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The Skinny on Fat Kids and Aggression

Being fat sucks.  I can say that, because I’m not a size zero.  In fact my size is in the double digits.  Yet aside from a few imperfections, I’m pretty happy with the way I look.  It’s other people who have a problem with my body, or so it seems, based on the all the skinnified media we Americans consume.  That’s one of the great ironies of our culture; so many of us are so fat, yet if you lived far, far away and only read our magazines, you’d assume most of us have visible ribs and permanent lip-gloss (even the men).  If you’ve been fat since childhood, you know what society thinks of you and what a scientific study has just proven: fat kids are more likely to get picked on at school just because they’re fat.

Dr. Julie Lumeng and her team at the University of Michigan conducted a study, somewhat humorously titled, “Weight status as a predictor of being bullied in third through sixth grades,” to be published in the June issue of Pediatrics.  Lumeng discovered that “obese children are more likely to be bullied regardless of gender, race, socioeconomic status, social skills or academic achievement.”

This is not the first time researchers have linked obesity to bullying.  CBS News/The Associated Press reported on a Canadian study published in Pediatrics in 2004 with similar findings.  The research was conducted in 2002, surveying children ages 11-16.  The Canadian report found that obesity was not only more likely to make kids a target, but the perpetrators of bullying.  (The logic being, if you can’t beat ‘em, take your fat fists and beat ‘em.)  So basically, science has proven that fat kids of all ages are picked on and/or can be defensively aggressive because they’re fat.  That makes them… like all the other kids, right? 

Maybe not.  Lumeng’s findings suggest “parents of obese children rate bullying as their top health concern and past studies have shown that obese children who are bullied experience more depression, anxiety and loneliness.”  Depression and loneliness lead to emotional eating, and the circle continues.  But what about overweight adults who can’t seem to break that very cycle?  Are they being bullied about their weight by society at large?  (Ahem.)  Lumeng seems to think so.  “Because perceptions of children are connected to broader societal perceptions about body type, it is important to fashion messages aimed at reducing the premium placed on thinness and the negative stereotypes that are associated with being obese or overweight.”  Despite her anti-baby remarks, trainer Jillian Michaels agrees that fat people deserve to be rep’d positively in the media.

A friend of mine who’s been a “big girl” since childhood told me the one thing that made her want to lose some weight was finally loving her body in all of its fat glory.  Once she fully accepted herself, she felt like it was okay to want to be healthier.  Fat kids will only get fatter if they’re taught at a young age that they’re inherently worthless based on how they look, which will lead to more anger and frustration at school.  One way to curb bullying, it seems, is to teach kids to stop judging each other in such shallow ways.  Besides, if you’re nice to a fat kid, they’ll let you share their dessert.

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