What being an overweight child taught me


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What being an overweight child taught me

I wasn’t accepted until I got boobs

For as long as I can remember, I’ve been tubby. Or husky. Or chubby. Or round. Whatever word you might use to spare a young child’s feelings, I’ve heard it. And it’s something that I’ve found very difficult to address up until now.

I was fat, okay?

Being a fat child is embarrassing. You become aware of your body as a tool to make people angry or sad, or even disgusted. I learnt from a young age that my body wasn’t just mine, but the property of everyone around me. Visits to family friends would almost inevitably begin with a comment about me ‘looking slim’ or having ‘lost some puppy fat’ – the absence of these words implying I was still as lumpy and unappealing as ever.

And that is what deeply troubles me about really addressing the problem (a problem I am in no way denying) of children being severely overweight or obese. The implication is that they must lose weight to please others, to make someone else happy, not themselves. It fucks you up.

The argument, I suppose, is that fat children are indicative of a fat society, of an obesity crisis in which parents endlessly stuff their kids with fast-food and sugary drinks. Fat kids will grow into fat adults, and we can only look upon them with sympathy and frustration. And children, as children often do, get the brunt of it. A mother making a snarky comment about an obese woman walking down the street translates to their child bullying another for being overweight. Because childhood fatness is such a taboo, we don’t do enough to tell fat children that they’re not a menace to society. The implication is always that if they just lost weight and looked like all the other kids, their problems would be solved.

Oh, Aunt Gertrude, I passed my Grade 5 violin! Oh. Oh. Sorry. No, nothing on the conforming-to-societal-norms-of-body-type yet

I certainly thought this way, even though I had plenty of other things to think about. I was top of the class, I was shy but sometimes funny, I played the violin. I went through obsessions with Harry Potter, W.I.T.C.H, Hannah Montana and everything we millennials now use to re-connect with our pre-Instagram, pre-Kardashian past. I wasn’t mercilessly bullied, but I carried with me the feeling that there was something intrinsically wrong with the way I was. I came from a middle-class household and ate healthily, if a lot. So why was I fat?

I love food – or at least I did, when I was a child. Now it’s a bit more love-hate. It was my coping mechanism, my way of burying intense sensitivity, yes, Dr. Psychoanalysis. But, also, I just really liked food. When I was five I told my mum I wanted to work in a donut factory. And no, she wasn’t a fat child, nor was my brother, my father or anyone among my close family and friends. I was the weird anomaly in a sea of skinny children from affluent families. I was part of that other, the one that comes up in Daily Mail articles and is accused of being a strain on the NHS – despite the fact I almost never had a cold and did not, in fact, drop dead of a heart attack at the age of nine.

Had my priorities set even as a teenager

My self-esteem was slowly but surely worn away by snide remarks. It was only when I hit puberty, becoming ‘curvy’ as opposed to just a child with a fat tummy, that I started to get the body positivity that I had been so sorely missing. There’s a community in having breasts and hips. Now, suddenly, society craves you, instead of seeing you as another sign of its failings. I wasn’t even technically overweight anymore – because I’d grown a couple inches and my fat had settled in places other than my gut. My body was still of interest, but for different reasons.

It’s good preparation for becoming a grown woman. Knowing that your body is already going to garner comments, it’s easy to adjust from ‘Ey, fatty boom-boom!’ to ‘Oi, you’ve got massive tits!’ You learn that you don’t exist in a vacuum. However smart or talented or friendly or funny you are, someone can always come along and reduce you to a dress size.

But why was I not taught to ignore these comments when I was a child? Why did it take me becoming an adult to realise that someone else’s stupid opinion does not define you? Why, in this wave of body positivity, of celebrating all kinds of bodies, however weak or strong, big or small, do fat children get left behind? Is bullying really the best way to improve the health of a generation? Of any one individual child?

It’s time to stop this hatred of fat kids. To stop exalting weight-loss like it’s better than getting a degree or winning a Nobel prize. To stop posting a photo of Josh Peck and Ryan Seacrest next to their school pictures and delighting in the fact that, thank god, those fat children grew into a trim and attractive adults. It’s time that we grew up and started treating fat children like impressionable, sensitive, wonderful, brilliant, intelligent children who just eat too much and exercise too little – not an offence to society.