These 3 stories show how we're subconsciously teaching children to be fatphobic.

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:

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Little did he know that she would successfully become all three: an award-winning biomedical and mechanical engineer who performs cutting-edge medical research and has started multiple companies.

Bhatia holds an M.D. from Harvard University, an M.S. in mechanical engineering from MIT, and a PhD in biomedical engineering from MIT. Bhatia, a Wilson professor of engineering at MIT, is currently serving as director of the Marble Center for Cancer Nanomedicine, where she's working on nanotechnology targeting enzymes in cancer cells. This would allow cancer screenings to be done with a simple urine test.

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"They made enormous sacrifices to pick a town with great public schools and really push us to excel the whole way," Bhatia says. "They really believed in us, but they expected excellence. The story I like to tell about my dad is like, if you brought home a 96 on a math test, the response would be, 'What'd you get wrong?'"

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I know, I know, it sounds like a conspiracy theory, but that's exactly what e-cigarette brands like JUUL (which corners the e-cigarette market) are doing in this country right now, and young people are on the frontlines of the fallout. Most people assume that the government would have looked at devices that allow people to inhale unknown chemicals into their lungs BEFORE they hit the market. You would think that someone in the government would have determined that they are safe. But nope, that hasn't happened. And vape companies are fighting to delay the government's ability to evaluate these products.

So no one really knows the long-term health effects of e-cigarette use, not even JUUL's CEO, nor are they informing the public about the potential risks. On top of that, according to the FDA, there's been a 78% increase in e-cigarette usage among high school and middle school-aged children in just the last two years, prompting the U.S. Surgeon General to officially recognize the trend as an epidemic and urge action against it.

These facts have elicited others to take action, as well.

Truth Initiative, the nonprofit best known for dropping the real facts about smoking and vaping since 2000 through its truth campaign, is now on a mission to confront e-cigarette brands like JUUL about the lack of care they've taken to inform consumers of the potential adverse side effects of their products. And they're doing it with the help of animal protesters who are tired of seeing humans treated like test subjects.

The March Against JUUL | Tested On Humans | truth www.youtube.com

"No one knows the long-term effects of JUULing so any human who uses one is being used as a lab rat," says, appropriately, Mario the Sewer Rat.

"I will never stop fighting JUUL. Or the mailman," notes Doug the Pug, the Instagram-famous dog star.

Truth, the national counter-marketing campaign for youth smoking prevention, hopes this fuzzy, squeaky, snorty animal movement arms humans with the facts about vaping and inspires them to demand transparency from JUUL and other e-cigarette companies. You can get your own fur babies involved too by sharing photos of them wearing protest gear with the hashtag #DontTestOnHumans. Here's some adorable inspo for you:

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Photo by Lindsay Fox/Pixabay

Consumers have a right to know what they're putting in their bodies. If everyone (and their pets) speaks up, the e-cigarette industry will have to make a change. Young people are already taking action across the country. They're hosting rallies nationwide and on October 9 as part of a National Day of Action, young people are urging their friends and classmates to "Ditch JUUL." Will you join them?

For help with quitting e-cigarettes, visit thetruth.com/quit or text DITCHJUUL to 88709 for free, anonymous resources.

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