Diaries Magazine

Fatphobia & Our Children

Posted on the 05 August 2020 by Sparklesandstretchmarks @raine_fairy
Fatphobia & Our Children
As someone who has done a lot of reading and research on the subject of fatphobia, weight bias and sizeism over the last few years - I'm fascinated by the topic and how much it permeates into so many aspects of our lives.
From the obvious - such as the constant use of thin models and actors in the media, and the effects that has been proven to have on low self image and esteem - to the more difficult to spot, such as the way lookism is used to profit from our insecurities and fund a multi-billion pound industry, and how capitalism comes into play with our size-related perceptions of ourselves and others.
One area that I find most fascinating of all though is how and when fatphobia is passed down to us.
We're not born with an innate fear of becoming fat or a dislike of fat people, this is something that we're conditioned to feel as we grow up by the society we live in - so exactly when and how does this happen?
Well, I'm a firm believer that the entertainment we consume - and expose our own children to -  plays a huge part in this.
Of course there will always be other factors involved, and we shouldn't dismiss the impact of our own loved ones attitudes and biases around weight - but even in a household such as mine where preconceptions and judgements around weight are actively challenged, and diet culture is firmly banned - fatphobia finds its way in, as demonstrated by comments I've picked up on from my own children.
I've been pretty horrified to notice recently that my 5 year old has already started to talk about wanting to "get into shape" and "be skinny" - she certainly doesn't hear this sort of narrative from anyone in our immediate family or environment as I wouldn't allow it, so where is she hearing it?
Well...unfortunately, pretty much everywhere!
From the Barbie dolls she loves to play with to the Disney Princess movies she loves to watch - the message is being sent to her over and over again that beauty = thinness, and success & happiness = beauty. 
If I could start all over again with parenting, I honestly think I'd do things very differently with regards to what sorts of toys and movies I allowed my children to experience.
But it's not just little girls who pick this messaging up, and it's not always so subtle either - sometimes you are clobbered over the head with blatant and shameless fatphobia within childrens entertainment.
The first and most obvious example of this that I experienced came when I took my son to a Horrible Histories Live show at the theater last year.
We attended as part of a Home Ed group trip with other families, but the rest of the audience for this weekday afternoon show was entirely made up of school children on class trips.
The show focused on the Tudor era, and so of course a lot of it was dedicated to the life of Henry the 8th. Now I get that it is a comedy show designed to appeal to children, and so of course I can make some allowances for the maturity level of the jokes but after a solid 20 minutes or so of jibes and songs poking fun at his weight and a LOT of references strongly suggesting that his weight was not only a character flaw but also an indicator of how evil he was...I was done. The message being that if only Henry 8th  hadn't eaten so much and therefore been so fat, perhaps he might have been a nicer person....errrr, really?!
All I could think about as I looked around the audience of 8-11 year olds was how many among them were fat, and how likely they would be to be on the receiving end of the weight focused jokes and songs they'd just been armed with on the coach ride home.
If any of those children had entered the theater that day oblivious to the stereotypes of fat people and the bias against them, they had no doubt left very aware of them.
Unfortunately, our Horrible Histories experience was far from a one off - the messaging about size and weight that our children receive from movies and books is constant.
Here's just a handful of examples off the top of my head:
Ursula The Sea Witch - Disney's Little Mermaid villain is fat. She's also evil, cruel and spiteful. Of course, when she tricks Prince Eric into marrying her - she transforms herself into a thin body - because it's inconceivable that he would fall in love with a person of her true size, isn't it?!
Smee - Another Disney example this time from the classic Peter Pan, Smee is depicted as of lesser intelligence than all of the thin pirates. A characteristic very commonly applied to larger bodied characters across movies (not just kids movies either, how often - out of her many movies -  have you seen Rebel Wilson play an intelligent, confident woman?)
Princess Fiona - the Ogre princess from Shrek transforms into a beautiful woman during daylight thanks to a curse, but does her body size remain the same? Of course not. Because it's just not feasible for her to be an attractive curvy Princess, is it?! Her entire body size has to change to make that believable.
And my personal favorite example - Disney's Inside Out.
Joy is a tall, slender character. Whereas Sadness is short and fat. The messaging doesn't really get any clearer than that, does it?!
My friend Molly posted about this issue on Instagram recently...take a look below:
View this post on Instagram

A post shared by Molly Forbes (@mollyjforbes) on Jul 13, 2020 at 11:11am PDT

I got into a discussion in the comments pointing out my own opinion on the use of Joy & Sadness as particularly negative, and a lovely body positive artist (Neoqlassicalart)noticed - she then created this alternative imagining of Joy & Sadness....how much nicer would this have been to see? An opportunity to break from the stereotypes...
View this post on Instagram

A post shared by Neoqlassical Art (@neoqlassicalart) on Jul 21, 2020 at 3:42pm PDT

Now I know that people will no doubt argue that children's movies also have a tendency to often depict their villains as very slim too - Jafar, Dr Facilier, Mother Gothel, The Wicked Stepmother etc - this is true. Not all Villains are fat.
But there is at least balance with the representation of thin characters - ALL of the Princesses, Princes, and the vast majority of the "good guys" in childrens movies are thin. There is not a single fat Princess or Prince that I can think of.
Whereas almost all of the fat "Good" characters are depicted as having negative qualities such as being greedy, of lesser intelligence, clumsy, etc.
I don't believe this is a deliberate thing - I don't think its an agenda that movie companies have to purposefully teach our children that fat=bad. I think it comes from the very presence of fatphobia in our society - the writers and illustrators involved absorb fatphobic messaging throughout their own lives and, naturally, it shows in their creations.
You can almost hear the board room discussions taking place. "Joy....she's light on her feet, she's sprightly, she's full of energy....she's thin and tall! Sadness...she's slow moving, she's heavy, she's short and fat!"
But until the representation of body sizes in our kids entertainment changes, how can we expect our children not to internalise the same stereotypes and fatphobic beliefs?
Now you may be of the opinion that imparting a fear of fatness onto our children is no bad thing - perhaps you also associate being at a higher weight with negative health outcomes, as many people do, and so you like the idea of them being "frightened" into avoiding fatness throughout their life - but with eating disorders on the rise, and science proving more and more frequently that body size is more strongly linked with genetics and socio-economic factors than merely diet and exercise habits - isn't this potentially a very damaging thing for our children?
If your child is fat or grows up to become fat - do you want them to have internalized this messaging throughout their lives, no doubt impacting on their self worth and mental health?
Even if they never experience fatness personally, do you want them to become the type of people who treat others unkindly because of internalised fatphobia - who bully or ridicule others because of their body size?
I'm not sure what the solution is, short of campaigning Disney to introduce some fat characters who don't have negative personality traits (and lets face it, that would be just one on a long list of inclusivity and representation issues that Disney has and needs to work on!) - but I think it's something worth being conscious of.
Perhaps we can use these movies as a discussion point, talking about the flaws in the stereotypes and the lack of positive representation.
Then, who knows, maybe the next generation of writers and illustrators will hold less bias and we may just see some more diversity as a result. Wouldn't that be nice!
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