Harriet Brown on Weight Bullying by Parents

Image courtesy of Stocky Bodies

Image courtesy of Stocky Bodies

[Discussion of bullying and weight punishments; feel free to skip.]

Harriet Brown has a piece in the New York Times Well blog on “Feeling Bullied by Parents About Weight“:

Parents and other adults who are “only trying to help” may do harm rather than good, as a recent study from the journal Pediatrics makes clear.

It is a good discussion and I’m glad to see it.  At the same time, it can be upsetting to see things you’ve lived with discussed dispassionately. Dr Rebecca Puhl, from the fat-phobic Rudd Center, appears, as does Ellyn Satter.

“There still remains the widespread perception that a little stigma can be a good thing, that it might motivate weight loss,” said Dr. Puhl, a clinical psychologist. (Medical doctors, too, fall prey to this misconception.) But research done at the Rudd Center and elsewhere has shown that even well-intentioned commentary from parents and other adults can trigger disordered eating, use of laxatives and other dangerous weight-control practices, and depression.

Hells yes, y’all, parents can bully their fat children.  Or maybe you don’t want to call it “bullying.”  Maybe you want to call it teasing, belittling, or harassing.  Oh, here’s one: providing incentive.  Maybe buying your kids clothes that “will fit when you lose weight” instead of now, or pointing out that the fat kid gets different (less) food than the rest of the family, is just something that “has to be done” too.  No, it’s not.  It is abusive. And you should not be surprised if the kids you reject for being fat reject you in turn.

Kudos to Harriet for broaching a topic that many parents like to pretend doesn’t exist.  Also for common sense suggestions, including

¶ Don’t blame your child for his weight. […]

¶ Don’t engage in “fat talk,” complaining about weight and appearance, whether it’s your own, your child’s or a celebrity’s. [….]

¶ Don’t promise your child that if only he lost weight, he wouldn’t be bullied or teased. […]

¶ Don’t treat your child as if he has — or is — a problem that needs remedying. “This will make him feel flawed and inferior,” says Ellyn Satter, a dietitian and therapist in Madison, Wis., and author of “Your Child’s Weight: Helping Without Harming.” Instead, she suggests, focus on a child’s other good qualities, and encourage traits like common sense, character and problem-solving skills.

I would strongly recommend NOT reading the comments in the Times.