This article was inspired by Jason’s comment on my last article (Food and Emotions) – where he spoke of his experiences as a child. His experiences echoed mine and I feel it is necessary to discuss the issue of weight-based bullying today.
It’s nothing new to suggest that the obese are bullied and ridiculed. Shamefully, society in general tends to accept this as ‘normality’ and does little to address it.
We attest to despising bullying but appear to normalise it in every facet of social interaction or commentary. Watch any children’s programme and you will always see a bully character. You will see him or her verbally or physically abusing the weaker and fatter children; intimidating them or stealing their lunch money. But this behaviour does not cause significant outrage or disgust among the Public – I have never seen a mass protest against the bullying of obese children nor have I ever seen headlines devoted to the severity of weight-based bullying on the wellbeing of victims.
What is more shocking is the notion that the obese child ‘brings it on themselves’ and there are columnists that willingly support this notion (although I will refrain from naming them at this stage). This is shocking as the child is told that it is THEIR fault they are being bullied and it is THEIR fault they are suffering. This type of blame transference and rhetoric is exactly what happens in domestic abuse cases. Domestic abusers will tell their victims it is THEIR fault that they were hit and that THEY deserve this treatment as THEY have failed. I beg the question then, why do we ignore the similarities between the two and why are we not doing anything?
Children today are more interconnected than ever before. Bullying in the past was contained within the playground or classroom. Now children can be bullied twenty-four hours a day through texts, facebook, twitter, email, ask.fm and xbox live. With anonymity people are often more visceral and derogatory – the lack of repercussions allows people to engage in behaviours that would prosecuted outside of the internet. For example recently there was a Twitter campaign hash-tagging #FatShame. The Fat Shamers would take photos of overweight people and share them on Twitter with the aim to ‘shame them into losing weight’. This constant barrage of abuse for being overweight reinforces negative stereotypes and further perpetuates self-hate. There is no respite from abuse.
This constant bullying and impotence in addressing the issue of weight-based bullying further fuels the obesity epidemic too. Eating is for many obese people a crutch or a way to anaesthetize the pain – you may reach for the alcohol in later life, but young children can only reach for sweets and crisps. I am testament to that.
But something can and must be done. I urge parents, siblings, friends, teachers and anyone who sees or thinks an obese child is suffering from bullying to approach them with compassion. They need the support and kindness of their elders. Forget about their size, their weight does not define the person inside. If you removed the excess weight, the emotional problems would still persist. Instead of seeing overeating as gluttony, greed or something to be condemned view it instead as a signal. Overeating in times of plenty is not necessary and it is often indicative of some significant underlying issue.
Overweight children should not be made to suffer in silence during the most amazing and influential years of their lives. We are failing as adults if we do not do more to help them and protect them from the individuals who want to hurt them.
As usual I’d like to hear your thoughts on this.
On a side note – Thanks to all the comments on my other post! genuinely appreciated.