On Mother’s Day 2011, Hate for Fat Moms in Abundance

I’ve been tweeting up a storm this Mother’s Day morning, all on the #thingsfatpeoplearetold hashtag. Not about anything particularly new, or some fat-hating piece released this morning, but rather on the messages about fat motherhood and mothering fat children I’ve heard in some context or another during the past few years.

Full disclosure: I’m not a bio mom. I have three stepchildren between the ages of 17 and 21. I’ve been in their lives since the youngest was 12. None of them are fat; all three are quite thin and conventionally attractive. My husband and I can’t have kids the traditional way, since he’s got a 15 year-old vasectomy. A couple years ago (when I was a fledging size activist) I started looking into non-traditional ways of having kids. I quickly learned there were two huge barriers: sizism, and ageism. My husband is 24 years older than I am, turning 53 this year after I turn 29. Adoption agencies, both local and international, discriminate against couples who have at least one member over the age of 50 (sometimes even 40). But also? Couples with at least one ‘obese’ or ‘morbidly obese’ member are discriminated against as well. Given that many private adoption agencies in the US are Christian, and I’m not Christian, there’s another roadblock.

So we considered artificial insemination or some other procedure. They are very expensive, not something we could even dream of affording in the short term. Also? Some fertility clinics put up major obstacles (i.e., charge you much higher fees) if you’re over a BMI of about 33, or just outright disallow it, though there’s no real evidence that the IVF limit is justified in any medical sense (though we can be sure the social engineers have their justifications).

But the final nail in the coffin of my desire to have children (at least, in the short term) was the barrage of negative/othering messages directed at fat moms, moms of fat kids — which my child has a decent chance of becoming, given that body size is 77% heritable.

Some of the messages our enlightened age given in regards to fat motherhood:

Fat children are a symptom of bad parenting.

Didn’t you hear? If you’re a mom who works (like most moms do), you’re making your kids fat. But if you shelter your kids too much and cater too much to their wants and needs? You’re also making your kids fat. And you’re ignorant, too; moms of fat kids don’t understand it’s just calories in/calories out, stupid.

Becoming a mom while fat is irresponsible and dangerous to both you and your child.

Maternal obesity is the plague of the land, didn’t you know? It’s causing the obesity epidemic (which surely exists, am I right?). Fat pregnancies result in fat children. Or maybe it’s being too thin while pregnant. Or maybe it’s dieting while pregnant. Or maybe it’s eating too many fats. Or it could be that you didn’t control your weight gain while both fat and pregnant. But it’s definitely your fault! Couldn’t be that pesky 77% heritability. Certainly not.

Fat moms are a burden to society.

You cost more in hospital resources, fatty! It couldn’t be that C-sections are way over-prescribed for fat pregnancies relative to thinner populations, given that fat pregnancies almost automatically get slapped with the ‘high-risk’ label despite the individual health of the mother (hello, failure of population study research to apply to the individual).

Fat moms are embarrassing to their children and husbands.

Kids can be cruel, can’t they? But is it really the kids, or a combination of their youthful urge to categorize and understand the world, including complex social mores, in the context of what they hear from their parents, see on TV, read in magazines and the internet, and hear from their friends? Children are wonderful, tragic barometers for the bigotries of our age. So is it so surprising when a mother hears that her child is being teased because she has a fat mom? And, moreover, that her child wants to transfer that bigotry to her mother to stop the teasing? Or that her husband doesn’t want her to participate in public activity because he’s embarrassed of her size?

Fat moms are guilty of child abuse, and should have their kids taken away from them.

This one, more than any other, made me change my mind about having kids. Having been abused by other people in my life, the idea of being categorized as one of them — whether justified or not — was too much to bear. There are many other examples of this, please Google it if you’re interested (and have banked the requisite Sanity Watcher’s points).

I want to issue special Mother’s Day good-wishes to fat moms, given the above, and everything else they must put up with to survive in a society who hates and blames them at every turn.

What other messages directed at fat moms have you heard, both from the media and in your own life?

Biscuits and Gravy

“Biscuits and gravy! Heh, I can’t believe she ordered it.”

“Heh, I can. Heh, biscuits and gravy.”

The worst part? Those biscuits were the consistency of spongy hockey pucks, and the gravy something between glue and edible. I picked at them, had maybe one bite, and any part of my appetite not killed by the sad copy of food on my plate was killed by humiliation.

We were on a road trip, to some hot state in the middle of the summer. Hotel prices in the sweltering states were cheaper in summer, and my parents more likely to take vacations. So in the van we packed pillows, Walkmans (Walkmen?), luggage, sandwiches, and our sorry selves. Twenty hours later we reached some kind of human destination, unbearably humid.

The best part of the trip, I remember, was when my dad drove and I kept him company, up front in the passenger seat. It was midnight or thereafter; my stepmother and brother slept in the back. We drove through the orange groves in Georgia. The air was spiced with the scent of the groves and honeysuckle. We played the game from the Albert Finney version of A Christmas Carol, “The Minister’s Cat”.

I’ll include it here, since I still feel warm and fuzzy thinking about it:

The next morning we stopped at a southern version of Denny’s. Shoney’s, maybe. As a kid I hated breakfast foods, except hot and cold cereals, and toast. Eggs, bacon, pancakes, English muffins, bagels? Blargh! Breakfast foods were either too sweet or too salty, and sometimes they combined the two in freakish horrors like bacon covered in maple syrup, or the abomination that is chocolate chip pancakes.

At any rate.

So, of everything on the menu, “biscuits and gravy” looked the least breakfast-y. I was hungry, having stayed up all night to keep my dad company while he drove (I was probably 10 at the time). We didn’t have biscuits and gravy for breakfast up North; to me, it was the perfect solution to my breakfast-nausea-dilemma.

I was duly mocked, as noted above. But it didn’t stop there. It turned into the joke of the trip. Then, the joke of the year. The last time I heard it was maybe five years ago, so that’s a good 14 years of torment.

And why was I tormented and mocked for my breakfast choice?

Because that 10-year-old girl was also chubby. And chubby people love gravy, donchaknow!

Maybe they didn’t realize how much their jabs hurt. Maybe they didn’t realize how deeply I internalized the shame I felt, how an intelligent little girl heard, “Biscuits and gravy, heh!” and translated it to mean that she was bad, out of control, a terrible person, a terrible daughter. So when my dad told me later that I should eat veggie burgers, plain popcorn, plain cucumbers, and drink water as my whole diet? I tried, for him. Because I didn’t want him to think I was some gross, out-of-control chubster, some human eating machine that goes bonkers at the idea of gravy. He was the first person to give me diet pills. I lost rapidly, and when I refused to eat even vegetables out of fear of remaining fat or gaining back lost weight, I thought about how I’d vindicated myself. No way he’d accuse me of the sin of “biscuits and gravy” again!

Sometimes, when I’m sitting, my heart flutters in my chest for no reason. I wonder if it has to do with all the diet pills I took when I was a teen. That, maybe, biscuits and gravy would have been a better option than diet pills.

But I guess I’ll never know.

This post is dedicated to my husband, who has never made me feel bad about what I eat.