Thursday, December 29, 2011

Breaking Our Children

I was going to write the usual type of holiday season post about not worrying that you may have gained a pound or ten during the season, but nothing was really working right.  I have figured out why.  Apparently, my Muse was wanting me to write a completely different blog today, and she was waiting to throw the perfect combination of inspirations in front of me.

A friend recently posted a link to a blog entry by Dan Pearce (also known as "Single Dad Laughing") about how parents should love their children as they are, and encourage them to grown and explore life rather than doing and saying things that break their child's spirit.  The situation that inspired his post had to do with a father who intimidated his child about behaviour, not weight, but the post still resonated with me in regards to other articles I've seen about parents who shame their overweight children.  Some do it in the hopes that it will encourage their child to lose weight, some just do it because they are cruel, but all of them do it in the mistaken belief that if their child's body doesn't fit a pre-determined set of numbers, their child has failed and their parenting skills are lacking.  Both of these assumptions are incorrect.

But what really got me thinking was an ad that I heard this morning on the radio as I drove in to work.  Amid the songs by Queen and The Clash, there came a commercial touting the life-changing benefits of the Slim for Life program.  I ignored it for the most part, except to occasionally make an ironic comment now and again to myself (since I was the only one in the vehicle at the time).  Then the Big Sell portion of the ad came on, and the announcer exclaimed in their most excited tone, "Kids get a free membership when their parent joins!!!"


*blink blink*

I'm sorry, WHAT did you just say?????

I actually had to process the words I had just heard for a few moments before they truly entered my mind.  Immediately following that moment I emitted a string of words that really should not be shared amongst polite company.  I can, however, boil the gist of them down for you:


This company that already preys on the low self-esteem endemic in adults that populate our society has now moved on to preying on children!!!  It's not bad enough that fat kids are already bombarded with thousands of messages every day saying that they are somehow substandard because they have a different body shape.  No, that's not bad enough at all!  Now we have to feed on that self-hatred and get it started at an even younger age by having the parents drag the children to Slim for Life appointments, have the parents say things like, "I'm spending the money on this program, so you need to really work to lose the weight." and "I'm managing to lose weight, how come you can't?  Are you cheating?"

Now parents who already feel worthless in our society and are terrified that their children will have to live with the same stigma will end up adding to the wounds that their children's psyches are already dealing with on a daily basis, and they will do it with the best of intentions.  They will do it with the hope that they will be sparing their child from teasing, from fat-hate, from having a harder time getting hired for a job, from a harder time finding a mate who is worthy of them.  They will do it with the words, "I don't want _________ to have to go through what I went through." 

But we all know what they say about the road to hell, right?

Good intentions of the parents aside, the fact that this company's management has decided to take this course of action, to promote this "special" as a viable program is sick and demented.  They aren't doing it because they're worried about children.  They aren't doing it with good intentions.  Plain and simple, they are doing it to make a buck.  Slim for Life has decided that if they can't get the Fatties in the door for themselves, if they can't get their hands on the Fatties' dollars even after all of their testimonials and ads, then by the GODS they will use GUILT as the prod!!!

"Quick!  Get in here and lose weight with your child!  Otherwise the whole world will see just what a rotten parent you are!!!"

That is the message that Slim for Life is selling, and it nauseates me.

Parents, please don't fall for this marketing scheme.  Please don't break your child that way.  Look at your child and tell them with all of the honesty and love in your heart that you love them just as they are, and that you think that they are beautiful just as they are.  Tell them that no matter how tall they get, how short they stay, how much they weigh, how long their hair is, how many piercings they end up getting, that you love them as they are and that they should love their body too.  Find ways to get them interested in being active if they already aren't, and encourage their activities if they already enjoy movement of some kind.  Make sure that your house has the healthiest foodstuffs that you can afford in the fridge and cupboards.  Let them have a candy bar or piece of cake without giving them the "you don't need that" look or speech.  Encourage them to have a piece of fruit or a salad if that's what they want.

Teach your children that listening to their own bodies is more important than listening to what other people say is right, that if their body is tired they should sleep, if it is hungry then they should eat, and that they should always remember how to play no matter how old they get.

Please don't call Slim for Life and sign your child up for their first official lessons in body shaming and fat hate.  Don't pay total strangers for the privilege of telling your child that they just aren't good enough and never will be unless they take the weight off and keep it off (which they only have a 5% chance of doing).

Love your children just as they are.  They already love you just as you are, so isn't it right to return that love without condition?

Let's stop breaking our children in so many ways.  They are beautiful, and they should continue to know that.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

An Open Letter to George Takei

Dear Mr. Takei:

The first thing that I would like to say to you is that I have been impressed by you for a very long time. I always enjoyed your work, and after I read your autobiography, I was impressed with the grace that you handled life especially considering the steps that you have had to take in order to achieve your goals so far.

That is why it is so hard for me to write this note today. It is never easy to find out that someone whom you admire is human and has faults. We are all aware of this in an intellectual way, but when it becomes so very clear that our hearts cannot help but discover it as well, the disappointment is always a shock to the system.

You see, Mr. Takei, I am fat. I came out of the Fat Closet when I was about 8 years old. I was on my first diet before I was 10. Unlike gays and lesbians, Fatties have no choice about coming out, because the whole world can see who and what we are, so the torture begins early and is vicious. I remember having to get on the scale in front of all of the other kids in my class when we did school physicals, and having my weight announced for all of the world to hear. I remember crying into my pillow, trying to smother the sound so that my parents wouldn't hear because while they are loving and caring people, it would have meant that my Mom would have me on another diet because that was all that she could think of that would "help" and the currently mounting evidence that dieting is more harmful than good was not available then. I remember walking up to my locker in high school and seeing fat epithets including words like "Moose" written all over it in black Sharpie marker.

I didn't go to my prom. No one was going to ask the fat girl.

I hoped that when I got out of high school and went to college that things would change, but they didn't.

I hoped that when I got into the work world things would change, but they didn't. I remember working for a mortgage company in their foreclosures/bankruptcy department. I was an excellent employee. Actually, I was such a good employee that I regularly trained other employees in the policies, procedures and laws relating to what we did in our department. When the Team Lead position came open, I applied because I believed that the fact that I had trained everyone in our department showed that not only did I know my stuff, but that I was a talented team builder and leader. I didn't get the position. As a matter of fact, the person who did get the position was someone I had trained only a few months before and who was new to the industry. What she had that I didn't was a small waist.

Mr. Takei, I have spent a large part of my life believing that I have no place in this world. I spent it believing that I was weak-willed, lazy, stupid and that any success I achieved was through accident rather than accomplishment. I truly believed for a time that the world would have been a better place without my presence, and that I had no right to joy or happiness or pride in myself or the things I'd done. And yes, Mr. Takei, there were thoughts that maybe I should remove myself from the world because of who and what I was. Thoughts that people would mourn but that overall they would be relieved that they wouldn't have to deal with me and my fat self any more, that they wouldn't have to be uncomfortable around me any more.

Does any of this sound familiar?

The kinds of thoughts and feelings that the gay and lesbian teenagers you fight for go through the heads of fat children too. Both groups are told on a constant basis that they CHOOSE to be that way, that the only reason they aren't conforming to societal norms is because they are flawed, weak, and that they want to be as they are. Both groups are shamed in front of others on a regular basis, and are seen as valid targets for abuse by peers and authority figures alike. Both groups have former members who are paraded about by those who believe that it is a choice, former members who loudly say, "I did it! Anyone can!"

Both groups have growing bodies of evidence supporting the fact that they do NOT choose to be as they are, that it is as hard-wired in us as having blue or brown eyes, or being short or tall.

Mr. Takei, you have always struck me as a man who cares passionately about fighting injustice, and with good reason considering what you and your family went through in World War II, and what you and the man you love have had to go through most of your adult lives. That is why it came as such a shock to me that you would seemingly just toss aside the concerns that were raised by Fatties on your Facebook page. I really believed that it was just a misunderstanding, that you just hadn't stopped to think about how what you said could be construed as advocating bullying of another targetted group. And then you posted another fat joke the next day.

I cannot adequately express how much this saddens me. I have looked to you as a role model in regards to what one person can do to help change the way that society in general feels, and then I felt betrayed. I hope that I am wrong. I hope that the others who are actively bringing this disparity to your attention are wrong. I hope that you will take the time to consider my words above, perhaps replace the word "fat" with the word "gay" and see if my story is so very different from that of some of the people that you advocate for, and then realize that those of us who are considered to be among the last remaining groups that it is acceptable to be prejudiced against should stick together. We understand each other, Mr. Takei, and we understand how deeply the words and actions of others can cut into the soul, whether the word is "fag" or "fat", there isn't that much difference between us.

I don't know if this message will even reach you, but I have to write it because I have discovered that I am NOT weak, I am NOT stupid or a waste of life, and I have done so against great odds. I have done so despite moments where that doubt returns, and I will continue to carry that discovery forward and do my best to share it with others who have gone or are going through the mental and emotional turmoil that I have survived. I think that you would understand that as well.

I hope that we can stand together against prejudice and hatred of all kinds, Mr. Takei. I would like that very much.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Antici....pation: Not Always The Lead-In to Dancing or Ketchup

Part of the Health at Every Size philosophy is that it is important to find a type of movement that you enjoy, and to make it a regular part of your life.  H@ES does not treat exercise as a punishment, you don't have a hooded figure standing over you with a lash to get your fat ass onto a treadmill because you ate that slice of chocolate cake and DESERVE to be punished.  That's not how it works.  You ate the slice of chocolate cake because it tasted good, and you wanted it, and you stopped when you didn't want any more.  The treadmill and that cake have nothing to do with each other.

So therein lies my problem.  I have a hard time finding movement that I actually enjoy doing.  Well, that's not really true.  I have lots that I enjoy doing when I'm actually doing it, but I don't anticipate doing it.  The distinct lack of anticipation makes it really hard to get myself out there and doing movement.  Once I'm on the treadmill, in the pool, doing yoga, or Wii / Kinecting, I actually enjoy it.  But when I think about doing it, I find all of the excuses possible to put it off.  I don't want to go in the morning, because I hate getting up any earlier than I have to.  I don't want to go after work because it has already been a long day and if I go to the gym after work, I won't get home til around 8 or 9 p.m. since I get out of work around 6.  I don't take a lunch, so that is out.  Even if I do manage to convince myself that I WILL do something after work, the truck takes over and drives straight home rather like a horse returning to the barn for evening feeding time.  Then I walk in the door and instead of doing one of the many options at home for movement, I find myself diving right into cooking dinner then a little housework, then onto the computer and oh my goodness it can't be bedtime already!

I think that is the problem for a lot of people who are trying to find their way to a healthy lifestyle.  It isn't living the lifestyle itself that is the problem, it is finding the energy to make the changes necessary to be healthy.  They always have the option to actively choose to not be healthy, and for those who do choose that option, it is not my place to judge them to be right or wrong.  Your body, your call, that's how that works.  No one has the right to tell someone else that they HAVE to live a healthier life.  But for those who want to do so and can't seem to manage it, life can get frustrating.

Have you ever wanted something so badly but found yourself finding excuses not to try for it?  Don't tell me that you haven't, because everyone does it at some point in their life.  Some people find their way around that roadblock, but some are stuck there, trying to peek around or over it to see what is on the other side, never able to get a good enough handhold to pull themselves past.  That is really bad enough, but then you get the Helpful People, who truly believe that "Anyone can do it!  Look at me!" and commence with the inspirational stories about how Aunt Millie was so out of shape that she couldn't take five steps without a respirator, but she pulled herself up by the bootstraps and just finished her fifteenth tri-athalon yesterday!  In a more detached moment I can appreciate that they are a Helpful Person, who is trying really hard to just Be Helpful.  They aren't doing it to be cruel or to make light of the roadblock, they really feel that it is just a case of mind over matter.

For some that works.  Watching back to back to back episodes of "The Biggest Loser" may actually get some people out there, moving and eating better.  (Let's not debate the merits and drawbacks of that show now, folks.  I understand that a lot of the Fatosphere hates the training methods and lack of follow-through that the show offers, not to mention the completely unrealistic circumstances that the contestants find themselves in.  Not many of us can quit our jobs for 6 months and focus on exercising for 4 to 8 hours per day, not that this would be a healthy thing to do anyway.  I get it.  Different column there, though!)  But if the inspiration is there for you, and it works for you, that is awesome!  Unfortunately, not everything works the same way for everyone. 

Hey...isn't that rather like the fact that not every BODY is the same?  So while some can lose weight following the adage of "Calories in should be fewer than calories out.", other people's bodies don't work that way.  And while some people can get up off the couch, start walking today, and do a marathon next month, not every body works that way.  While some people can say, "Tomorrow I'm going to start getting up at 5 a.m., go to the gym, and then go to work every day." and accomplish that goal, not everyone has it that easy.

And so we find ourselves back where I started:  wanting to move, and yet not wanting to move. 

I can hear you now, oh Faithful Readers.  You are saying, "Ummmmm...Lys?  You typed all of that out only to end up where you started?  What was the point of all of this, then, anyway???"

The point is that this is something that no one can really help me with, and really, it is something that no one can help ANYONE with.  You can't decide that your husband, your wife, your child or your great aunt thrice removed on your mother's father-in-law's side should be exercising more.  You can't push them to go find something active to do and use guilt or bullying to achieve that.  You can't hit them with Helpful Advice or Inspirational Stories until they fall to their knees and beg for mercy.  For a large number of people, these kinds of things only lead to that rebellious voice in the back of their mind telling them, "If they're so gung-ho about exercising, let THEM go do it. We aren't going to be pushed into ANYTHING!  Here...let's sit on the couch and watch cartoons.'

So if you really want to show your love and caring for the person in your life who is dealing with this dilemma, let them know that you are there for them.  Tell them that you support them in whatever they decide to do.  Encourage them to make their own choices, to explore their own options, and to be happy with themselves as they are.  Being happy with yourself as you are doesn't preclude making changes, it doesn't mean giving up as some folks would like us to think.  Being happy with yourself is just that...being happy.  Be happy with yourself when you are moving, be happy with yourself when you are watching another episode of "Top Chef".  Be happy with yourself, love yourself, and you will end up surprising yourself because we are much more likely to take good care of the things that we like and to ignore the things that we don't like.

Now, here I sit, finishing typing this and looking at the clock.  It is late, I am tired.  I will not get up early tomorrow and go to the gym.  I know this without question.  I think, though, that I'm one step closer to getting my head into the right place to start anticipating movement.  I hope so.  I want to feel happy with moving, I want to have the breath control that will let me sing more than a measure and a half without needing to gasp for air.  I want to feel good when I move.  I haven't felt that in a while now.

Yeah...getting closer.  I hope that you are closer to being happy with yourself too.  Because between you and me, I believe that you are pretty damned awesome right now, just as you are, and that if you choose to make changes in your life, then you will still be pretty damned awesome but will just be PDA in a different flavour than you are now.  So you go, you Neopolitan Wonder, you!  See you on the Happy, Awesome Side!