Fat children are to blame for the economy, says Michelle Obama.

By | March 18, 2011


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Edited to add: Comments that attack Michelle Obama or the President on broader political issues are off topic here and will be deleted. This is a discussion specific to Michelle Obama’s childhood obesity campaign, not the whole of American politics. Thank you for your compliance on this, my loves.

Edited to add, part two: Yes, my darlings, parts of this are satirical. I resent having to acknowledge this at all, so I am refusing to tell you which parts, exactly. So there.

The Scapegoat, William Holman Hunt, 1854 It sounds like some outrageous bit of satire, but this actually happened.

…[This is] an issue that can drastically alter the economic landscape of our cities and towns for generations to come. And I am obviously talking about the epidemic of childhood obesity. [...] I’d like to spend a moment today really to focus on the economic impact that this issue is having on cities and towns all across America. Now, everyone in this room is worried about budget shortfalls.  I know that.  All of you are making wrenching tradeoffs and painful cuts just to stay afloat.  I know that’s what’s going on.  And I know that the last thing you need during times like these is a new issue on your plates. But all of you here know something else, and that is this isn’t a new issue at all.  You all know better than anyone that childhood obesity is already affecting your communities.  It’s already weighing down your budgets.  It’s already hampering economic growth.

It goes on like that for quite awhile, as Michelle Obama outlines all the myriad ways in which the existence of fat children is contributing to unemployment and hurting our military readiness, among other things. Frankly I am disappointed that she does not also manage to pin rising oil prices and the recent increase in powerful earthquakes on fat kids too, but I suppose there are limits.

And you know what I say to Michelle Obama? Well done, Michelle Obama. Because the surest way to make people healthy is to shame them. I vote for desks in classrooms nationwide to be replaced with giant kid-sized hamster wheels, and attended by soulless taskmasters carrying horsewhips to drive them on! Nothing, after all, is more important in a child’s life than the size and shape of his or her body. Of course, there will always be stubborn children who, in spite of Michelle Obama’s tireless and unselfish efforts, will persist in being obese. These children, half-starved on diets, possibly surgically altered, routinely bullied, their parents openly embarrassed by them, their peers unwilling to accept them—all thanks to Michelle Obama’s hard work!—must know that their continued existence is unacceptable, for the good of the nation. They must be told! Of course, the simplest route to this end is to blame them for sabotaging something that is a near-universal problem, something that concerns us all, that being the economy.

Now, I’m not saying, “Michelle Obama wants fat children to kill themselves.” No way. I’d never say that.  I’m just saying that if fat children were to die by their own hands more frequently—which they do, already, as kids who are overweight, or who even who just think that they are overweight, are more likely to attempt suicide—that would help solve the problem, wouldn’t it? Maybe, you know, a little push from a well-respected public figure might edge a few more kids to the breaking point? Not intentionally, but if it happened, all the better, right? Every dead fat child means one less obese lead balloon weighing the economy down, folks. It’s for our own good. And it’s not like those kids would have had any kind of decent life anyway, right? Indeed, it’s not like those kids, the kids who are bullied and harassed by both children and adults who fear no repercussions, deserve any kind of decent life. In a nutshell, Michelle Obama is blaming fat kids for killing the economic future of the United States of America, for sabotaging us all.

And you know what I say, to Michelle Obama?

Fuck your self-righteous twaddle, your pathetic scapegoating of a group of fucking children who, in your despicable and perverse view, simply aren’t shit on enough already. I am left to wonder if you have spoken to a single fat kid, or better yet, a single adult who experienced what it was like to be a fat kid, who told you how it felt to be bullied and humiliated for it, and how rare it is that anyone—child or adult—sticks up for the fat children. Instead of defending children and working toward their best interests, you are piling on, and contributing to a culture in which disordered eating is turning into an epidemic, and in which those fat kids will never learn to feed themselves in ways that keep tune with the needs of their bodies and their health. Participation in sports—a good source of exercise, I might add—is difficult enough for fat kids who are always assumed to be inept and likely to be chosen last, which takes a psychological and social toll all on its own. But you would prefer to reinforce the idea that fat children are inherently bad and responsible for all of the ills of our nation, no matter how tenuous and preposterous the idea. Getting adults to rethink this notion is challenge enough; here you want to ingrain it all the more deeply in our kids.

The concept of the “scapegoat” is mostly known as a biblical reference, described in Leviticus, home to some of the bible’s greatest hits so far as grotesqueries are concerned. It is in Leviticus, of course, that we get the alleged admonitions against homosexuality as well as against eating shellfish and planting two different seeds in the same field. As Leviticus tells it, you take a couple goats and draw lots against them. The winning goat gets sacrificed (how this is a win, I don’t know). The loser goat is symbolically heaped with the sins of the community and sent off into the wilderness, dragging the invisible pile of sin with it, possibly much to the relief of the goat, who can now wander the forest eating rocks or whatever it is that free goats do. The idea behind this ritual is that the loser goat somehow absorbs all the bad that has been done in the community, and when it leaves, it takes the evil with it.

It is a lesser-known fact that this practice didn’t start with the Bible, but with the Greeks, who had a practice of selecting a pharmakos—usually a disabled person, a person who was just plain ugly, or some other social outcast—and placing the blame for troubled times upon him or her. The pharmakos would then be removed from the community as a means of correcting the local issue at hand, such as a famine or a flood. The Greek version is even more gruesome than the biblical one, as in their ritual the pharmakos was not merely driven into the wilderness but often beaten or stoned to death. Then as now, people who are not attractive are disposable, indeed, barely people at all, and serve as a convenient target on which to lay blame for issues far beyond their control, because who will stand up for the right of the ugly or the disabled to survive?

Fat kids are not loser goats. Fat kids are kids who need support and reassurance and encouragement, like all kids, but maybe even a little bit more. Fat kids are kids to whom adults must demonstrate a specific sensitivity and thoughtfulness, to counteract the hate and bullying that even kindergarten-age children already know they are culturally entitled to heap on their fat peers. Fat kids are kids who need advocacy that does not single them out from their thinner counterparts but treats them fairly. All kids benefit by the assistance of adults and public health initiatives in being active, eating a wide variety of healthy foods, and learning to know their bodies and their abilities, not because it is a chore but because doing these things makes you feel good, and being active can be fun. Not all thin kids are inherently healthy, and inadequate nutrition can take a serious toll even on “normal”-looking children. With exercise and improved diet, sure, some fat kids are likely to stop being fat (and some won’t). But this is not the point. The point is to improve the overall health and fitness of all kids, and for this to happen these children must be allowed to thrive in an environment which does not shame them, and which does not shame their bodies, but which instead teaches them that their bodies are awesome machines and that every one is different, sometimes in ways that are dramatic and sometimes in ways that are very subtle.

Fat kids deserve love and respect. They deserve to be given room to be their best selves. But by blaming fat children for the ills of a nation and thereby reinforcing an already-powerful cultural bias against them, Michelle Obama is rapidly becoming the biggest bully of them all. I don’t doubt that her intentions are good, but their execution is clueless in the extreme, and I’ve had enough. Michelle Obama’s work on this issue cannot possibly succeed in improving children’s health when so much of it rests on prejudice and shame.


108 Comments

Taz on March 18, 2011 at 10:06 am.

A-freakin’-men!

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Michelle jadaa on March 18, 2011 at 10:09 am.

Well what do you expect ..she can afford to feed her kids healthy food and have people watch them as they play outside so they are not kidnapped or worse.
Fattening food is more filling and cheaper and letting your kids play outside alone has become a parenting no no.
The president and his family may be a family of colour but they are also rich,buffered from the lifes of real people.

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Awlbiste on March 18, 2011 at 10:13 am.

“weighing down your budgets.” Oh ho, I see what you did there, Michelle Obama.

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thecurveygurl on March 18, 2011 at 10:44 am.

Oh man, PERFECTLY said! I want to give you a standing ovation!

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Christine on March 18, 2011 at 10:15 am.

Oh gosh. This, this is simultaneously enraging and heartbreaking. Fuck that noise. Really, really!?! The fat kid is to blame for the state of the economy? I feel an angry letter coming on, directed at the White House. You’re right, Michelle, it’s not lack of regulation, an effed up tax system or inheritance system, years of rich getting richer while the poor get poorer, or lack of healthcare that’s fucking this country, it’s the fat kids. You know, the ones under the age of 18.

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Lesley on March 18, 2011 at 10:17 am.

I, for one, am totally going to yell at the next fat kid I see for burdening me with my outrageous student loan debt! Yay!

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Christine on March 18, 2011 at 10:25 am.

As well you should. That’s one way to end childhood obesity and the problems with the nation right there: we’ll yell at the kids, maybe hang some signs around their neck with our woes written on them: “Student loans!” “Foreclosure!” “Unemployment!” “Pollution!” “Crappy housing market!,” and then drop them off in the middle of the wilderness. Clearly this will (1) force the children to survive Lord of the Flies style and will make them drop their BMIs – no McDonald’s in the woods! and (2) take away the economic burdens of feeding the little fatties while (3) they take away our troubles. Godammit, I think we’ve figured it out! Political genius.

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Animal on March 18, 2011 at 3:45 pm.

Well said!

One thing that really bugs me about this, is that Rush Limbaugh is going to have easy fodder for slamming her. I don’t want to be in a position of agreeing with Rush.

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Paul on March 18, 2011 at 10:40 am.

I’m going to throw out an educated guess and say that if Michelle Obama did speak to anyone who has ever been fat, it would have only been people in that slim, slim minority (see what I did there?) of those who have lose weight and kept it off for some abnormally long amount of time. That way, she got a representative sample! (cough)

Also, she should talk with Mike Huckabee about it.

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deeleigh on March 18, 2011 at 10:45 am.

Great post! Added to the list. Hey – maybe someone in a position of authority will read all of them.

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joshua on March 18, 2011 at 10:48 am.

I read most of Michelle’s speech, and was quite amused by her anecdotal evidence: Consider a town in Texas where they spent quite a lot of money to give 4800 kids some plastic crap that probably broke easily, but was supposed to tell them how far they walked. Then one kid figured out that if he shook it up and down for an hour or two, he could play video games all summer long and say that he walked 6.8 million steps. “And that’s something. That’s something,” says the First Lady.

But no. That’s nothing. It’s completely meaningless.

Not only is it completely meaningless, but as a child, I always walked more than my brother who was, and continues to be, rail thin. Because he was born that way. I, however, was not born that way. Walking doesn’t make someone not fat, Michelle.

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Sabrina on March 18, 2011 at 10:48 am.

Her statements are offensive in so many different ways I can’t even handle it. For all the reasons you mention, of course, and then additionally for all of ellisions and lies her statements imply about the mechanics of our late-stage capitalism’s corporate class war orgy … I cannot even.

And so instead, I’m going to impute that if fat kids are ruining the economy, fat adults are, too. AND SO I AM DRUNK WITH MY OWN POWER. MWAHAHAHAAAAAAAAAAA!

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Shaunta on March 18, 2011 at 10:49 am.

I have this theory that I blogged about the other day. I wonder if Michelle Obama, who is in reality an educated woman, started this ball rolling with the same misguidedness that millions of Americans have–but now can’t stop it. If it hasn’t gotten away from her. I mean, she isn’t like the rest of us, right? It isn’t as easy for her to listen to the other side and say, oh yeah. That makes sense. Maybe McDonald’s isn’t magical health food for skinny kids. Maybe they need more veggies, too. I figure, she has speech writers and advisers who are telling her what her husband’s polls are doing and that if she backs down now, her family might be kicked to the White House curb. When I read the increasingly ridiculous things she has to say–that’s the feeling I get. That this has gotten away from her and she doesn’t know how to stop it.

I think all we can do is be as loud in the opposite direction. Be the dissenting voice.

Also: fat kids are not loser goats should be a t-shirt or a poster or SOMETHING. It’s too awesome.

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Frances on March 21, 2011 at 8:11 pm.

You beat me to it! As soon as I read ‘Fat kids are not loser goats’ I thought it should be Lesley’s book title or something. ANYTHING. What a fabulous sentence.

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Laurie on March 18, 2011 at 10:54 am.

The more Michelle Obama goes on about this issue, the less admiration and respect I have for her. Her remarks are not even remotely intelligent or logical.

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meggie on March 18, 2011 at 10:54 am.

I just can’t react to this reasonably. So many people despise me for what I look like already, pick on my daughter for not looking like what they think is the norm, and hurl hatred at us daily. It makes me want to hide under the covers and never come out again.

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shakira on March 18, 2011 at 11:05 am.

Get real blogger!!!! Childhood obesity is an epidemic and can result is a short unfulfilled life with many diseases such as diabetes, heart disease and cancer, just to name a few. Let’s not mention a shortened life expectancy. Childhood obesity is a problem that needs to be addressed just as much as adult obesity. We should be thanking the First Lady for attacking this issue and trying to bring awareness to any important issue. Shame on you for attacking the first lady instead of the companies that are keeping you and I fat! Are you stupid? Furthermore you only included a short synopsis of her entire speech. Let’s attack the fat not the messenger.

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Lesley on March 18, 2011 at 11:16 am.

Firstly, my name’s not “blogger”. It’s Lesley. (Miss Jackson, if you’re nasty.)

Secondly, see that first link up top? That goes to the full transcript of the speech. I would not reproduce the whole thing here because that’s not what you DO, when you write about things.

Thirdly, I am not attacking Michelle Obama, but rather her gratuitous and harmful assumptions, because I strongly believe that if she had a fuller understanding of their impact, she would cease making them, as I believe Michelle Obama is an otherwise brilliant, awesome woman.

Fourthly, thanks for the added shame! Way to prove my point for me. Cheers.

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Becky B on March 18, 2011 at 12:32 pm.

You know what? I was a fat kid. It sucked. I was in marching band, and worked hard at it, and I wasn’t as fat anymore, but I was still fat. Then I wasn’t in marching band anymore and I got even fatter. Then I started working in Corporate America and eating out every day, and I got even fatter. But you know what? I’m 30 and I still don’t have diabetes, heart disease, or any of the health problems that everyone says I should have now. I went to the doctor two weeks ago for my annual physical, and everything was normal. I exercise 5 days a week, and I’m training for a half marathon – and I’m still fat. Fat doesn’t always equal unhealthy. Keep that in mind.

Lesley, I love your post. Thank you for speaking up for the fat kids out there.

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Tiferet on March 18, 2011 at 1:57 pm.

I weigh 250 pounds and I bet I eat more vegetables than you do, but that’s not the POINT.

1) Shame doesn’t change people. If someone is actually fat because of disordered eating, you might be able to get them to do something else with their shame (like commit suicide, take drugs, have a lot of sex they don’t really want, or drink) instead of engaging in their disordered eating behaviour, but most people who engage in disordered behavior with respect to sex or food or the like are already drowning in shame and more will just make them worse.

2) Obesity is not an ‘epidemic’ if it works the way these people think it does, and if it is an epidemic, this is not the way to fix it. An epidemic is a disease that is spread from person to person, not something that you can control (at least not until you know how it’s being spread and that it exists) and therefore if you blame someone who falls ill in an ACTUAL epidemic, you are a dick.

There is some evidence that obesity in at least some cases is related to human adenovirus-36 infection (see here: http://scienceblogs.com/aetiology/2008/04/a_deeper_look_into_adenovirus3.php). Should this correlation prove to be reliably reproducible, and should we then be able to identify the causal mechanism so that we know it’s not some other factor that makes fat people likely to carry these antibodies, THEN we can truthfully say it’s an epidemic. But in that case, we’ll need to figure out how to cure/prevent the infection. Nobody ever got over the flu or bubonic plague by developing sufficient willpower to starve themselves over the course of their entire life. Viruses do not care what you eat or how often you work out; those things can affect your resistance generally, but you don’t get a viral infection for any reason other than being exposed to a virus.

Until we can prove it’s an epidemic and actually start to treat it like one, calling it an ‘epidemic’ is just bullshit. It’s a scare tactic, and it’s also ridiculous to call it an epidemic and then blame children for getting it. Even at the height of the AIDS epidemic–the only actual epidemic I’ve ever heard of in which victims were blamed for their illness (which was just homophobia–nobody would blame the victims of an illness which didn’t disproportionately affect an oppressed group for ‘spreading’ it, particularly if we were aware that nobody knew about the disease or how it was transmitted for years before it became a problem)–most people didn’t sink low enough to blame the KIDS who got it.

It’s true that if you put rates of obesity and rates of illness on a map the places with high rates of obesity will have high rates of illness. You know what correlates best with both rates of obesity and rates of illness? POVERTY. In other words, lack of access to healthy food, stress and food insecurity, and in the USA, where obesity is most common, lack of access to health care. It may very well be true that while the tendency to obesity is partially genetic, but it also seems likely that people who get fat and then get sick–which most people from fat families don’t do–are not getting sick because they are fat; they are getting fat and sick because they are broke, stressed out and have food insecurity problems.

Changing the factors which cause these very obvious problems should be the focus of Ms Obama’s efforts, but that would require taking on the big corporations that grow, process and distribute our food, the greed of health insurance companies, the way that US citizens have been brainwashed about single-payer health care, and the contribution of at-will employment, union busting, outsourcing, layoffs, and overworking (while CEOs rake it in) to the stress load on the bodies of poorer people. That would in other words require her to piss off the people who elect Presidents.

It’s easier to blame the fat kids and spread a lot of hoohah about willpower and personal responsibility. And I’ll just stop right here before I end up writing myself a Godwin Ticket.

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Lesley on March 18, 2011 at 2:01 pm.

A+ COMMENT. Damn! Do you want to take over writing this blog for me? Haha.

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Leslie on March 18, 2011 at 2:35 pm.

Your second bullet point is so perfect and spot on and is EXACTLY the sort of rhetorical OH DUH moment that I think might actually get some people to listen to the rest of the points of such an argument instead of knee-jerking to an automatic assumption. Therefore I will be bogarting it for my own purposes. Sorry! Its just too awesome not to use :P

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me on March 18, 2011 at 4:30 pm.

Sorry, I don’t even like the First Lady or the president, but in this blog her speech was taken completely out of context. You chose a short paragraph and then added a whole lot of your opinion. She is not blaming obese children for the economy. She’s not trying to get rid of children, just obesity. Too many parents feed their children crap (& i ate my fair share when i was a child in the 80s) then let the playstation or tv babysit, and nobody can figure out why the children are overweight. I realize this isn’t the case for EVERYONE but it sure is for a lot. What Obama is suggesting are good, common sense ideas – did anyone read that? Less junk in the cafeterias, more LOCAL foods stocked in stores, more exercise opportunities. She makes a good point about health insurance being affected by obesity in children as well as adults. I hadn’t even thought of the fact that companies may decline to hire or settle in an area if they see the area as unhealthy because it will affect their health insurance premiums and absent days in the long run. THAT is what she is talking about – the overall economy and family budgets in the long run. This is one single topic out of many that contribute to the economy as a whole. And I never even thought of the army not being able to take people due to weight, but that makes sense. And by the way, military leaders are usually the more forward-seeing and-thinking ones among us.
Obama is not at all suggesting we ridicule overweight kids to make them lose weight. Our ancestors ate heavy foods cooked in lard and fat, high in calories and they were healthier than we are now w/ all our health food stores and protein shakes and diet bars and pills – because they never sat on their rear ends all day like we do now. Therefore, we have to make it a point to be more physically active. She is pointing out that we ALL have to make better choices. So I agree with Shakira, get real, you included a very short part of her speech, obesity is a problem in this country.

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Lesley on March 18, 2011 at 6:21 pm.

I’m just going to quote myself here: “If “Let’s Move” were exactly the same program but did not mention childhood obesity, and instead focused on improving the public health of children across the board, I would accept and even support it. It is the obesity keywording that leaves me frustrated, because it both builds on and contributes to existing cultural bias.”

Michelle Obama does not have to intend harm in order for harm to occur—indeed, I firmly believe that Michelle Obama has not even conceived of the possibility that her overwhelming focus on obesity might have negative effects on children… but it will. And so far as taking things “out of context” goes: THAT IS THE CONTEXT. The subject and the point of Michelle Obama’s whole speech is her arguments that childhood obesity is hurting the economy. She says as much herself. The quote I pulled above was chosen pretty much at random, to encourage people to actually follow the link and read the whole speech themselves. I don’t need to dig a hole for Michelle Obama on this issue; she is doing a great job of that on her own.

And I do like the first lady and President, but I don’t think that is pertinent here.

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Missy on March 23, 2011 at 12:03 am.

Your words- “Shame on you for attacking the first lady instead of the companies that are keeping you and I fat!”
The issue isn’t about who should be attacked- I didn’t see this as an attack on anybody. I also applaud Michelle Obama for trying to do something about childhood obesity- but if you read the whole speech (Lesley did provide the link) the issue is that Mrs. Obama is going about it all wrong. She should be fighting for better school lunches, to keep recess, to keep and improve physical education, to add more diversified school sports, to have better health education and nutritional education (not just here are the food that are good for you classes like some schools have, but teach WHY they are good for you and how to prepare them in tasty ways- I can’t be the only kid that grew up thinking the only way to eat a carrot was raw=yucky). You don’t get positive results from playing the blame game, you get positive results from education and encouragement.
And why should we be attacking any companies? Isn’t what makes America great- choice? How would attacking companies that produce unhealthy products be beneficial? By making them take away our choice? It’s not the companies that are making us fat- it’s our own choices. We could get plenty fat even if those companies didn’t exist.
Wouldn’t it more beneficial to encourage and educate our kids so that they can make good choices?

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Jami on March 18, 2011 at 11:06 am.

I would dearly love to punch Michelle in the mouth now.

The economy is screwed up because Bill Clinton insisted on stupid loans. Economic experts have traced it ALL back to his presidency. Bush tried to fix it but the congress wouldn’t let him.

Pull your head out of your bigoted butt, Michelle, and admit the truth.

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drst on March 18, 2011 at 1:20 pm.

Advocating physical violence against anyone is not cool.

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Lesley on March 18, 2011 at 1:24 pm.

Seconded. Please choose your comments more carefully in future, Jami. Thanks!

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buttercup on March 18, 2011 at 11:06 am.

::applause::

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polianarchy on March 18, 2011 at 11:08 am.

The sad state of our economy is due to the billions spent on endless wars, corporate tax breaks, corrupt business practices in banking & real estate, and the devaluation of education & skilled labor (thus, our workforce). How Obama can pin the blame on children — our FUTURE citizens — is beyond me. And why isn’t anyone else challenging her? Ugh, our culture is killing our individuality.

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Zoe Danger Awesome on March 18, 2011 at 11:22 am.

let me get this straight: Our military is going to shit, and that my fault, (funny, I never really planed on joining to military anyway), heath care costs are my fault, (funny, I am hardly ever sick), and now the economy is shit, and thats my fault too. I mean, I don’t have a job, because i’m still in high school, trying to pass all my classes. But I understand now that I am being selfish, sometimes I sit down for as much as 8 hours a day! Clearly, I should spend the time I do doing homework to lose weight. Who cares if I don’t get a diploma? I’ll be thin! And the world will be a better place! Everyone will have jobs again! YAY!!!!

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Zoe Danger Awesome on March 18, 2011 at 11:26 am.

Also, Lesley, the lack of paragraph breaks make this a little hard to read. just fyi :)

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Lesley on March 18, 2011 at 11:27 am.

I just noticed that and fixed it. The paragraph breaks were there a few minutes ago, I swear. Not sure what happened.

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Alice on March 18, 2011 at 11:32 am.

Fucking Amen. I’m glad that my RSS feed put up Fatworld after this, because your review was hilarious, and I needed some humor after this.

Lauding mean-spiritedness is never ok. Using her bully pulpit to bully, and then exhort others to do the same, is not ok. I applaud your more charitable approach to her situation, because I’m just disgusted, appalled, and massively disappointed.

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kbryna on March 18, 2011 at 12:00 pm.

This is so depressing and disappointing to me, because in all other respects, I ADORE the First Lady. I think she’s fierce and smart as hell and thoughtful and complex and awesome. But then. And then.

It would have been SO easy to pitch this campaign as “healthier children” – focusing on growing your own organic veggies and being more active and reducing pollution in your environment and having good self-esteem and drinking plenty of water and washing your hands after you sneeze or blow your nose and being aware of ALL the things we do to keep healthy. Healthier Children will mean Healthier Adults, and NO ONE can complain about that. And no one is made to feel ashamed of themselves when everyone is urged to get out and work in their garden and use good public-health hygiene (hand-washing, etc) and get sunshine and vitamin D.
Instead, Fat Kid Ruins the World.
It’s just plain awful.
Ugh. Thank you for this post, Lesley. I get too upset reading about this campaign to even muster the anger you so excellently deploy.

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Willow on March 18, 2011 at 12:25 pm.

Wonder if this is some way to make the sheeple look the other way while the economy is actually buckling under forces that certainly AREN’T fat children.

I never liked the woman to begin with – I can’t really bring myself to like anyone who has that much money and seems so thrilled with herself and takes her lifestyle for granted – but this intensifies my dislike into outright disgust. I can’t wait until that lunatic is out of the WH.

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silentbeep on March 18, 2011 at 12:31 pm.

Its like people are operating on the assumption (this includes Michelle Obama) that the ONLY reason to exercise and eat nutritiously is because it “makes you thin.” AND they operate on the false notion that the vast majority of people will get thin through exercise and nutrition alone. Vitamin deficiency, fitness levels, they all mean NOTHING: it’s all about the evangelical zeal for thinness. And forget about any attempt at addressing mental health issues and eating disorders: ALL that stuff falls by the wayside though this absolute push for thinness (and is in fact made worse by this push).

It’s like people treat exercise and nutrition as a magical, foolproof thing that is just gonna make the vast majority of people skinny. This is simply not true, there is actual research to back this claim up. People do not want to accept a variety of body shapes, and people do not want to accept, that exercise and nutrition CAN be for fat people too, just as they are. I’m not waiting to live my life when I’m thin, and I don’t have to orient my life around a goal that is illusory, FOR ME. People do not want to accept HAES – the very notion of it is virtually heretical, especially in regards to children. And Michelle Obama is leading this wave of intolerance and inacceptance.

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Carol Gwenn on March 18, 2011 at 12:43 pm.

Your post was superb, hitting all the nails squarely on their heads!

Things like this just make me want to scream. If anyone posited these ideas and substituted “black people” or “Jews” for “obese children”, she would have a lynch mob at her door. How can a supposedly intelligent woman fail to see that this is nothing more than raw, hate-filled discrimination?

Our only defense is to keep on speaking up & making noise, lest one day “…then they came for the fat people, and there was no one left to speak up”.

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Shoshie on March 23, 2011 at 1:34 pm.

GARHGAHG I hate the tactic of “oh hey, if you replace ‘Jews’ or ‘black folks’ in there…”

OK, look. Oppression Olympics isn’t cool. And yes, many times if public figures spew racist or antisemitic crap, they get called out. But that’s because we’ve had to become SO FREAKING ATTUNED to racism and antisemitism because, when we aren’t, WE GET KILLED OR ENSLAVED.

So just no.

However, Lesley, love your post. It makes me annoyed that I’m in agreement with some of the right wingers who have taken this opportunity to shit on the Obamas. But I still think that having obesity be the focus of her campaign is hurtful and misguided.

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Nolan on March 18, 2011 at 1:06 pm.

So I read your post. Then I read the speech by Michelle Obama. You both seem to be concerned with a lot of the same things. Unfortunately – Michelle Obama has to pitch her initiatives to people that aren’t, and that requires framing the issue in a way which appeals to their self interest as well. And as I’m sure you’re well aware – people are more concerned with initiatives that have the words like “debt”, “money”, “jobs” and “economic impact” than “health”, “happiness” and “humanity”. It’s a sad state of affairs, but it’s what we’re left to work with.

If you read past her albeit weak attempt to link childhood obesity to the economy and national security(seriously what the hell), she goes on to talk about the importance of exercise, having healthy food available in impoverished communities, and better infrastructure to support active lifestyles. None of this sounds at all like “blaming fat kids” to me.

Where I think she missed the boat: While she was scrambling to link childhood obesity to the economy, she probably could have spent some more time on the health impacts for poverty – and she definitely could have at least mentioned the necessity to differentiate between disordered eating and healthy lifestyles.

All in all – I’m gonna have to side with Michelle on this one. It seemed to me like you chose the one part of her speech meant to make it politically viable and attempted to use it to discredit her whole attitude toward those most affected by the problem she’s putting awful lot of effort forth to solve. I mean where in that speech do you truly see examples of “prejudice and shame”?

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Lesley on March 18, 2011 at 1:24 pm.

This is exactly my point: using fat kids as a prop is unacceptable. Period. It distracts from legitimate concerns by creating an atmosphere of blame, placing individual responsibility (of parents, and kids themselves) over necessary institutional changes. By making this weak argument, Michelle Obama discredits the parts of her argument that are not only valid but absolutely critical. That is why I get so frustrated. It is simply unnecessary for her to do it.

I do not believe in always playing to the lowest common denominator—if there is anyone in this country who could redirect this effort in a constructive and positive way, it is Michelle Obama. And yet she refuses to do so, and I can’t figure out why.

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Nolan on March 18, 2011 at 1:30 pm.

I think “using fat kids as a prop” is going to far. She’s just trying to frame the issue so that it’s relevant to everyone, and in a democracy, that’s a necessary tactic. You can choose let our systems perpetuate unhealthy lifestyles and doom people to the consequences, or you can take the steps that need to be taken to fix the problem. No one is going to read her speech and go “the economy is all the fat kids’ fault!”. If people buy the argument, their reaction is going to be “The economy is our fault for putting these systems in place which have drastic effects on the health of our citizens.” The attack isn’t on obese people, it’s on the institutional factors.

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Lesley on March 18, 2011 at 1:41 pm.

She’s just trying to frame the issue so that it’s relevant to everyone, and in a democracy, that’s a necessary tactic.

But wouldn’t it make more sense to do this by actually framing the issue so that it’s relevant to everyone, and not just to fat children and the parents of fat children? Because that is what this current initiative does—it emphasizes fat children to the exclusion of all others, and creates a false sense of security that thinner kids can eat nutritionally-poor diets and be sedentary as they like, so long as they don’t get fat.

If people buy the argument, their reaction is going to be “The economy is our fault for putting these systems in place which have drastic effects on the health of our citizens.”

Nolan, my friend, I fear that I lack your faith in people. I believe that this is the opposite of what will happen, and that the public is far more likely to redirect blame on an already marginalized group rather than take responsibility themselves. I know I am a cynic, and I’d be happy to agree with you on this prediction, but I just don’t believe it.

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Nolan on March 18, 2011 at 2:04 pm.

It’s funny, I think we both lack the same faith in the ability of those in power to empathize with marginalized groups of people. Where we differ is what the effect of that might be.

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Lesley on March 18, 2011 at 1:44 pm.

To clarify further: if “Let’s Move” were exactly the same program but did not mention childhood obesity, and instead focused on improving the public health of children across the board, I would accept and even support it. It is the obesity keywording that leaves me frustrated, because it both builds on and contributes to existing cultural bias.

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YellowValkyrie on March 18, 2011 at 2:44 pm.

My former partner/current BFF works in community planning – specifically, “active living” (e.g. safe routes to schools, creating walkable neighborhoods, etc). Among professionals in this field, there is a very strong movement away from the obesity emphasis. He says many of these folks are extremely frustrated with the Let’s Move campaign because of its anti-obesity framing.

So, thankfully, we do have community planners out there who are coming at this issue from a “good for everyone” standpoint. These policies though, are being implemented on much smaller levels – usually county-by-county. So that means the most visible campaign out there is Michelle Obama’s, which, unfortunately, is still framing it very, very poorly.

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AcceptanceWoman on March 18, 2011 at 3:42 pm.

Good to hear that… I sense that in what I see, too, a movement away from framing everything as Obesity OMG because, they tried it, and it didn’t work.

What I find sad and hard is that the “real killers” go free — income inequality, racism, sexism, disparities in every imaginable area that can be measured like education, housing, jobs, etc.

An attempt to have a common enemy, i.e. children who are fat, is an enormous fail. I feel like a bunch of people sitting in a room said, “We can all agree that no one wants fat children,” but no one invited any fat kids into the room when they voted.

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Katy on March 18, 2011 at 6:14 pm.

This! This right here! If anyone asks me why I am “against” Michelle Obama’s campaign I will copy and paste this comment and tell them to read your blog.

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Sue Reimer Hutchinson on March 18, 2011 at 1:13 pm.

I have never, in my 62 years, been so disgusted with something a person in power has said … and yes, she is in a position of power.
We have been angry at the Scott Walkers of the world and all the Fat Cats with the majority of the money … and all this time, Michele Obama says that it is the “fat kids” causing our economic problems!
Mrs. Obama – shut up – no one needs to listen to this type of twaddle … oh and fuck you and your perfect little child.

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Tiferet on March 18, 2011 at 2:01 pm.

No offence intended here, but while I know the history, I’m not really liking the term ‘fat cat’ as slang for an oppressive, privileged person right now.

It’s kinda fatphobic language, you know?

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Jane on March 21, 2011 at 11:00 am.

OK, in that post? That you’re responding to? Did it not say that blaming children for things that are not their fault is a bad thing? Did you not agree?

I’m not sure which of Michele Obama’s children you are inexplicably dragging into your comment, but cut it out.

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Tom Brokaw on March 18, 2011 at 2:09 pm.

See, this is why I read this site. Thank you for the edification.

Today, I have gained a new respect for ancient Greek culture.

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Lesley on March 18, 2011 at 2:16 pm.

Hi Tom! I was worried you’d fallen down a well or something, I hadn’t heard from you in so long. I am gratified to see you are well and still being true to your mischievous and contrary nature.

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Tom Brokaw on March 18, 2011 at 2:21 pm.

Yes I am well. I enjoy learning little tidbits about culture and history, and you do often supply that. The previous sentence was not sarcastic.

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Lesley on March 18, 2011 at 2:25 pm.

And I enjoy that I can rely on you to keep my ego in check. Interesting symbiosis, that.

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vesta44 on March 18, 2011 at 2:27 pm.

That Michelle Obama has the nerve to say this, and then come out and say she’s against bullying is the height of hypocrisy. I really don’t care what her intentions are, the road to hell is paved with good intentions, and I don’t intend to take her road, nor do I intend to let my grandchildren get started down that road.
Between this speech and her “let’s move” campaign, she’s opened the door so wide for bullying of fat kids, I fear it’s never going to be shut. Maybe she means only some kids shouldn’t be bullied? If that’s the case, I lost any respect I had for her.

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Jess on March 18, 2011 at 2:35 pm.

Lesley, this post and this blog are genius. Thank you so much.

I’m reading a book about Foucault right now (I’m about to have to teach Foucault, and want to be darn sure I understand the nuances before I go confusing other people). And I just got to the part about biopower. Stick with me here – he’s talking about how we as living beings are subject to sexual and biological norms. Foucault hated that kind of thing. In “The Birth of the Clinic,” he wrote about “making explicit the political significance (in a broad sense that includes the social and the economic) of the medical norms defining a healthy individual. So, for example, the modern medical notion of obesity corresponds to the marginalized social class of ‘fat people,’ and modern techniques of drug treatments of illness are inextricably tied to the economics of the pharmaceutical industry.” That’s how it works on an individual level. There is a second, social-group level, and in this case, it “concerns the modern focus on a nation’s entire population as a resource that must be protected, supervised, and improved.” (Gary Gutting, “Foucault: A Very Short Introduction,” pp. 95-96).

I know this is from reading ABOUT Foucault and not reading Foucault himself – this is just what’s in front of me right now. I’m going to read “The Birth of the Clinic” next. I think it’s fascinating and relevant, but I hope I didn’t bore you with this comment.

(Disclosure: I posted a link to this in the comments of my own blog and said that if we weren’t both already married, I would propose in response to this post alone. Keep fighting, you’re an inspiration.)

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Lesley on March 18, 2011 at 2:39 pm.

No way is this boring! Foucault continues to have a huge influence on me, reluctant though I am to admit it.

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Jess on March 18, 2011 at 2:45 pm.

Indeed, Foucault is not without his problematic ideas. But I really like some of what he has to say about how people internalize norms and self-monitor – that we can do the work of our oppressors for them. It’s interesting to consider. On the one hand, we want some norms internalized (don’t run around randomly shooting people) but not others (don’t think yourself less worthy because you’re fat/have bad skin/are gay).

I think that’s why it’s so important to have voices out there counteracting that pressure to “normalize.” I’m sad that Michelle Obama is working with the power structure instead of against it, but not surprised, I guess.

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SugarLeigh on March 18, 2011 at 4:20 pm.

Well said. I’d also like to mention that blaming children, any children, for the actions and responsibilities of ADULTS is morally reprehensible. They can’t vote, own property, hold office, leave the care of an adult, and up to a certain age can’t work and participate in the economy. I know that using children to hold up a political platform because of their vulnerability making it more viscerally emotional or bla whatever isn’t exactly new, but it sickens me. If they’re not responsible and mature and capable enough to participate in basically all of the activities that makes citizenry, well, citizens, then dammit they’re not responsible for things like older people raping them (no, no matter how they dress or who they hang out with… yeah that case with the 11 year old is still on my mind) or the entire fucking United States economy!!! RAGE. SEETHE. SUGAR SMASH. :C It’s just… gruuuh. Makes me so mad I can’t word proper, like, right.

TL;DR– why are children responsible in any way for an economy they can’t even legally participate in? Is that not the responsibility of, gee I dunno, ADULTS?!

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Marisa on March 18, 2011 at 4:55 pm.

You said in a comment:
“To clarify further: if “Let’s Move” were exactly the same program but did not mention childhood obesity, and instead focused on improving the public health of children across the board, I would accept and even support it. It is the obesity keywording that leaves me frustrated, because it both builds on and contributes to existing cultural bias.”

Totally agree and think this is a really important point that a lot of people are missing. Makes your argument (and mine, since I pretty much agree with you down the line) much clearer. Love it when other people articulate what I stumble towards in the fog.

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Tom on March 18, 2011 at 6:27 pm.

Hi, this is my first visit to your blog and I’ve enjoyed it. But I am puzzled about your reading of Michelle Obama’s speech. I read through it and could not find a single instance where she blamed “fat kids” for anything. To my mind, there is a world of difference between blaming “childhood obesity” and blaming those who suffer from childhood obesity. So, I’m confused. Is blaming social problems on a cancer epidemic the same as blaming cancer victims? Are you saying that obese children are responsible for their own disease and therefore calling obesity a “problem” is an attack on them?

Don’t get me wrong: I think you are absolutely right that the prevailing cultural norms about body image, eating, etc. etc. are messed up, that there is a cultural bias against those considered to be “overweight,” and that these are serious issues that need to be addressed (and I thank you for doing so).

I have always assumed that “obesity” was a scientifically-defined term, that this specific phenomenon has been increasing over time, that specific health issues have been scientifically correlated to it, that these health issues detrimentally affect society, and that (therefore) we should find ways to decrease this phenomenon. Is that incorrect? Is there a way to talk about these issues without being offensive or appearing to blame the victim?

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Lesley on March 18, 2011 at 8:05 pm.

Hi Tom! Welcome!

I think your cancer analogy is uneven for a few reasons. For one, fat isn’t cancer! For two, cancer carries a whole lot of meaning but cancer victims/survivors are not marginalized in the same way as fat people. They can be marginalized, for sure, but that’s a whole different kettle of fish, as cancer victims and survivors are less likely to be subject to all the morality and personal responsibility that we associate with fatness.

Are you saying that obese children are responsible for their own disease and therefore calling obesity a “problem” is an attack on them?

Unfortunately, I don’t have to—the popular conventional wisdom is already that fat people of any age are exclusively personally responsible for their weight. I think this is inaccurate in the majority of cases, but so long as this ideology persists I am inclined to assess speeches like the above within that context, because that is the context in which most people will hear it. I wish it were easier to talk about obesity independently of the privacy of individual people, but I’d argue that bias against fat folks is so strong that this is difficult to do.

So far as obesity-as-science goes, it ought to be a strict term, a medical term, but given several years of panic-mongering over epidemic fattery, I think obesity is used these days with little connection to its sciencey roots. I’d argue that the original definition has been compromised by inaccurate overuse.

I have always assumed that “obesity” was a scientifically-defined term, that this specific phenomenon has been increasing over time, that specific health issues have been scientifically correlated to it, that these health issues detrimentally affect society, and that (therefore) we should find ways to decrease this phenomenon. Is that incorrect? Is there a way to talk about these issues without being offensive or appearing to blame the victim?

I kinda love you for this paragraph, even though it also depresses me. What you describe here is what public health initiatives are SUPPOSED to do—to mount campaigns to improve health across vast populations via institutional changes—and somewhere along the way we’ve lost sight of it. In the speech referenced above, instead of seizing an opportunity to argue for these institutional improvements, like, oh, outlawing trans fats, or not subsidizing the corn industry quite so heavily such that everything has HFCS in it, Michelle Obama chooses instead to talk about individual kids and parents making “small” changes. This is all well and good on a surface level, but telling families to eat more vegetables is not helpful if vegetables are too expensive or not available at all. Likewise, telling kids to get more exercise is not constructive if their school’s budget can no longer pay for physical education classes because test scores are more important. Our problems are deep, far deeper than any increase in obesity, and need to be addressed on a macro scale.

This is why, when Michelle Obama tries to draw weak links between childhood obesity and the economy, I feel inclined to take the surface read, satirically, and suggest that she is blaming fat children for the nation’s problems. Because Michelle Obama is also only skimming the surface, when she actually has the influence to change the deep-rooted influences that should be the real concern. Increasing rates of childhood obesity is the symptom, not the disease, and focusing on the former to the exclusion of all else is like taking aspirin for a brain tumor.

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Tom on March 18, 2011 at 10:51 pm.

In the speech referenced above, instead of seizing an opportunity to argue for these institutional improvements…Michelle Obama chooses instead to talk about individual kids and parents making “small” changes.

That’s a great point and helps me to understand your broader critique. By not making the broader critique of the system and offering recommendations limited to individual choices, I can see how it becomes an implicit case of blaming the victim. Thanks for the clear and enlightening response!

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Luke on March 18, 2011 at 8:12 pm.

I’m sorry, but I think you’re off the mark. While I certainly don’t think the First Lady addressed all the issues involved in childhood overweight and obesity in the course of this speech, she made the case (to the meeting of the Nat’l League of Cities) that municipalities have a stake in the issue. A huge problem in addressing obesity is that the revenue streams are all one sided, i.e. the constant advertising of junk foods and sedentary play options. Since restricting this flow of dollars would be decried as unAmerican, we need to find other ways to counter the unhealthful conditioning children receive.
This is a tough sell to cash-strapped cities, and it seems pretty clear to me that the point of the First Lady’s speech was to show that there are costs associated with continuing the status quo. Nothing she said, in your excerpt or the full text, indicated that overweight among children was the primary cause behind current economic problems, only that it was an issue.

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Lesley on March 18, 2011 at 8:18 pm.

I hear you and your point is well taken. But still, I think this speech is terrible, and her points could have been made far more convincingly without throwing fat kids under the bus in what I perceive to be a gratuitous pandering to the familiar hysteria around obesity.

To be honest, a big part of why this bugs me so much is because I think Michelle Obama is extremely smart, and totally capable of making an argument that doesn’t need to pander to this crap to get an audience. I am disappoint.

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Shannon on March 18, 2011 at 8:29 pm.

I think the most interesting thing about this campaign is what she’s not saying or taking on.

I’ve not seen the food industry taken to task by someone who could ostensibly have enough power to expose them on a large level (Mrs. President I’m looking at you) for their hand in the bad health of everyone not just children. There is no questioning of the food industry lobbyists.

Also this bullshit? Yeah I reiterate the thing I’ve been saying for what three years now? I don’t believe you. This time I don’t believe you Mrs. Obama. I don’t believe you at all.

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drst on March 18, 2011 at 9:28 pm.

I’ve not seen the food industry taken to task by someone who could ostensibly have enough power to expose them on a large level (Mrs. President I’m looking at you) for their hand in the bad health of everyone not just children

This. Where’s the outrage at Monsanto, Perdue, lobbyists, the corn and soybean subsidies? Where’s the outrage over food deserts? Where’s the charts about how much more expensive vegetables are compared to corn chips? That would be attacking the systemic problem rather than attacking the symptoms.

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Cattitude on March 19, 2011 at 12:54 am.

I’ve not seen the food industry taken to task by someone who could ostensibly have enough power to expose them on a large level (Mrs. President I’m looking at you) for their hand in the bad health of everyone not just children

This. Where’s the outrage at Monsanto, Perdue, lobbyists, the corn and soybean subsidies? Where’s the outrage over food deserts? Where’s the charts about how much more expensive vegetables are compared to corn chips? That would be attacking the systemic problem rather than attacking the symptoms.

Is it too obvious to suggest that the POTUS &co must not bite the hand that feeds, so to speak? It doesn’t seem so unlikely to me.

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RAFritz on March 18, 2011 at 8:40 pm.

It’s a lot easier to blame fat kids than fat cats, isn’t it?

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Meowser on March 18, 2011 at 9:15 pm.

I still think it’s deliberate. Not because M. Obama hates fat kids, but because she (and the corporations that are sponsoring this initiative) know there’s plenty of money to be squeezed out of them if they (and their frantic parents) are drowning in body hate. Hey, it’s not just fat kids who are a ready market for overpriced diet foods, not to mention the “binge foods” that occupy the other end of the yo-yo, and the diet drugs that Big Pharma would just love to get through the pipeline — it’s the kids who are scared to death (and their parents along with them) that they WILL be fat, and hence despised. That pretty much means every kid who is not clinically underweight, or a taut, buffed-out athlete without a single ounce of fat, gets to be freaked out about this! Ka-ching!

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clara26 on March 18, 2011 at 9:34 pm.

Huzzah, Lesley! I agree with your response to Luke; someone as smart and as powerful as Michelle Obama should know better and that’s what adds an extra pinch of salt to this already gaping, festering wound of fat-bullying rhetoric.

So much of political pandering is based on the assumption that Americans won’t take the time to read or think critically. I’m thankful you’re taking the time to do this in an impassioned yet eloquent way.

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thirtiesgirl on March 18, 2011 at 10:03 pm.

Word.

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Other Kate on March 18, 2011 at 10:25 pm.

This should be an op-ed in every major paper in the country. Well done madam.

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Bilt4Cmfrt on March 18, 2011 at 11:32 pm.

E-Rantasaur

What really crisps my bisqutes? We saw this coming from May of last year. People then, myself included, were hoping against hope that FLOTUS might get the message and this initiative or, at least, ease up on the ‘War on Obesity’ rhetoric. 

So much for that. 

Now it looks like we’re in the commit stages of more useless flailing about. In a program that, -let’s see… Nope!- has NEVER worked before. The one thing we can look forward to is that fat children are being / will be pinned under the white-hot spotlight. They or their parents will be accused by the adults,  and the kids themselves will, most certainly, be persecuted by their peers. With any luck the anti-bullying trends currently in vogue will stick and take some of the edge off of it, but I wouldn’t count on that mitigating much. Fat people are fair game in this country after all. 

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Erinlala on March 19, 2011 at 7:35 am.

I was a fat kid. I had a great childhood: Plenty of friends, involved in clubs, doing well at school, involved in sports- both team and individual. I was pretty goddamned active. I was fitter than all of my skinny friends and I ate well. (Oh and i’ve since became only kinda fat…but just through growing up and keeping active…not through a system of bullying and being told i was causing the ECONOMY to fail).
I HATE the fact that fat kids are being told that they are failures and rubbish already! It is not the kids fault they are fat. They may be like me, just fat or they may have health conditions which make them keep a few extra pounds or they might have parents that need a little help to feed them better. But none of that is the fault of the child.
They should be encouraged to feel good about themselves. Not told that they are the cause of all this damage when they have done nothing wrong.
I am disgusted by this. Michelle Obama- I no longer like you or your lovely dresses!
I’m gonna go seethe somewhere!
Erin.

PS… I sooo very want a t-shirt tht say “fat kids are not loser goats”
AMAZING

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maggie on March 19, 2011 at 11:19 am.

Yay, it’s the War On Fat Kids! Those little pie-eating terrorists!

I was actually feeling really positive about this stuff, because it seems that it’s creeping into the mainstream more. And then there’s this.

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maggie on March 19, 2011 at 11:20 am.

I meant FA and HAES is creeping into mainstream more!

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Alexis on March 19, 2011 at 11:02 pm.

Oh my god, now I want a tee shirt that says “Pie Eating Terrorist”.

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Kathy on March 19, 2011 at 2:18 pm.

My God, i love you and your comments! I have recommended your fatcast to everyone I know, including the lady doing my mammogram (well, we were both fat, we were both there moving awesome fat around, why not?). Keep up the good work of clarifying and expressing the rage I feel.

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Marilyn Wann on March 19, 2011 at 5:58 pm.

Desperately needed argument, Lesley! I’m so glad to read.

I was distressed and intrigued by comments in response to Paul Campos’s recent take on this same topic, here (for people who can spare sanity points)…
http://www.lawyersgunsmoneyblog.com/2011/03/helpful-oppressors#comments

I find it intriguing that people so refuse to question this big-power messaging, people who question every other top-down message from every angle and in more detail than I would find worth the bother.

On any fat-hating/blaming/shaming message, they push each other out of the way in a rush to defend people and institutions they otherwise view skeptically. When faced with convincing data or arguments, they defend fat hate/blame/shame programs as not actually containing any fat hate/shame/blame.

Their equation of weight with health behaves like memory plastic in the bumper of a car. The second one stops applying significant force to realign these two concepts, they snap back together into total lockstep.

I imagine such unanimity can only be accomplished by appealing to intense and powerful forces, like fear and pleasure. Fear of being a social outcast. Pleasure at casting others out.

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Rose on March 19, 2011 at 6:14 pm.

But, wait, hang on…

I think taking the First Lady’s address on a very serious topic (the unarguably HAPPENING, unarguably scary, and unarguably sad epidemic of childhood obesity), and her intelligent, astute dissection of exactly how the current generation of increasingly obese children (not chubby children, not big-boned children, OBESE children, children who are struggling to function at the same level as their peers, not because their bodies just are that way, but because they have been NEGLECTED, by their parents, teachers, communities, and country) will indeed become a burden on the medical system, the school system, and the welfare system, which does, undeniably, affect the economy, and dumbing it down to read “Fat kids are to blame for the economy, they should all kill themselves”, is just reductive and lazy. Its the easy way out, and frankly, from reading your blog, I expect more from your brain.

Michelle Obama is right. The obesity epidemic is poised to become a major practical issue. To interpret her message as “blaming the children”, as you have done, and to somehow assume that, in raising the issue of what these children’s lives will be like in the future, and how their impaired futures will impair the well-being of the community they are a part of, she is encouraging others to shame, persecute, or malign the CHILDREN THEMSELVES, rather than the system that is failing them, is careless, malicious, and, again, really intellectually lazy. Basically, you have oversimplified her message to suit your own (usually admirable) agenda, and in so doing, I think you’ve sacrificed a certain degree of integrity.

I’ve been the fat kid. The really really fat, wheezy, miserable kid, who couldn’t play sports or keep up with the rest of the class on field trips. My peers were actually pretty nice, and in that I was lucky. No one should have to suffer persecution because of their personal appearance. But I was the fat kid because my parents couldn’t afford to feed me well, and because I had an undiagnosed thyroid condition, and they couldn’t afford medical care. Eventually, I qualified for federal assistance, and I finally got the treatment I needed. If I hadn’t, I probably wouldn’t have made it past thirty. So, guess what? I’m ONE OF THE KIDS SHE’s TALKING ABOUT. How many more kids like me are out there? Probably a lot, right? When Michelle Obama encourages people to take responsibility for turning the obesity epidemic around by promoting community gardens, making better food available in schools, and promoting school and community based exercise programs, she’s encouraging them to bypass a broken system that causes children, like me, to eventually become a financial burden on taxpayers, thus undermining the economy. And that just seems smart. Not shaming, not cruel, not misguided. And I don’t think she’s being an elitist. Yeah. Processed foods are cheap, tasty, and easily accessible. But its not like a carrot costs a hundred dollars and only grows on the side of a verrrrry special mountain in China. Geez. If the adults who are responsible for the health and well being (and that includes positive body image) of the children in their care would step up to that responsibility, I think we would see a significant change. And in advocating for a well planned, socially conscious shift in the American attitude toward the issue of childhood obesity, I think the First Lady is to be commended, not bitch-slapped.

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Lesley on March 19, 2011 at 9:04 pm.

dumbing it down to read “Fat kids are to blame for the economy, they should all kill themselves”, is just reductive and lazy.

This was satirical, which I actually do a lot here, though I am loathe to point it out when I do because it loses its import by identification!

As I’ve said elsewhere, Michelle Obama does not need to intend for her campaign to do social harm to fat children, but it will, indeed it already has. I’ve actually responded to the rest of your comment in other threads, so I’ll leave it at that. :)

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Atchka! on March 19, 2011 at 6:22 pm.

How does one stand on the internet in order to give a standing ovation? For me, this is the definitive response to Michelle Obama. Now, someone just needs to put this in front of her eyes.

Bravo, Lesley!

Peace,
Shannon

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Rose on March 19, 2011 at 6:30 pm.

On another note, I 100% agree with the points you make in your loser goat analogy. I mean, well fucking said. And that whole Pharmacos thing? Creeeeeeeeepy. Beyond creepy. Yikes. But…

I just don’t think its accurate to claim that Michelle Obama is “blaming fat kids” for the problems of the community, or encouraging others to (let alone to drive them forth into the wilderness as a ritual sacrifice to the greater good). In point of fact, its the other way around; She’s blaming the system that creates and sustains their obesity, that fails to take care of them, and encouraging a reform of that system to ensure that they are better taken care of. I feel like that’s pretty darn clear in the text of her speech.

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Lesley on March 19, 2011 at 8:58 pm.

We’ll have to agree to disagree on this: I think her speech is doing to opposite of “blaming the system” and instead blames individuals and suggests “little” changes when huge overhauls led by institutional organizations are what is needed. But I’ve discussed this extensively in other comment threads already so I won’t bore folks by repeating all that here. :)

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E on March 19, 2011 at 8:05 pm.

Honestly, I wouldn’t support “Let’s Move” even if it didn’t single out fat kids. Health is not an obligation, nor is it a straightforward concept to define (and therefore obtain). Even people who “do all the right things” get sick, or get into accidents. Would we say that some one who got into a car crash hadn’t perfected his driving skills? I know this analogy doesn’t work perfectly for all instances of health, but I’m just asking how far we are going to go to take control of people’s lives, or to make them feel that they have to take control of them?

If you have too many things to worry about, sometimes you can’t get anything done. Also, people have different priorities. If you’re worrying about keeping your job and supporting your kids, making sure they “move” and “eat vegetables” might be low on your to-do list, and adding it isn’t necessarily going to make you feel like you can get anything done (at least in my experience, the more things I have on my to-do list, the less I seem to get done). Similarly, if you’re a high-profile lawyer, very invested in your career, exercising and “eating well” might be on your radar (how could they not be in this society), but only far in the periphery. This might just be fine with you–you love what you do, it keeps you extremely busy, and takes priority in your life. Despite what the president’s lifestyle might be, the successful people I know didn’t obtain success by maintaining balanced and health-perfect lives. But maybe their lifestyles result in other types of health. Or maybe they don’t. I’d rather the government and society didn’t try to change it.

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Willow on March 19, 2011 at 11:12 pm.

Heh, your comment struck a nerve with me. While out jogging, I fell onto a rock and basically ruined my right knee, which has led to the serious problems I have with it today. I was out “doing the right thing” (SUCH a BS way to look at it, but from society’s perspective, that’s what it is) and I got injured and my injury led to weight gain.

Irony.

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Rebecca - The Plus Side of Me on March 19, 2011 at 11:07 pm.

Thank you for this blog post. I had to complete a Discourse Analysis project last semester, and chose to do so on a speech by Mrs. Obama on the “Let’s Move” campaign. I was shocked by what was said once I got down the the details of it. Thanks for bringing this to my attention.

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Willow on March 19, 2011 at 11:24 pm.

By building more sidewalks, you could help kids get healthier today and reduce health costs and budget strain tomorrow. By investing in more nutritious school lunches or more P.E. time, you can take steps that will lead to a healthier, more productive workforce in the future.

Lesley, this “speech” touches on so many things – as though the real problems in our competitiveness in the global arena aren’t related to NCLB & education cuts, poor education in general, etc. And that we aren’t working to make the future citizens of this country intellectually curious or happy or unique; the goal on Mrs. Obama’s agenda is for the workforce of tomorrow to be physically healthy so that they can keep the capitalist machine going. There is no talk about making them more analytical, or reading more, or more empathetic to their peers, or more ecologically minded. It boils down to, “We don’t want kids to be fat because then they won’t be able to work.”

FFS. She sounds like a moron, and she has a law degree, and attaining a law degree requires a great deal of analytical skill. It seems like she has a huge blind spot in the area of thinness / size. I remember her and Mr. Obama talking about how one of their daughters was starting to get fat (you may have blogged about it; I don’t remember), and frankly the whole family looks like an advertisement for running shoes.

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Meowser on March 20, 2011 at 6:00 am.

I read the entire press release, and I just noticed something funny. There’s nothing in there about federal government financial support for the initiatives she’s asking the cities for — more grocery stores, sidewalks, better school food, etc. (Not to mention there are USDA regulations that prohibit most “fresh food” from being served in school cafeterias, and there’s not much public schools can do about that on their own.) Besides asking the parents (mothers) to make their kids eat vegetables and go outside and play whether they like it or not, she’s asking that the city governments build those things out of their own pockets to get the children slim ‘n’ healthy, since we don’t have enough “normal BMI” cannon fodder for more useless wars, or something like that. At a time like this. When city governments are slashing their budgets to the bone.

Yeah, that’s realistic. And nothing about changes in industrial practices, at all. Which figures, since the “Trust for America’s Health” that she references as the source for her fatastrophic statisticulation is bankrolled by…the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. That’s Johnson & Johnson — i.e., Big Pharma.

HELP.

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MsHart on March 20, 2011 at 11:01 pm.

Lesley, a couple times on this comment thread you’ve noted that “Fat kids are to blame for the economy; they should just kill themselves,” was intended as satire. But really, you made that one of the linchpins of your argument; it’s the headline of your post. Is your post satirical or in earnest?

Several commenters here have noted that Ms Obama’s rhetoric is like that of other anodyne public crusades; Laura Bush’s literacy campaign probably used similar language. After all, by a First Lady’s standards, her pet issue must have National Significance. Not to defend PR gibberish (or First Lady pet issues) but c’mon…the economy is hardly her main point and obsessing over it seems silly to me.

I’m actually heartened by Ms. Obama’s little “grow your vegetables and ride your bicycle” stuff. I don’t pretend my individual choices will change the world, but I have noticed that in my mixed-race, mixed-income neighborhood, a lot of people are making similar choices. When ordinary people start examining where their food is coming from and how it’s grown and its effect on their health and their children’s health, they start asking the bigger questions about who benefits by the unhealthy status quo. People get involved in political issues because they have something personal at stake.

It’s significant that a black woman is taking these questions on–even if her campaign is limited and incomplete–because she represents a point of aspiration for many poor people who’ve been completely disempowered by the corporate food establishment. And it’s significant too, that she is being attacked as an elitist (even on this thread) for proposing some modest and do-able alternatives to the status quo.

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Lesley on March 21, 2011 at 11:15 am.

Are you seriously asking me whether I believe that Michelle Obama sincerely wants fat children to kill themselves? Really? No. I’m sort of astonished that it needs to be said, but there you go.

When individuals have the option to choose to grow vegetables and ride bicycles, that’s awesome. Michelle Obama actually has the influence to make real changes on an institutional level, however, and she chooses instead to give mundane advice, and obvious advice at that. Eating vegetables is a good idea? Are we really going to suggest that the people who don’t eat vegetables don’t do so because they’re too stupid to know better? That is hugely problematic all on its own.

Also, what is “modest and do-able” for some is neither for many others, and the campaign’s insistent pretending that government subsidies and corporate interests have nothing whatsoever to do with the current state of affairs is downright insulting.

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MsHart on March 21, 2011 at 12:37 pm.

No, I’m seriously asking you if you think the economic argument she was making is the crux of her campaign.

Maybe I wasn’t being obvious enough in my earlier post, but I’d assert that Ms. Obama is not in a position to “make real changes on an institutional level;” she’s not an elected nor an appointed official. Further, she’s hemmed in by the business-as-usual culture of DC and by the expectation that she be our uncontroversial Mom-in-Chief. That’s the way it goes for First Ladies. There’s a lot to criticize about that, and many of us would prefer to jettison the whole First Lady thing, but she’s playing the hand she was dealt.

…Not saying people are “too stupid to eat vegetables,” but a lot of people don’t do it, even when it’s a viable option. If part of the problem with the American diet has to do with personal choices, and part to do with how hemmed in those choices are, I’m okay with persuasion and nudges toward healthier eating, assuming, of course that there are also moves on the policy side to increase access to good food. (I’m not a public policy expert, and I’d love to see you–or someone–dig up what the administration is doing on that front.)

Let me say too Lesley, that I do agree with you about fat-hating rhetoric. I just don’t feel like getting all harsh on Ms Obama’s campaign. It has some good points and it’s not about “kill fatty.” To expect radical change from a centrist establishment figure is naive, imo.

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Lesley on March 21, 2011 at 3:57 pm.

I think Michelle Obama makes the economic issue, if not the crux, then at least a large portion of this campaign herself, in this very speech. That doesn’t require a whole lot of interpretation from me. If she does not mean to say that childhood obesity is a serious concern from an economic standpoint, she should not have framed her speech in that way (or rather, she should have instructed her speechwriter that this was not an appropriate position to take). Because that didn’t happen, I have to take her at her word here.

I don’t “expect” sweeping change, per se, but I remain steadfastly convinced that Michelle Obama is capable of approaching the broader issues of food production and accessibility in the US in a way that does not cavalierly alienate anyone who isn’t already alienated. So while I don’t exactly expect her to do things according to my whim, I didn’t expect a campaign that is so bloody single-minded in its crusade against childhood obesity either. That is what perplexes and frustrates me—this campaign is TOTALLY POSSIBLE to apply to ALL children, and it would have a much greater chance of actually doing good (instead of harm) with that small change.

And really, I have to be naive, otherwise I’d be crushed by a lack of hope and probably never write anything ever again. :)

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Willow on March 21, 2011 at 12:40 pm.

Michelle Obama is an elitist. Period. What person in a position of such power, and with such riches, isn’t? What kind of person would say the simplistic, purposefully dumbed-down, “it’s all on your shoulders and the federal budget won’t help you” stuff if not an elitist?

And I don’t understand why her race matters here. She’s the First Lady; granted, she’s the first black one we’ve had, but she is no average “black woman” as you infer that she is. And many white people have also been “disempowered by the corporate food establishment” – I was one of them – and I don’t really see what her race has to do with the issue Lesley is blogging about. IMO, race finishes last in the list of things Lesley identified as problematic in Mrs. Obama’s speech.

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Aimee on March 21, 2011 at 2:26 pm.

“Fat kids are not loser goats.”

Amen to that.

Isn’t there a way to suggest making school lunches healthier without demonizing the kids that have to eat them?

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