don’t do this to your kids, folks!
I’m 56 and never raised a child but I teach traditional-aged college students: I read this book with the idea that it could improve my ability to reach/teach Gen Z. I’ve just had two copies sent to two young friends (early 30s), mothers of young girls. Last night I had dinner with one of them and two other couples: there were five children under four at the table. My friend shared that her 4-yr-old came home from school and said, “My teacher says donuts are bad.” Another mother at the table has a 7-mo-old who’s at the 95th percentile for weight. The pediatrician quizzed her hard about feeding—is she using formula or any solid food yet? Nope, just breast milk. This child is a package—the most smiley healthy cherubic baby you could imagine. And the mother is a physician’s assistant by training. There were more stories and I was like, Wow, this is ALL in the book. I feel a sense of urgency to share it with parents.
One thing I will say is that I wanted a more pointed (scathing?) critique of capitalism and what it has done to the complex systems that determine health or the lack of it, and this includes food, but not just food. In the same way that fat is coded as a failure of the individual in our fatphobic individualistic system, so are we also expected to make individual choices to push back against the corporate erosion of our life-sustaining systems and networks. The social justice dimension of this problem cannot be overstated. Most readers of this book will be relatively knowledgeable and resourced people with some margin of resistance. Health, in every sense of the word, should be, but is not, a basic human right in this country.
In education this idea of “deviation is not deviance” is critical when we consider how to equitably educate children who come with all different kinds of minds and cultural backgrounds. The way we think about bodies has lagged sadly behind this. I’ve learned and continue to learn so much from Virginia Sole-Smith’s work (my husband and I are slowly book-clubbing it, as we also have a young child). Grateful for this post, for those who are considering diving in.
Here's my tweet from 2021: "I wonder if soon (if this is not already happening) meds will be recommended to so-called normal wt people to prevent future weight gain." Unfortunately I was prescient.
as always delighted with your text, kate. cant wait for your book to be published
I’ve considered your first two books helpful in my second-half-of-life attempt to become a better human being (and have frequently claimed they ought to be part of a grade school curriculum), and I have the same expectation of the third.
It is inspiring to see these topics addressed by a proper philosopher.
Is “fatphobia” the right word? What you are describing is more of a loathing of or disdain for fat people, not a fear of them. It’s like gynophobia versus misogyny, the former being a fear of women and the latter being a loathing or hatred of women. I’m sure one can find people who actually fear fat people but isn’t the far larger problem a loathing of fat people? By using “phobia,” it’s easy for people to dismiss concerns with, “I don’t fear fat people. So that term obviously doesn’t even apply to me.”
We have a four-month old baby, and I’ve been really struck by all the fatphobia surrounding the eternal debate about breastfeeding vs. formula.
Breastfeeding is great. But the idea that you are “dooming” your child to a life of struggle with weight gain if you give your baby formula is so intense. I’ve heard it from friends and family.
(I think I remember Virginia Sole-Smith writing about this somewhere!)
Kids are not just prone to fatness.. it’s not genetic. Genetics account for like 10 extra pounds not obesity! Why are more and more children and adults obese today?? More than half the population?! Doctors are not fatphobic they’re trying to steer the majority of the population away from the long list of weight related Illnesses.
Mikhaila Peterson eventually found remission from her health issues through what she labeled the 'lion diet' where she eats meat (beef/lamb) and drinks water. I used something similar to put my T2D in remission. Even though we eat a similar diet, we look very different! 😅 Diversity is a thing!