I was The Fat Girl™ growing up.

Nearly every school and class has one because fatphobia is about normalizing hierarchy and social control. No matter what the relative weight or size spread of the group, there's always a biggest kid.

Recently I was talking to a group of teenage girls for their high school's Women of Color Speakers Series. I talked a lot about what it was like being TFG.


Fatphobia shows up in a lot of different ways, and those ways change over a person's lifetime. Most people only think of stigma as the "moment of impact" — the moment when one person treats another person in a cruel or violent way because of who they are. But stigma is never just those moments; it can happen without the conscious intent of another person and can often seem harmless.

Children in particular are encouraged to assimilate into our ways of knowing and doing, which aren't always awesome — especially when it comes to fatphobia.

Here are some examples of fatphobia that occur in childhood to help illuminate the nuance of it:

1. Exclusively casting fat children as elders, foils, or villains in plays and productions.

Every fall from age 5 to 12, it came time to rehearse the Christmas play at my Pentecostal church. Each year, the plot was a little different but often included a beautiful girl, a boy hero, and a lesson about humility or the true meaning of Christmas. Every year, I, like most of my friends, really wanted a lead part. As hard as I tried, practiced, rehearsed, or memorized, I knew I wasn't the kind of kid who could ever be cast as a lead — because I was fat.

That didn't stop me from wishing, but each time it fell through, I kicked myself for having wanted something so unattainable.

The last time I was in the Christmas pageant, I was cast as Monica, a third-wheel loser who went around chasing the hottest boy in church as he barely tolerated my advances. I was proud of this role because, unlike previous years, I got several lines. For some reason, I was also dressed like a huge bell the entire time. I liked that I made people laugh, but I didn't have the intellectual tools to understand that they were laughing at the familiarity of the insulting trope.

When fat children are consistently cast as the same type of character, we are sending them (and everyone else) a message about what is possible, who deserves to be visible, what heroes (and villains) look like, and who is worthy of positive representation and outcomes.

2. Monitoring how fat children eat.

Science says that children are often hungry. They like the stuff they've seen popularized on television. They like sugar and starchy stuff because it's delicious but also because they're growing. As a child, I was on the receiving end of differential treatment in both directions — sometimes being encouraged to eat less than my smaller peers or being served twice or three times the amount of food without any indication from me that I wanted that.

It's important to recognize that no matter the size of a child, they have the right to have judgment-free eating experiences.

3. Asking fat children to ignore hateful language and behavior.

Children can understand notions like justice and community and are natural self-advocates.

We teach marginalized children to be disempowered. This is facilitated by adults' and peers' sense that certain types of anti-social behavior are normal. Because of our own cultural education, we don't see certain manifestations of sexism ("boys will be boys," especially if they're white boys), fatphobia, and ableism, for example, as a "big deal."

Furthermore, we are sometimes unknowingly committed to the hierarchies that are maintained through anti-social behavior because we see them play out in our own lives.

At school, it is the targeted child's job to self-resolve hateful language and behavior. This sets up the victim-blaming mentality that fat children carry into adulthood. It's never OK when someone targets someone because of their body size. Older children, peers, and adults can help develop easy-to-remember scripts and create communities of accountability where adults and teachers are not the only people capable of mediation or resolution.

There’s this belief that bigger children are more adult-like and can therefore withstand more emotionally or physically.

This is dehumanization and stigma, plain and simple. Childhood is not determined by how small or large a child is. Children — no matter what their size or what they've been taught about their size — deserve to be treated with care and responsibility, free from the stigma we grew up knowing.

This story originally appeared on Ravishly and is reprinted here with permission. More from Ravishly:

Photo by Picsea on Unsplash
True

It is said that once you've seen something, you can't unsee it. This is exactly what is happening in America right now. We have collectively watched the pot of racial tension boil over after years of looking the other way, insisting that hot water doesn't exist, pretending not to notice the smoke billowing out from every direction.

Ignoring a problem doesn't make it go away—it prolongs resolution. There's a whole lot of harm to be remedied and damage to be repaired as a result of racial injustice, and it's up to all of us to figure out how to do that. Parents, in particular, are recognizing the importance of raising anti-racist children; if we are unable to completely eradicate racism, maybe the next generation will.

How can parents ensure that the next generation will actively refuse to perpetuate systems and behaviors embedded in racism? The most obvious answer is to model it. Take for example, professional tennis player Serena Williams and her husband, Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian.

Keep Reading Show less
via Jody Danielle Fisher / Facebook

Breast milk is an incredibly magical food. The wonderful thing is that it's produced by a collaboration between mother and baby.

British mother Jody Danielle Fisher shared the miracle of this collaboration on Facebook recently after having her 13-month-old child vaccinated.

In the post, she compared the color of her breast milk before and after the vaccination, to show how a baby's reaction to the vaccine has a direct effect on her mother's milk production.

Keep Reading Show less
Photo by Picsea on Unsplash
True

It is said that once you've seen something, you can't unsee it. This is exactly what is happening in America right now. We have collectively watched the pot of racial tension boil over after years of looking the other way, insisting that hot water doesn't exist, pretending not to notice the smoke billowing out from every direction.

Ignoring a problem doesn't make it go away—it prolongs resolution. There's a whole lot of harm to be remedied and damage to be repaired as a result of racial injustice, and it's up to all of us to figure out how to do that. Parents, in particular, are recognizing the importance of raising anti-racist children; if we are unable to completely eradicate racism, maybe the next generation will.

How can parents ensure that the next generation will actively refuse to perpetuate systems and behaviors embedded in racism? The most obvious answer is to model it. Take for example, professional tennis player Serena Williams and her husband, Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian.

Keep Reading Show less
Photo by Mahir Uysal on Unsplash

Two years ago, I got off the phone after an interview and cried my eyes out. I'd just spent an hour talking to Tim Ballard, the founder of Operation Underground Railroad, an organization that helps fight child sex trafficking, and I just couldn't take it.

Ballard told me about how the training to go undercover as a child predator nearly broke him. He told me an eerie story of a trafficker who could totally compartmentalize, showing Ballard photos of kids he had for sale, then switching gears to proudly show him a photo of his own daughter on her bicycle, just as any parent would. He told me about how lucrative child trafficking is—how a child can bring in three or four times as much as a female prostitute—and how Americans are the industry's biggest consumers.

Keep Reading Show less

Believe it or not, there has been a lot of controversy lately about how people cook rice. According to CNN, the "outrage" was a reaction to a clip Malaysian comedian Nigel Ng posted as one of his personas known as Uncle Roger.

It was a hilarious (and harmless) satire about the method chef Hersha Patel used to cook rice on the show BBC Food.


Keep Reading Show less