Cancer or fat: which would you rather have?

Two new studies about the stigma of being a fat child in this country are sobering at best and depressing at worst.

No, worse than depressing. They're downright hideous. I cried for the children as I read these news reports. Not only for the fat kids, but the kids who were called fat even when they weren't. Because at school, there's really no difference.

Here's the opening paragraph of one news release from the
Associated Press:

Overweight children are stigmatized by their peers as early as age 3 and even face bias from their parents and teachers, giving them a quality of life comparable to people with cancer, a new analysis concludes.
The article goes on to say that

Youngsters who report teasing, rejection, bullying and other types of abuse because of their weight are two to three times more likely to report suicidal thoughts as well as to suffer from other health issues such as high blood pressure and eating disorders, researchers said.

"The stigmatization directed at obese children by their peers, parents, educators and others is pervasive and often unrelenting," researchers with Yale University and the University of Hawaii at Manatoa wrote in the July issue of Psychological Bulletin.

No wonder obesity kills.

I mean really- a quality of life similar to having cancer? What the hell is wrong with everybody? I can't imagine having to say I live in a culture where it's better to have cancer than be fat. Because hey- chemo makes you lose weight, right? That is so wrong.

I feel I could rant and rave for post after post after post about this, but I'd just turn myself into the Smooshy Faced Cat.
One of the authors of the study said this, perhaps one of the most disquieting continuing truths about fat prejudice:

"This is a form of bias that is very socially acceptable," Puhl said. "It is rarely challenged; it's often ignored."

This is the thing- you can't have "thin" be good without "fat" being bad. It was the same thing with the Nazis: if blonde-haired, blue-eyed children were "good", then somebody had to be "bad." And Hitler went about slaughtering 6 million people because of that. You can't have pretty without ugly, and thin without fat. So as long as thin is the epitome of good and wholesomeness and all the things that we're supposed to be, fat is going to be the opposite.

But what's the difference? What is the moral difference between fat and thin? It's no more than the moral difference between black and white. It's the number of fat cells; it's the amount of melanin in your skin. Black people are more likely to have health problems that whites, but that's not because of their skin color.

Get a grip, people. I do believe children should learn to love a wide variety of foods and physical activities. But not because they'll make you thin or keep you from becoming fat...just because they're fun.

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mary said...

Well said!

I recall visiting my aunt before cancer took her way and she said it was the worst diet she was ever on. She always felt too big being a tall statuesque woman with a booming voice. I always thought she was wonderful. [I think I inherited her mouth]

Toni said...

It's sad isn't it? Being of a certain, arbitrarily determined size, which someone else deems "too large" is an open invitation for abuse, ridicule, and mistreatment of every sort. It's one of the last few completely acceptable (for most) forms of discrimination in this country. It happens every day on TV, in the movies, even on the nightly news, and very few bother to question it. But any single argument I've heard or read about fat being "bad" - just substitute "black" or "gay" and people would see it for what it really is right away - HATE.

Darwin said...

Forgive me, if this is offensive, but I've always thought that in some ways eating disorders are actually a quite rational response to the enormous pressure that children are under to be thin. Speaking as someone who's lost around 90 lbs through diet and exercise, it never fails to enrage me how much better I'm treated as a thinner person as opposed to when I weighed more. I'm glad that I never developed an eating disorder in the course of my weight-loss (I only lost weight for health reasons - my knees hurt, and I don't have the will-power necessary to starve myself), but I completely understand why those poor pro-ED souls in the "support" communities might (in a way) love their EDs: the social stigma of obesity is just so great and so pervasive.

It makes me so angry. Love your blog.

carrie said...


No, actually, it doesn't make me angry at all.

The pressure to be "thin" and "healthy" was certainly one of the contributing environmental factors to my eating disorder. However, I do believe that EDs have a firm genetic and biological basis. Starving myself wasn't willpower- it was my brain freaking out and self-medicating.

My take on pro-ana is this: Anorexia is a very isolating disease. If a friend or loved one challenges Ed, they can't be a friend. Groups of "anas" won't challenge Ed and they do provide social support. Of sorts. And most of their propoganda is from mainstream dieting websites.

And you should be enraged about the prejudice out there. We all should. It's good- it means you're thinking.

carrie said...


You're right on about fat prejudice, especially in TV and movies. I hate HATE how they show the same old clips of fat people waddling down the street and eating hot dogs. It's like every time they had an issue involving African Americans and they showed someone in prison.

I'm glad to see that in shows like "Grey's Anatomy" they have strong female characters who look like women. They have plenty that don't, but it's a good start.

Willow said...

Smooshy faced cat... cute, but I can one up that... we have kittens! See my blog for pictures!

And, on the whole, I agree with your entry & the associated comments.

Sarah said...

wow. I was trying to think of something wise to say here, I just -- wow.

My therapist keeps asking me about my childhood and a lot of it is just gone, you know? I have very few memories. Kids are so easily hurt and the effects can persist for so long. This is a really sad story.

Jeanne said...

As someone who grew up being called "chubby" - most notably from her pediatrician! - even when she wasn't majorly overweight, I understand the stigma of being "fat." It's horrific - and worse, children are so susceptible to the comments, even if meant in a "healthful" way. Just look at mrs. h4h's mom...

carrie said...


Your kittens are definitely cute. I have a momma's love of her own kitty (not the smooshy faced one), however.


It's interesting what I remember of my childhood. It's almost fleeting images, impressions as much as memories. And those memories stick. And hurt.


I know the stigma when we were younger...I can't imagine what it would be like today.

Melanie said...

I'm going through your blog--so this comment is a bit late. :)

I've always been an obese person and I was always teased about it. I still get looks and muttered comments when I walk by people. I've had suicidal thoughts since at least age 10 or 11, still do. Struggling to stop self injuring after starting 5 years ago.

When I sixteen or so(am now 21), I was sent to an endocrinologist b/c my gp thought I had a thyroid problem(no period, hair falling out,etc). The guy didn't do a single test. He said, "Exercise more. Eat less and better." We(mom and I) told him I ate a variety of foods and while I wasn't athletic, I certainly was no couch potato. He called us both liars and made us leave. It was humiliating.

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Anonymous said...

unfortunatley i would rather have cancer than be called fat ever again. Being overweight has been nothing but an ongoing embarrasement and excuse to hide. At least if it were cancer, there would be empathy and sympathy. I think being a cow is the worst feelingn in the world.

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I'm a science writer, a jewelry design artist, a bookworm, a complete geek, and mom to a wonderful kitty. I am also recovering from a decade-plus battle with anorexia nervosa. I believe that complete recovery is possible, and that the first step along that path is full nutrition.

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