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Strong Correlation Between High Weight and Bullying

“Being ‘fat’ is the most common reason children are bullied” according to Roni Caryn Rabin in “Extra weight makes kids a target for bullying” (Sarasota Herald-Tribune, 7/28/15, E20). I’m blogging on this subject for two reasons. The first is for readers who were bullied as children because they were fat to get validation on how hurtful and damaging it was. The second is so that readers can talk to their kids about what to do about such bullying whether they are perpetrators, witnesses, or victims of it.

According to the article, fat as the most common reason for bullying comes from a study of “thousands of adults from four countries who, when asked why children are bullied, said the most common reason was not race, religion, physical disability or sexual orientation, but weight.” Most state anti-bullying laws don’t protect children of high weights, nor do federal laws “guarantee equal treatment of people who are overweight or obese.” So it’s actually legal to discriminate (or bully) on the basis of weight.

An underlying cause of fat bullying is the undue societal pressure put on people with high weights to take responsibility for slimming down, based on the mistaken perception that they don’t care about their bodies and are doing nothing to get healthier. This ignorant viewpoint is based on our American obsession with thinness and our pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps mentality. It ignores genetics, metabolism, weight cycling, trauma, environment, socialization, and other actual reasons people put on and keep on weight, and stems from the belief that fat shaming helps people slim down.

What can you do? When you see fat bullying or stigmatizing, speak up and educate people about why this behavior is harmful.

  • If you have a child with a high weight, explain why people bully and help build up his or her self-esteem and self-image.
  • If your child is being bulled due to having a high weight, talk to the adults in charge of the setting in which the bullying is occurring.
  • If your child tells you that she or he has witnessed fat bullying, explain why it’s wrong and offer advice on what to say to the bully and to the victim of such cruelty.
  • If your child is a bully, don’t excuse or ignore the behavior. Bullying is dysfunctional behavior whether it is done by a child or an adult, something you certainly want to discuss with your children and with their other parent, if he or she is available.
  • Try to uncover the reason for your child’s bullying and fat-shaming. If need be, seek psychological counseling for your child. If this is a pattern, counseling is a must.
  • Make sure that you’re not modeling fat prejudice by word or deed, including extolling thinness and putting down anyone (including yourself) who is a large size.