Tuesday, September 10, 2013

National Suicide Awareness Week

So, how many times can I write about my past suicide attempts without becoming repetitious? How many times can I lament about the number of people who attempt or complete suicide because of bullying? How many times can I repeat myself that self harm is often a second away from a slit wrist? I'll tell you how many times: not enough. It's National Suicide Awareness Week and that time of year that I talk about suicide and bullying and self harm and  yes, weight stigma. Because weight stigma is the number one cause of bullying at school. And we know that kids who are fat or even perceive themselves as fat are more at risk for depression, self injury, suicide attempts, anxiety, eating disorders, and more. So talking about weight during National Suicide Awareness Week seems pretty important considering fat kids are more likely to be bullied and attempt suicide.

The kicker here is how many people use these things as justification for more weight stigma. They say that being fat is unpleasant and therefore people should get thin for their own mental health. But is the cure for ending weight stigma more stigma? I think the obvious answer here is no. The answer is ending stigma and discrimination and oppression. Because you know what is absolutely not good for a person's health? Yeah, those things. The problem is that people believe weight is mutable. That it's a choice we make. And, for about 5% of people weight may indeed be malleable through what we deem "lifestyle changes". Eat healthier, exercise regularly and poof, new body! The problem is that for those other 95% of people it doesn't work so well. You tend to diet and exercise and yet the weight always comes back no matter what you do and, most of the time, you just end up heavier than when you started! Well no matter how much busting your ass you've done, the stigma is still there. You did the work, you made the changes, and yet the weight doesn't go away for you and neither does the stigma.

For me, I was a skinny kid until about 2nd/3rd grade (or 7/8 years old) when my Bipolar Disorder hit. Suddenly, with no change to my habits, I put on a good 100lbs in about three years. And I've been about the same size ever since (a size 22). Yes, in 6th grade I wore a size 22 in women's. Try shopping for cute trendy clothes at that age and that size! And yeah, I was bullied mercilessly, I lost all of my friends, I was asked out by boys as a joke, and, at age 10, I attempted suicide. I've written about my first suicide attempt enough that it almost feels numbing and yet part of that is the unbelievable fact that a 10 year old would try to kill themselves. And yet it happens more than we'd like to think.

I'd like to point out that since finding fat acceptance I haven't had a single suicide attempt or suicidal thought related to my weight. I believe that finding acceptance and love and community has helped immensely and there's at least one study that backs that up.

So here's a question: If weight is so important in bullying and suicide statistics why isn't it talked about more? In the movie Bully, weight was never once brought up as a reason for bullying for instance. I saw the movie and yes, parts of it moved me to tears. It was a good movie, and yet it lacked a vital life saving part of the puzzle. People look at fat kids and fat adults as fair game. They did this to themselves so they deserve derision and abuse. We have a responsibility to address this, especially in spaces that aren't fat specific spaces or feminism specific spaces. It has to be seen in the same way that bullying for other attributes are seen- as unacceptable and as the bigotry that it is. Getting fat bullying and suicide into the mainstream will be hugely important in how we deal with this topic and how we solve this problem.

The fact is, it doesn't matter if weight is a choice or not. No one deserves to be bullied and abused into attempting suicide. It doesn't matter if it's because the kid is fat, disabled, lgbt, a racial minority, poor, or just plain weird. Everyone deserves respect and understanding. Everyone.

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