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by Dr. Deah on Aug.10, 2011, under Events

Former Mayor Ed Koch and his sister Pat have just had a children’s book published. And I almost want to buy it and read it.  Almost but not quite.  The book, Eddie Shapes Up, was discussed in the New York Times by Sam Roberts, who describes the book as, “a more or less autobiographical account of a youngster who faces down dietary demons and body-image problems to emerge healthy and self-accepting.”

So far so good!

Then as I read further Koch is quoted,

“I wanted to write this book with my sister — also a chubby child — to help children understand the importance of a healthy diet and exercise throughout their lives”

Okay, can’t argue with that!

And even this excerpt gave me cause to celebrate!
“ But a friend advises Eddie: “Everybody has a different kind of body. What’s important is being healthy and in good shape.”

But sadly, as Mayor Koch discusses the book he becomes one more example of someone identifying with the aggressor and can not resist making the fat the enemy.

“What I hope they walk away with is that it’s possible to avoid being the subject of derision or being an outcast simply by leading a healthy life with a healthy diet.  It will cause you enormous pain if you let yourself get obese,” added Mr. Koch, whose childhood photos show him as a bit stocky, if not flat-out fat by today’s standards. “You’re not going to worry about it when you’re young, but if it continues, it can shorten your life. You want to have a family, you don’t want to leave them prematurely, and while it’s very unfair, many people in deciding who they’re going to hire will make a decision which includes weight.”


Okay, I admit, I’ve never been elected Mayor.  (Not even in virtual mayor games).  And I’ve never had a children’s book published. So who am I to find fault in his endeavors and points of view?  But it just didn’t sit right with me that he is saying that the way to discourage bullies is to lose the weight. And then when he talks about how the bullying may have shaped his persona…

“When I look back, it’s no joke,” Mr. Koch recalled the other day. “I think, ‘How did I get through that?’ It was tougher than settling a contract with the unions. And who knows what effect it has on your persona? It made me want to strive to be better than the other kids were. The other part of it was the tears. It makes your life miserable.”

Well if I was a bully and read this, I would think, “See, it did you good to be bullied! You became the frikkin’ Mayor of New York City for Goodness Sakes!  You should thank me for that!  The tears? Well man up Mayor!  Maybe I should get a percentage of the royalties from your book as well!  After all, I inspired you!  You’d be NOTHING without me you fat slob!

So I wrote a letter in response to the article and you can too if you’d like. Here’s mine:

I applaud Mayor Koch and his sister Pat for underscoring the importance of Health and Self Acceptance in this book. However, I am disappointed that Mayor Koch didn’t use his political sway to address the issue of why bullying fat kids is allowed?  It seems to me that an underlying message in this book is bullying fat kids can be awesome, look, I became mayor and I even transformed my traumatic youth into becoming a published author!

Let’s take the fat stigmatization away and just talk about being healthy.  And let’s write books and pass legislature that send a clear message that bullying and discriminating against our fat citizens is just WRONG.   http://www.c-spanvideo.org/program/SafeS

Warmly, Dr. Deah Schwartz, leftoverstogo.com

8 comments for this entry:
  1. thirtiesgirl

    There are only two ways to stop bullying, and they must be done in tandem. One is to teach tolerance and respect for everyone. The second is to confront the bully repeatedly and both show and tell them that what they’re doing is wrong. The confrontation should happen privately, not in front of others, and is not to shame the bully or get them a bigger audience.

    Neither one of those reasons contains even the seeds of the idea about telling the ones being bullied that they should try to make themselves “less of a target” by losing weight, shaping up, not being so damn gay, being less Latino, being less intelligent, being less socially awkward, not being so damn female…etc.

    In my 10+ years working in public education, I’ve seen kids get bullied for everything under the sun – your haircut’s weird, you’re not wearing the right shoes, you’re richer than me, you’re poorer than me, you’re smarter than me, you’re Chinese, your parents aren’t divorced, you live in foster care, etc, etc. In none of those situations – NONE – have I ever told the kid being bullied to stop being Chinese, to find a way out of foster care, to get their parents to get them the right shoes. That’s not the issue. THE ISSUE IS THE BULLY, NOT THE FAT KID. (Apologies for the all caps. I get heated about this subject.)

    So why freakin’ Ed Koch and his sister think it’s ok to tell the fat kid being bullied to “make himself less of a target” by “shaping up” is beyond me. It makes me wonder if they’ve ever raised any children, or have ever been bullied themselves. If either of those things were true, I’d think their “anti-bullying” book would have a different message.

  2. Bill Fabrey

    What a great letter! It is always so amazing to watch when an intelligent man like Mayor Koch gets so many facts right and then draws the inappropriate conclusions. It’s like an author bemoaning the fact that, as a member of a minority group (black, Hispanic, Jewish, Islamic, whatever), he got teased and bullied at school, and then offering a guide to how the reader can change his or her appearance to not look like they are a member of that group…

    Bullying anyone is just wrong–even if you think it is “for their own good.”

  3. Dr. Deah

    YES YES YES! Thanks for your replies. Now, to get the message to Ed Koch!

  4. Emerald

    Yes. Thank you. This needs to be said. And thirtiesgirl, you also hit the nail on the head.

    I was bullied as a kid, and also, in a couple of workplaces – thankfully a minority – as an adult, not primarily for being fat (because for much of my life I wasn’t seen as fat by anyone but my ballet class and my mother – and that’s two more long and vicious stories), but for being socially awkward.

    Once, at school, after an incident in which, after refusing to let someone have a magazine I was reading, she swung me around a room by my hair(!), I got called into the principal’s office for a little chat. Turned out I was at least partially to blame…by standing around reading a magazine rather than talking to people like, you know, a normal person. If I would learn to be ‘more sociable’, she said, more people might like me better and this kind of thing might not happen to me.

    I’m now 42, and not a great deal more ‘sociable’ than I was at 14, and I’ve realized over the past few years that a large number of things about me fitted (and in some cases still fit) the pattern now known to doctors as Asperger syndrome. I’m mulling over the logistics of getting a proper diagnosis. OK, my principal didn’t know what it was back then – few people did – but that doesn’t change the fact that the kid doing the damn swinging was the problem.

    But then, victim-blaming is a nice easy way of deflecting attention from where the real change needs to take place, which is in the hearts and minds of the bullies. And that would mean taking a very long hard look at the ‘point-and-laugh’ culture we live in, and I don’t suppose many people want to do that.

  5. Dr. Deah

    Emerald, the point and laugh culture is indeed one that needs to be changed! And the first step is for all of us whether we were bullied or not to take the first step and metaphorically say, The Emperor has NO CLOTHES! Not confronting people that point and laugh is to be complicit in the bullying culture. Thank you for your comment!

  6. Randi

    The best way to handle a Bully is to ignore him or her.

    Most Bullies need and thus seek attention. Sometimes Bullying makes them feel better about themselves or their situations; at least temporarily. Sometimes Bullying makes an insecure person feel powerful, as if a part of a crowd or helps to hide their own inadequacies, pains and insecurities.

    Whatever it is that causes Bullying, the best and most effective way to stop it is to ignore it. When bullies don’t get a rise they often don’t know how to respond so eventually stop or move onto another victim unless they are shown the results of their actions and choose a more positive way to gain attention.

    To those who believe that the victim should retaliate, know that this can cause physical and emotional harm, whereas ignoring and then finally pointing out the results of thier actions is more positive and long lasting.

  7. Erin S.

    Know what ignoring my bullies got me? Eventually, stabbed with a mechanical pencil in the stomach and raped (not at the same time, they were just the two worst incidents). I was beaten up more times than I can count. One of the bullies jammed a metal retaining rod in my front bike spokes once… I still have scars on my elbow and shoulder from scraping along the road when I went down. A classroom pet I was put in charge of was killed once it was found out that this wasn’t a punishment and I actually liked the hamster. Dead animals were smuggled into school and taped or hung from my locker (usually frogs stolen from the science lab, a couple times rats, once a fetal pig also stolen from the science lab). Feces and urine were routinely spread on my locker. Second year of high school on, I just carried *everything* all day, it was less of a hassle than having to get a janitor come clean crap off my locker four times a day.

    Telling children to ignore a violent, sadistic person who takes pleasure from causing their victims pain both emotional and physical is absolutely the worst possible reaction.

  8. R. Lamey

    Sorry, Randi, but anyone who’s been bullied, including me, has heard the words “ignore them” from adults a thousand times and it just doesn’t work. When I was in middle school, I tried this advice, and it had the opposite effect. The guy who was bullying me the most started making fun of me for not responding.

    He hit the back of my desk with a pencil and said, “Maybe I can talk to her in Morse Code!” He said, “Hey, are you a Grateful Dead fan? ‘Cause you’re DEAD!” and accompanied it with a picture of me as a skeleton. Once I overheard one of his fellow bullies tell another boy, “We call her ‘Lame-O’ and ‘Lame Brain’ all the time, and she doesn’t mind it!”

    These guys clearly didn’t care if I responded or not. No matter what you do, bullies will find SOMETHING to bully you about. I started to internalize the thought that there was something inherently wrong with me, because according to the bullies, there was ALWAYS something wrong with me, no matter what I did or said.

    If you know of an actual success story that your method has produced, I’d like to hear about it.

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