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Dear Michelle,

by Dr. Deah on Mar.16, 2011, under Tasty Morsels: by Dr. Deah Schwartz

It has been quite a week of turmoil in the world; the continuing horror in Japan, the tumult in Libya, the political gridlock in the Midwest…just a few of the headlines and real life atrocities affecting real life people.

It makes the battle of size discrimination, body image, and eating disorders seem pale in comparison.

However one issue that managed to catch my attention reminded me that as a person living in such an enormous cultural society I must be able to “multi-cause-task.”

It has been fascinating to see the back lash that is surrounding Michele Obama’s Let’s Move Campaign.  Paul Campos’ article, in the Daily Beast, in my opinion, does a brilliant job of explaining the reasons why what may seem like a valiant cause beyond reproach has a rather large Achilles’ heel attached to it. (And, I urge all of you to read Paul Campos‘ article and post your comments).

Achilles' Heel

I am not going to delve into the political field day that is developing around Ms. Obama’s campaign. Frankly, I think hating our bodies and eating disorders are bi-partisan issues and I fault the media on “both sides of the aisle” for perpetuating the problem.  But for the purpose of this blog I want to focus on one point that Campos makes. He states,

“The first lady would, no doubt, be horrified by the suggestion that her Let’s Move campaign, which is dedicated to trying to create an America without any fat kids, is itself a particularly invidious form of bullying. But practically speaking, that’s exactly what it is. The campaign is in effect arguing that the way to stop the bullying of fat kids is to get rid of fat kids.”

Fat People Not Allowed

Exclusion does not promote health

And no invidious is NOT a typo, it is a real word that means:

1. Of an action or situation likely to arouse or incur resentment or anger in others.

2.  Unfairly discriminating; unjust.

For my faithful blog readers, you know I am a crossword puzzle/scrabble fanatic so I felt compelled to mention this…I thought for sure, Paul meant insidious.  Thanks Paul, I LOVE learning new words.

Back to my original point…. I am 100% in agreement with Campos on this observation.  Concisely put, I see this as a clear case of blaming the victim.  The bullies go scot free…

(ok, anyone know where the term scot free came from and who or what scot they were referring to?)

…and are reinforced for their disdain and superiority towards fat children. Meanwhile the fat kids are left fighting for their lives both physically and emotionally;  joining a real life cast of a real life reality show of America’s Educational System’s Biggest Losers.  That being said, I am  not one of those people to just complain and not offer a suggestion for a solution, how about this?

Dear First Lady,

You are obviously in the position where you have clout to initiate school based health programs.  You are also considered a fairly progressive, outside of the box thinker.  Instead of just targeting the Let’s Exercise, Get Moving, and Healthy Food Aspects of decreasing childhood obesity, why don’t you take a more cross-curriculum approach based on: Scientific Facts, Self-acceptance, and Inclusion of Diversity?


Erase your meta-message of: Fat is shameful and wrong and all a kid has to do is exercise and eat correctly and they will be thin which equates with healthy and better and Replace it with a model that starts with the premise of: We can all be healthier and healthy bodies do not all look the same.

Erase and Replace…Erase and Replace…Erase and Replace…

Here’s an example:

Science Class:  A lesson on genetics, metabolism, and that scientific evidence that different kids who embark on the same food/exercise regime will NOT have the same outcome in health and appearance benchmarks.  Focus on individuality and health milestones and not conformity and unattainable expectations. Kids from the inside

Math Class:  A lesson on reading nutrition labels and figuring out what a healthy amount of sodium, sugars, fats, fibers are…for health, not for weight loss.  Do you have any idea how much math is involved in that? Math Class for Health Class

The focus is NOT on the complete elimination or restriction of any one food or food group which inevitably leads to feelings of deprivation and development of eating disorders.

English/Lit Class:  When I wrote my dissertation on Body Image of Girls in Required Reading Materials in School, it was amazing how the stereotypes of fat girls, women, boys, and men as ugly, stupid, unpopular, and pathetic were pervasive.  How about making sure that the reading assignments include a more diverse representation of size and shapes and personality traits associated with those sizes and shapes?

Social Studies Class:  Let’s look at the history of women and how the infliction of a tyrannical expectation by the media to fit in to a narrow definition of beauty has impacted womens’ self-esteem and effectiveness in the world.  After all if women were not totally obsessed with how they looked all the time, imagine how much more they could contribute to the world?  Then there’s economics and how the diet industry and pharmaceutical companies are dependent on the constant quest to be the right size.

Women hate how they look

Women, we have a lot of Work to Do

I could go on and offer lesson plans and academic goals, objectives and standards, but I know how precious your time is.  My point is, helping kids feel better is a valuable goal.  Helping kids live healthy lives is an objective equally as worthy as solving the problem of disposing of nuclear waste.  How you attain those goals is a challenge. But one thing I know for certain, ostracizing kids for being fat and adding to the stigma and self-loathing they are already living with is NOT the way to go about making change.  Let’s look at a more innovative and inclusive solution.

Kids come in different shapes and sizes

Celebrate Health and Diversity

Hey, I’m here to help…I have this DVD and book called Leftovers….. ;D


Dr. Deah Schwartz

4 comments for this entry:
  1. Allison Dickson

    I love this letter to our First Lady. And particularly this part:

    “But one thing I know for certain, ostracizing kids for being fat and adding to the stigma and self-loathing they are already living with is NOT the way to go about making change.”

    And your ideas for addressing the subject of nutrition and diversity across all curriculum is something I would really love to see happen in this country. The idea that there is one type of body for all people touches on primitive thought processes from which we see racism and xenophobia stem. Let’s throw away these tired and hateful paradigms and evolve!

  2. Meg

    This comment is a bit tangential, but I wanted to share that my 7 yr. old niece takes Concerta. Her behavior has “improved” and her weight has ballooned about 20 lbs.
    I am not trying to divert the discussion to medication. I want to call attention to another conundrum the obese child and her parents face. My sister’s grocery list could be the model for healthy foods. The little girl likes carrot sticks!!

  3. Dr. Deah

    You make an excellent point! It is never a good idea to rely on sweeping generalizations for any segment of the culture. Your niece will unfortunately and most likely be “Lumped” together as a target of fat discrimination which will be a blow to her self-image.

  4. Someone may be Listening?? | Leftovers To Go

    [...] the Dear Michele letters we were sending re: the negative backlash from the Let’s Move Campaign resulting in shaming [...]

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