It's been a little while since I've written a post and I woke up this morning with child abuse on my mind. Specifically the kind endured by a fat child by family and peers. I hesitate to call it bullying because that seems so mild and unassuming. Abuse is a better word for the physical assaults, the verbal abuse, and more that kids, and even adults, go through.
I was thinking of that video that was going around not too long ago of a straight girl in a world where gay is the norm. Now, I know a lot of queer folks had a problem with the video but this queer woman thought it was moving and emotionally devastating. I also thought "huh, how well that would work for fat kids too". I don't think a lot of people realize how much fat kids have in common with queer kids in the face of abuse from peers and classmates and even family.
Of course, unlike being queer, I could never hide that I was fat. I managed to make it all the way through high school with no one knowing I wasn't straight, but fat? Oh, everyone could see that (of course, not everyone can hide their sexuality either and when I did finally come out I got plenty of people denying I existed or telling me I was just confused and to just be straight already).
The abuse started when I began to lose friends as I gained weight. Pre weight gain (and I gained weight very suddenly and quickly- the doctors guess it went along with my bipolar symptoms first showing up) I was popular. I was really popular. I had tons of friends and "boyfriends" and everyone wanted to hang out with me. I was the talk of the class and sometimes the school. As I gained weight though my friends dropped to a lonely zero. That's right, I went from being popular with everyone wanting to be my friend to not a friend in the world (until around 5th grade when another fat girl moved to my class and we became instant best friends). Can you imagine how lonely that is for a socially outgoing little girl? So first, I became isolated. I felt completely alone and part of nothing. I was that kid every teacher worried about.
Then the verbal and emotional abuse. Fatty fatty two by four. Fake love letters or boys asking me out just to laugh at me in class. Fat slob. Worthless. Fatty. Oh, how fatty was a favorite.
Then the assaults. Yes, I was assaulted multiple times. I was beat up, I had two kids, Linda and Jason Rhodes were their names, who used to follow me home from school on their bikes, as I walked, and threw stones and bricks at me. I ignored them thinking it would make them stop and because I didn't know how to face them. It never stopped.
So, at 10 years old, I attempted suicide for the first time. It failed and no one, not even my family, ever knew about it. I want everyone, everyone, to stop and think about that for a second. Do you know a kid around that age? Were your own kids once that age or about to be? Can you imagine a kid.. just a child.. feeling so hopeless, worthless, unloved, and unneeded that they felt they had to take their own life? Have you ever touched a child's coffin? Ever seen parents weep for a lost child? Ever been close to the victim of a suicide? Please take a moment to truly consider this. Let it seep into your psyche, let it touch your core. Even I have a hard time fathoming this and it happened to me.
As I got older and kids were exposed to more of the world (meaning more violence) I began to get threats. Death threats. Threats of physical violence. Being told to kill myself. Even told to video tape it so everyone could watch. I became a cutter, constantly suicidal without knowing how to get rid of that pain except through more pain. I developed an eating disorder. Vomiting after meals, starving myself, abusing diet pills (isn't all diet pill use an abuse of them really? They're such nasty little things), over exercising. Even at a size 12 I was still bullied. I still thought I was huge. I had my eating disorder ignored because I was fat which made it good. Good to have daily fainting spells. Good to nearly kill myself. Good to risk a heart condition. Good because I was trying to be thin, no matter what the consequences.
And I want to be clear that the abuse wasn't just at school. My aunts, who were my main caregivers, made me feel worthless, often made fun of me, or made comments on my weight, were unsupportive. I had nowhere to hide. Home was almost as bad as school. I had no one to turn to for help. Add to that that my home environment was also physically abusive and I was afraid all of the time. Afraid and alone.
I want to emphasize that my story is not original, it's not unique, it's not a special snowflake of experience. Things like this happen to fat kids again and again and again. Sometimes worse. Sometimes those kids do take their lives successfully and people say it was because of bullying but they never say what kind- fatphobic bullying. I'll say again that fat kids are often abuse in a number of ways- physically assaulted, chased home, beat up, living in fear. Verbally assaulted with names and cruelty that mimics or bests any domestic violence situation, verbal abuse to cut you down, to make you feel like nothing, worthless. Threats of violence, of rape - how about being told that your rape doesn't count because as a fatty you should feel lucky to have someone have sex with you? It happens. Being told to kill yourself. Sexual assault and harassment.
I love the new anti bullying programs across the country put in place to help and protect lgbt youth, I do. As someone who grew up as an lgbt youth and wishes I had the same protection as an adult, I think it's fantastic. But I think we have to remember that fat bullying is an old as anyone can remember and kids killing themselves (or attempting to) for being fat has been around just as long as lgbt suicide. But people want to put one on a pedestal and ignore the other. I'm not in any way trying to play the Oppression Olypics, but as someone who's both queer and fat, I feel I can speak on the similarities to a degree -lgbt bullying can and does go further. For example being kicked out of their homes, or even risk of homicide. However, with the escalation of the OBESITYEPIDEMICBOOGABOOGA, with kids being taken out of their homes for being fat, with one UK woman recently attacked on public transit for being fat, I feel like it is only getting worse and more dangerous for fat kids and fat adults. Let's not forget that fat adults face all of the same possible dangers that fat kids face.
I'm writing all of this with a heaviness in my heart that I can't seem to make go away. I wish I could just impress upon everyone the seriousness of fat hate. You can't hate someone thin and, mostly importantly, you can't hate someone healthy. Hate can kill and I mean that with every drop of seriousness that I can muster. Your fatphobia can kill. Innocent, beautiful children. Children aren't born hateful, they're taught it. Hate is far more of a choice than fat will ever be.