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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When Sue Hoppin was in college, she met the man she was going to marry. "I was attending the University of Denver, and he was at the Air Force Academy," she says. "My dad had also attended the University of Denver and warned me not to date those flyboys from the Springs."

"He didn't say anything about marrying one of them," she says. And so began her life as a military spouse.

The life brings some real advantages, like opportunities to live abroad — her family got to live all around the US, Japan, and Germany — but it also comes with some downsides, like having to put your spouse's career over your own goals.

"Though we choose to marry someone in the military, we had career goals before we got married, and those didn't just disappear."

Career aspirations become more difficult to achieve, and progress comes with lots of starts and stops. After experiencing these unique challenges firsthand, Sue founded an organization to help other military spouses in similar situations.

Sue had gotten a degree in international relations because she wanted to pursue a career in diplomacy, but for fourteen years she wasn't able to make any headway — not until they moved back to the DC area. "Eighteen months later, many rejections later, it became apparent that this was going to be more challenging than I could ever imagine," she says.

Eighteen months is halfway through a typical assignment, and by then, most spouses are looking for their next assignment. "If I couldn't find a job in my own 'hometown' with multiple degrees and a great network, this didn't bode well for other military spouses," she says.

She's not wrong. Military spouses spend most of their lives moving with their partners, which means they're often far from family and other support networks. When they do find a job, they often make less than their civilian counterparts — and they're more likely to experience underemployment or unemployment. In fact, on some deployments, spouses are not even allowed to work.

Before the pandemic, military spouse unemployment was 22%. Since the pandemic, it's expected to rise to 35%.

Sue eventually found a job working at a military-focused nonprofit, and it helped her get the experience she needed to create her own dedicated military spouse program. She wrote a book and started saving up enough money to start the National Military Spouse Network (NMSN), which she founded in 2010 as the first organization of its kind.

"I founded the NMSN to help professional military spouses develop flexible careers they could perform from any location."

"Over the years, the program has expanded to include a free digital magazine, professional development events, drafting annual White Papers and organizing national and local advocacy to address the issues of most concern to the professional military spouse community," she says.

Not only was NMSN's mission important to Sue on a personal level she also saw it as part of something bigger than herself.

"Gone are the days when families can thrive on one salary. Like everyone else, most military families rely on two salaries to make ends meet. If a military spouse wants or needs to work, they should be able to," she says.

"When less than one percent of our population serves in the military," she continues, "we need to be able to not only recruit the best and the brightest but also retain them."

"We lose out as a nation when service members leave the force because their spouse is unable to find employment. We see it as a national security issue."

"The NMSN team has worked tirelessly to jumpstart the discussion and keep the challenges affecting military spouses top of mind. We have elevated the conversation to Congress and the White House," she continues. "I'm so proud of the fact that corporations, the government, and the general public are increasingly interested in the issues affecting military spouses and recognizing the employment roadblocks they unfairly have faced."

"We have collectively made other people care, and in doing so, we elevated the issues of military spouse unemployment to a national and global level," she adds. "In the process, we've also empowered military spouses to advocate for themselves and our community so that military spouse employment issues can continue to remain at the forefront."

Not only has NMSN become a sought-after leader in the military spouse employment space, but Sue has also seen the career she dreamed of materializing for herself. She was recently invited to participate in the public re-launch of Joining Forces, a White House initiative supporting military and veteran families, with First Lady Dr. Jill Biden.

She has also had two of her recommendations for practical solutions introduced into legislation just this year. She was the first in the Air Force community to show leadership the power of social media to reach both their airmen and their military families.

That is why Sue is one of Tory Burch's "Empowered Women" this year. The $5,000 donation will be going to The Madeira School, a school that Sue herself attended when she was in high school because, she says, "the lessons I learned there as a student pretty much set the tone for my personal and professional life. It's so meaningful to know that the donation will go towards making a Madeira education more accessible to those who may not otherwise be able to afford it and providing them with a life-changing opportunity."

Most military children will move one to three times during high school so having a continuous four-year experience at one high school can be an important gift. After traveling for much of her formative years, Sue attended Madeira and found herself "in an environment that fostered confidence and empowerment. As young women, we were expected to have a voice and advocate not just for ourselves, but for those around us."

To learn more about Tory Burch and Upworthy's Empowered Women program visit https://www.toryburch.com/empoweredwomen/. Nominate an inspiring woman in your community today!

In the autumn of 1939, Chiune Sugihara was sent to Lithuania to open the first Japanese consulate there. His job was to keep tabs on and gather information about Japan's ally, Germany. Meanwhile, in neighboring Poland, Nazi tanks had already begun to roll in, causing Jewish refugees to flee into the small country.

When the Soviet Union invaded Lithuania in June of 1940, scores of Jews flooded the Japanese consulate, seeking transit visas to be able to escape to a safety through Japan. Overwhelmed by the requests, Sugihara reached out to the foreign ministry in Tokyo for guidance and was told that no one without proper paperwork should be issued a visa—a limitation that would have ruled out nearly all of the refugees seeking his help.

Sugihara faced a life-changing choice. He could obey the government and leave the Jews in Lithuania to their fate, or he could disobey orders and face disgrace and the loss of his job, if not more severe punishments from his superiors.

According to the Jewish Virtual Library, Sugihara was fond of saying, "I may have to disobey my government, but if I don't, I would be disobeying God." Sugihara decided it was worth it to risk his livelihood and good standing with the Japanese government to give the Jews at his doorstep a fighting chance, so he started issuing Japanese transit visas to any refugee who needed one, regardless of their eligibility.

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