Posted on March 21, 2013 by Dr. Deah
Two years and 5 days ago I wrote a piece about Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move Campaign. It challenged the First Lady’s use of the “obesity crisis,” fat shaming, and fat phobia as motivators to get kid’s moving in healthy ways and eating healthier diets. In my post I provided a link to a fantastic article written by Paul Campos for the Daily Beast in which he stated:
“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.”
At the time, along with many other bloggers from the HAES® community, I urged my readers and Facebook followers to write letters to Ms. Obama voicing their concerns and offering approaches that did not use weight centric definitions of health or the scale as the barometer for fitting in and being “good.” In the letter I wrote, I suggested that Mrs. Obama try the Erase and Replace Approach…here’s what I said:
“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. In your Let’s Move Initiative, instead of promoting the Let’s Exercise, Get Moving, and Choose Only Healthy Food Aspects while focusing on 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, wrong, and all a kid has to do is exercise and eat correctly and they will be thin, aka, healthy and good. Replace it with a model that starts with the premise: Healthy bodies do not all look the same.
In Science Class: A lesson on genetics, metabolism, and the scientific evidence that shows that different kids who embark on the same food/exercise regime will NOT have the same outcome in health and appearance benchmarks. Focus on individualized health milestones and realistic attainable goals and expectations.
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? 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 women’s 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 our constant quest to be the “perfect” size.
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 these goals is a challenge but 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.
Celebrate Health and Diversity
Hey, I’m here to help…I have this book out…
Dr. Deah Schwartz”
Needless to say, I never heard back from Ms. Obama but only a month later that there was an article in the Huffington Post by David Crary who did a brilliant job of explaining why the Let’s Move campaign has an Achilles’ heel that’s impossible to ignore. In his article he quotes Deb Lemire, Dr. Linda Bacon, and Dr. Paul Ernsberger and writes:
“The spotlight on obesity intensified last year when Michelle Obama unveiled her national public awareness campaign, “Let’s Move.” Its goal, she said, was to eliminate childhood obesity within a generation by helping parents make better food choices, serving healthier food in schools, and encouraging children to exercise more.
Many aspects of “Let’s Move” won near-universal praise. But activists in the fat-acceptance movement and experts who espouse a “health at every size” approach were upset that the campaign encouraged the monitoring of children’s body mass index, or BMI, and thus might contribute to stigmatization of heavier kids.”
After reading the article I wrote a response, in which I praised Crary for,
“…deftly presenting rarely publicized opposing viewpoints in an accessible and logical framework. I am hoping this raises the awareness of the campaign’s unintentional but negative side effects. Unfortunately, because of the way Let’s Move is being promoted, bullying is a tangible outcome. Rather than helping fat kids “FIT in” the campaign is creating an environment where bullies are reinforced for their disdainful and superior attitudes and actions towards fat children. Meanwhile the fat kids are left fighting for their lives physically and emotionally; unwillingly joining a real life cast of a real life reality show that could be called, “America’s Educational System’s Biggest Losers.” It is imperative that if we are serious about children’s health, we shift the focus away from weight and adopt a systemic/holistic approach that takes a person’s individual make-up into consideration. One size does NOT fit all definitions of health; whereas shaming and finger pointing frequently result in poor mental health. I am certain Mrs. Obama does not believe in a lack of parity between physical and mental health issues and can continue to promote health in a kinder way.”
In the time that has passed since then, there have been flare ups of outrage at Michelle Obama’s continued insistence that fat is the enemy. Darryl Roberts creator of America the Beautiful I and II wrote an open letter to Mrs. Obama in the Huffington Post and stated:
“If we could institutionalize your great message of exercise and eating a balanced meal, instead of dieting and focusing on losing weight, millions of people would be empowered to become healthy in a realistic way. I say realistic because studies have shown that diets rarely work as 95 percent of people gain back the weight and sometimes even more.”
“It’s not okay to me that she has not refocused her campaign from childhood obesity to childhood health.”
And the other, An Alternative to Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move Campaign by Vesta offering alternatives to the shaming approach:
“Instead of Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move campaign, which shames fat children and is aimed at making them less fat…I think the Sarah Bush Lincoln Health System has a much better idea. It’s called Kidsfest, and took place Saturday, September 11, 2010. It’s a day filled with educational activities for kids and their parents and, from what I read on the site, doesn’t seem to be anything that would shame fat kids.”
In addition, over the past two years Registered Dietician, Joanne Ikeda, NAAFA, and ASDAH among many others of us in the Fat Acceptance, Size Acceptance, HAES® and Eating Disorders Communities, have continued to send letters and educational materials to the First Lady. I am not certain if anyone ever heard back from Obama, I know I never did, but then I read a post by Kathy Kater of Body Image Health a psychotherapist and author of Healthy Bodies Curriculum on the ASDAH listserve calling attention to Michelle Obama’s recent comments on her Let’s Move Campaign and how her language and position seem to have shifted from weight centric to health centric.
“Mrs. Obama stressed that a lifestyle of overall wellness, not size or weight, dictates health in the long run.”
“I have two young daughters. We never talk about weight. I make it a point. I don’t want our children to be weight-obsessed. I want them to be focused on: What do I have to do, in this body –because everybody is different, every person’s body is different– what do I have to do to be the healthiest that I can be.”
“In response to a question from participant Kishan Shah, who said he weighed 200 pounds as a 12-year-old and 400 pounds as a 19-year-old, Mrs. Obama emphasized the importance of discussing childhood fitness the right way — and stressed the difference between “health” and “looks”:
“The first thing that we want to make sure that we do is not make this an issue about looks. We should really talk to kids about how they feel, how they feel inside, so that we’re not just dealing with the physical manifestations of the challenge, but we’re really tapping into what’s going on inside that head of that child.”
So, being someone who fervently believes in positive reinforcement I agree with Ms. Kater’s suggestion that this may be an,
“opportunity for us to help Mrs Obama consider how to promote health instead of size in kids. After all, it’s one thing to say “health is not about size or weight,” and quite another thing to believe you can do this while simultaneously running national campaigns in the name of “size prevention.”
Rebecca Scritchfield also suggested that folks who have blogs or other social media platforms can use this opportunity to:
“…show support for what you found positive…for example, giving applause for her weight neutral comment, back it up with data on size and health, links to resources…”
“writing letters to t he First Lady applauding this attitudinal shift would be a great idea”
Send your letters to: Michelle Obama
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington DC 20500
Mrs. Obama’s Facebook Page: https://www.facebook.com/michelleobama?ref=ts&fref=ts
Email Mrs. Obama: http://www.whitehouse.gov/contact/submit-questions-and-comments
This is one of the times to fan the embers of progress into flames of victory! Let’s have at it.
And if anyone hears back please share it here with us!
Til Next Time!