U.K. mom Hilary Freeman has stirred some major controversy with her now-viral op-ed for The Daily Mail. In the piece, Freeman decides not to send her daughter to a particular nursery school because of the “extremely overweight” teaching staff.
“The nursery assistant was clearly a lovely woman: kind and great with children. But as I watched her play with my two-year-old daughter, I felt a growing sense of unease,” Freeman wrote. “She was only in her 20s, but she was already obese — morbidly so. She moved slowly and breathlessly, her face flushed. Would she, I wondered, have the lightning reflexes needed to save an adventurous toddler from imminent danger?”
The rest of the essay delves into how — according to Freeman — there is a difference between body positivity and celebrating obesity. She noted that the school she was considering for her daughter employed several teachers who Freeman deemed to be “extremely overweight.” She worried about the message it would send her daughter to see these too-large bodies on a daily basis.
“I couldn’t help worrying about the message this was sending to the children in their care: that being very fat is normal and — when children adopt role models so readily — even desirable,” Freeman explained. “My anxiety about this was the main reason I chose not to send my daughter to that nursery, despite its Ofsted rating of ‘Good’. Instead, she goes to another, where the staff are all a healthy weight.”
According to Freeman, there is no difference between allowing obese people to walk around and have jobs in education and allowing people to smoke in front of children. She maintains that we should be allowed to talk about the health risks of obesity without being ostracized for it. (Which is kind of ironic when you think about it; she discriminated against someone for their weight by assuming they couldn’t do their job even though she admitted that the teacher was “great with children,” and yet she feels ostracized.)
The thing is, we all know that there are certain health risks that can coincide with obesity — and few are more aware of that than those who battle them every day. It seems that Freeman might just be forgetting the fact that there are many, many types of health risks that have nothing to do with one’s weight or size and can be completely hidden.
For instance, from the outside you may never know that an individual has dangerously high blood pressure or is struggling with addiction or has had a traumatic past or mental illness or diabetes. Freeman may argue that a person might not have control over those types of health conditions, but in some situations, neither does the individual who may be struggling with their weight either. What if the obesity is a direct result of depression brought on by childhood sexual abuse? What if it’s an undiagnosed medical condition? What if there is a mental health issue that is preventing the individual from exercising?
While Freeman certainly has the right to choose the perfect school for her child, an individual’s ability to perform their job is not defined by their appearance. A teacher’s assistant is just one individual in a much larger picture; one potential role model amongst dozens she will encounter throughout her studies. The body positive movement is not just about celebrating a wide range of body types, but about seeing beyond the superficial. Looking at that teacher and thinking, “I hope my daughter learns from her kindness,” not “She is obese and therefore incapable of teaching my daughter how to be anything other than obese.”
By Freeman’s own admission, the only real concern was for the teacher’s lack of “lightning reflexes.” Which only leads me to believe that she’s not looking for a teacher’s assistant, she’s looking for Spider-Man.
Freeman goes on to explain in her piece that she considers herself “a slim person with a fat person inside, wanting to burst out.” She has struggled with her weight for years after an under-active thyroid and a sedentary job resulted in rapid weight gain. Now a size 10, she credits daily exercise and a 1,500-calorie a day diet with her slimmer frame.
While Freeman’s experience would make many sensitive to others going through similar issues, she says that it only underlines the need for “tough love.” After all, if she can do it anyone can, right?
It should be stated that while Freeman, whom I corresponded with via email, did not wish to be interviewed, she did say that the original piece has been “misread and misunderstood so much” and that she will be writing a follow-up piece.