On Problems to Be Solved

So, the headline of this AP article is okay: “Europe plans free fruit, veggies for school kids.” Nothing wrong with that — in fact, I think it’s a swell idea. But you do know what’s coming next, right?

An estimated 22 million children in the 27-nation bloc of nearly 500 million people are overweight because of bad eating habits.

Right. So I guess the writer personally observed 22 million children to determine that their fatness is the result of “bad eating habits” — and indeed, that they’re actually fat, as opposed to just growing children whose BMI ranking could change substantially in two weeks’ time? ‘Cause otherwise, that sentence is ludicrous. Even a stone fatphobe with a modicum of journalistic integrity would write “… in part because of bad eating habits” — if nothing else, what about the ZOMG SEDENTARY VIDEO GAMES NEVER OUTSIDE factor? — or just end the sentence at “overweight” and allow people to draw their own conclusions. (Which, unfortunately, they totally would.) But no, 22 million children just have bad eating habits, period. True facts!

And it gets better. (The article’s like 200 words long, and still, it gets better.)

“You only have to walk down any high street in Europe to see the extent of the problems we face with overweight kids,” EU Agriculture Commissioner Mariann Fischer Boel said.

Problems you can see just walking down the street? Like what? Roving bands of tubby little thugs demanding protection money from local businesses? Pillaging and plundering? Bursting out into elaborate musical numbers on busy streets? What are these great societal problems that are obvious to any pedestrian?

Oh, right. The very existence of fat kids is a problem.

Fuck you, Mariann Fischer Boel. Children’s bodies are not a problem for the government to solve.

And that’s inevitably my problem with programs like this, and the way they’re sold to us. I am 100% in favor of free fruits and veggies (though I’m not naive enough to think those won’t be traded for sweets by fat and thin kids alike, I should add). Free fruits and veggies for everyone! Local, organic produce for all my friends! While you’re at it, bring back gym class and train future phys ed instructors to focus on encouraging the joy of movement instead of forcing everyone to move their bodies in exactly the same way, regardless of any pain (physical and/or emotional) it causes! Subsidize exercise facilities until they’re affordable for everyone! Create more bike paths! Clean up local bodies of water so everyone can swim for free! Build cities on the scale of human bodies instead of cars, and keep the streets safe enough for everyone to walk around! Ban high fructose corn syrup! Keep fast food and soda and junk food corporations out of the schools! Raise the minimum wage and shorten working hours so people have more time to cook and be active! KNOCK YOURSELVES RIGHT THE FUCK OUT creating an environment that makes it easier for everyone to eat a variety of fresh foods and get plenty of exercise!

But don’t tell me that’s going to make everyone thin — and really, really don’t tell me that making people thinner should be the main point of such a plan. It fucking infuriates me that with all of the many, many excellent reasons to do all the things I’ve just suggested, the only potential outcome that can muster the political will to enact any of it is weight loss. Fuck having a cleaner, safer, more fun environment that might lend itself to people generally feeling more energetic and vibrant (which might also lead to more productivity, for all the hardcore capitalists out there) — unless we can get rid of the fatties, it’s wasted money.

Lack of access to fresh fruits and vegetables is a problem to be solved. A polluted environment is a problem to be solved. Corporations weaseling their way into schools are a problem to be solved. Unsafe cities are a problem to be solved. Car-dependency is a problem to be solved. The need for many people to work every waking hour just to get by is a problem to be solved. The widespread belief that exercise is primarily a punishment for fatness or a talisman against it, not something enjoyable that generally makes people feel better, is a problem to be solved.

Human bodies are not a fucking problem to be solved.

99 thoughts on “On Problems to Be Solved

  1. Not that I would ever complain about having a T-shirt that announces I am Kate Harding, but I would trade it in a second for one that said “Human bodies are not a fucking problem to be solved”.

  2. “KNOCK YOURSELVES RIGHT THE FUCK OUT creating an environment that makes it easier for everyone to eat a variety of fresh foods and get plenty of exercise!

    But don’t tell me that’s going to make everyone thin”

    Awesome! It is so discouraging that sometimes there are initiatives that start off with a good premise but then it all falls into a fat-hatred spurred program with only the intent of weight-loss; the original intent lost in the shuffle.

    I would LOVE more readily available fruits and veggies (not just for kids). A better planned gym class would have been a pleasure back in those old school days; affordable fitness areas now would rock too! Yet all folks focus on is how to lose weight.

    How about losing un-realistic mindsets regarding health and thinness and coming down to Earth to focus instead on fucking being healthier in mind and body image? Healthy is NOT a synonym for Thin…as much as the folks planning these programs would have us believe.

  3. Kate, U.R. awesome.

    Also, are you tipping your hat to Mickey Rourke in “Barfly” in your paragraph 3 (not counting the block quotes)? Even if you’re not, it’s making me laugh to imagine you are.

  4. Also, are you tipping your hat to Mickey Rourke in “Barfly” in your paragraph 3 (not counting the block quotes)?

    I love that it only took 4 comments for someone to get that. Shapelings rule.

  5. Hmm..I was thin as a rail when I was kid and my favorite activity was…..reading.

    Hated gym class…some kids got waaaaay too bent about winning a kickball game.

    My father was also thin, but he and his family had to use their thrifty immigrant sense: picking mushrooms, eating polenta (which my father won’t touch to this day because he associates it with lean times) eating stale toasted bread with whatever greens they had (dandelions) Grandma called it “hard bread”.
    I guess he should have been “teh fats” because he ate a lot of….carbs! Gasp!

  6. I love you.

    I’ve said it before here, but: it always fucking boggles me that people don’t see the value in having healthy, active, nourished kids if those kids aren’t also thin.

  7. When will the government get it through their thick heads that fat hatred, NOT fat people, is the real problem and that you can’t judge a person’s eating habits by their size?

  8. Wait, does this mean Europeans are the cause of all the earth’s problems now? Because I thought we Yankees were still fighting with the Aussies about that.

    (Awesome, awesome post.)

  9. I’ve said it before here, but: it always fucking boggles me that people don’t see the value in having healthy, active, nourished kids if those kids aren’t also thin.

    No shit! As if stuff that’s good for bodies and people and communities and the environment and the whole fucking world….aren’t good enough just on their own merits. Who gives a fuck if we all die from global warming, so long as we’re THIN when we do it….

  10. I heard this on the radio on the way home today and wondered how long it would take to get to SP. Two hours, as it turns out. (From when I heard it to when I read it.) Well done!

  11. I think we need some kind of billboard that says:

    “Thin =/= healthy
    Healthy =/= thin”

    to remind these folks. (And yeah, I know, it should be “does not necessarily equal” because it’s entirely possible to be thin and healthy just as it’s possible to be big and healthy, but you need to use short, simple phrases when dealing with government types. They generally do not do shades-of-meaning well).

    Look, exercise is great. I make an effort to get exercise every day because I feel better and my body works better. But if I depended on exercise to magically make me thin – if that was the ONLY reason for doing it – I’d have given up a long time ago. Because it doesn’t. At least not for me.

    And that’s what I hate about the message behind all of this:

    “Eating veggies and exercising will make you thin, ergo, if you’re not thin, you must not be eating right or exercising”

    No….it means you have a different fecking BODY TYPE from people who are genetically programmed to be thin.

    (And for that matter – why should “thin” be the important goal? Isn’t “happy” better?)

  12. And whatever happened to promoting the idea of eating fresh fruits and veggies because they TASTE GOOD instead of marketing them to a generation of kids as the secret to becoming socially acceptable? What happens when these kids don’t get magically thin? I know I struggled with discouragement and dissapointment time and time again when all the things I was told would make me skinny never successfully did… blaming myself for failing, of course, when the problem was that the idea of eating well and being active was presented to me as a way to fix what was “wrong” with me instead of just a way to feel good and be healthy, and when the results failed to live up to others’ expectations, I inevitably figured “what the hell, why bother eating that stuff and doing these stupid excercises I hate when it’s not even going to work”? These kids will have a skewed view of healthy eating as a result of having it presented to them this way!

  13. Why hasn’t someone figured out that telling kids to lose weight will not make them healthy? I’m reminded of the MST3K short, “Spring Cleaning”, where a man fruitlessly tries to close a door with no springs in it, and Crow scoffs,”Yeah, try it eight more times, maybe it’ll work!”

  14. So much win that I can’t even express it. Kate, your original post was so brilliant I’d like it framed on my wall, and I’m nodding vigorously at most of the replies too.

    I’m so sick of the way our schools treat children (all the way through high school!) like little idiot robots that will respond in a uniform way if we would just feed the right program into their clueless- yet- infinitely- malleable skulls. As someone with her own mind (thankyoumuch!), I loved learning yet hated school and I struggled emotionally through most of it, though my grades were good. Not until college did I feel like an institution actually felt I might be a person with something to offer society as opposed to a cross between a young hoodlum and a drone-bot.

    Screw the fat crap, or even the health crap. I for one would love to see some serious reform of our phys ed programs. Everyone talks about how great sports are in school. Pfft, sure, if you’re one of the half-handful of kids who get lucky enough to become the darling of the coaches. The rest of us, athletes and non, get nothing out of phys ed programs or organized sports but a chip on our shoulders.

    I learned early and well to HATE physical activity. I associated it only with humiliation, harsh and joyless competitiveness amounting almost to hatred for the other team (and this was just in stupid gym class), and being completely left out while getting nothing whatever from the experience but the idea that I was NOT good enough. And back then, I wasn’t even fat. I was just a bit clumsy and I didn’t understand the rules because my interest in sports in general was fringe. If someone, ANYone, had taken the minimal time necessary to teach me the rules and show me the fun in the game, I would have been happy to play sports. All I got was made fun of, and told to “guard” the worst player on the other team– you know him/her, he/she is the kid who hates sports even more than you and stands there like a rock in silent protest of participating in gym class.

    After a few years of that I’d make exaggerated vomiting noises if anyone so much as mentioned sports.

    HAY SKOOLZ, UR DOIN IT RONG!

  15. I swear, sometimes I think these government busybody types want to CAUSE health problems in kids so they can have something to catastrophize about. “But children are healthier than ever!” “Butbutbut they’re going to GET really sick, just watch.” Then the busybodies work their magic and before you know it, there’s reams of kids who won’t touch veggies (who might have loved them otherwise), won’t exercise (because they’re tired of being pointed and laughed at), have failure to thrive and stunted growth and yo-yo up and down in weight, and ZOMG THERE’S YOUR HEALTH CRISIS RIGHT THERE. “We TOLD you kids were going to get sick!”

    Vomit.

  16. :sputter:

    butbutbut if human bodies aren’t problems to be solved then what’s our incentive to keep spending money on more and more products in order to make our bodies less unacceptable than they were a second ago thus stimulating the economy thus making us more wealthy and lazy and FAT FAT FATTIE FAT OBESE FAT FAT?!?

    I love this post. And I hate to think of sending my children to school. Fuck.

  17. Heee, I stole Meowser’s “butbutbut” without even realizing it.

    (I also got a kick out of writing something that sounded like “I stole Meowser’s butt.” I’ll admit it.)

  18. Wait, does this mean Europeans are the cause of all the earth’s problems now? Because I thought we Yankees were still fighting with the Aussies about that.

    We’re coming up on the inside. Of course, we have to form a “27-nation bloc” to do it, but we’re plucky and determined.

    (As a sidebar, I now have 7 Nation Army stuck in my head.)

  19. SugarLeigh, wrote: The rest of us, athletes and non, get nothing out of phys ed programs or organized sports but a chip on our shoulders.

    I graduated HS over 25 years ago. I still bear inordinate amounts of ill-will towards my gym teachers – not just because they were not supportive, they were not instructive, or they were not encouraging, all of which they weren’t, but because their narrow view of sports and exercise that they inflicted upon us ruined any enjoyment I might have found in physical movement for most of those 25+ years since I was forced to take their classes.

    I wrote about this in my blog awhile ago, but they never taught us how to play these sports. You were just supposed to KNOW the rules and how to play and be good at playing them anyway. Spending any time teaching us would have bored all the jocks.

    Figuring out that it didn’t have to be this way was a revelation (and also gave me something else to get angry about, but that’s another story).

    What gets me about the story is that it’s the same old crap repackaged – crap that we KNOW DOESN’T WORK. But as long as they can convince people that yes, they really do know how to make fat people thin, and it is a desirable thing, they will be raking in the money. But they don’t.

  20. “I wrote about this in my blog awhile ago, but they never taught us how to play these sports. You were just supposed to KNOW the rules and how to play and be good at playing them anyway. Spending any time teaching us would have bored all the jocks.”

    TropicalChrome, you’ve just described every experience I ever had in PE, and the exact reason I hated it so much. The only thing worse than looking uncoordinated is looking uncoordinated and ignorant.

    (At least in dance class they TOLD us what to do. Meh.)

  21. *cheers raucously*

    Come the revolution, can we also have “picking teams and leaving the fat nerdy kid ’til last” criminalised and carrying a heavy prison sentence?

  22. I feel so inspired.

    I’m new to FA, but can’t get enough. I love how I feel. I love that I’m allowed to feel good. After nearly three decades of feeling wrong, I not only feel right, but I also feel ready to confront those who perpetuate the idea that fat is morally reprehensible.

  23. Oh, and have I mentioned that what REALLY makes me want to vomit is people obsessing about the so-called health problems of middle-class and affluent children, when it’s children from lower-income families who are the ones who really need the help? (This might be less of an issue in Europe because they have less of a yawning gap between rich and poor than we do in the U.S., but I’m sure it exists there to some degree also.) And that amping up kids’ cortisol levels stressing themselves out about being too fat is an Officially Really Bad Idea?

  24. And I hate to think of sending my children to school.

    I don’t even have kids and I’m already worried about sending my hypothetical future children to school.

    I wrote about this in my blog awhile ago, but they never taught us how to play these sports. You were just supposed to KNOW the rules and how to play and be good at playing them anyway. Spending any time teaching us would have bored all the jocks.

    Figuring out that it didn’t have to be this way was a revelation

    At my schools, they taught us the rules but that was it. They didn’t actually teach us techniques. When I was in grade 8, my gym teacher pulled me aside to actually show me how to do something better instead of just yelling at me for not being good at it. I was shocked, because I never realised gym teachers were there to actually, you know, teach. And it worked a lot better to improve my athletic abilities than yelling did, I’ll tell you. (For the record, I wasn’t a fat kid, just extremely uncoordinated.)

  25. Maybe it’s true what what we used to say in high school:

    Those who can’t do, teach

    Those who can’t teach, teach PE

  26. Let me echo the loathing of elementary/junior high P.E. I had a gym teacher who spent every class making fun of me because I was fat (and taller than all the boys — I looked like a teenager when I was probably eight or nine). Never mind that the dude was quite non-thin himself. Instead of enjoying running around, I was on guard from start to finish wondering what was going to come flying out of his mouth. (I did tell on him, but it didn’t do shit.)

    Junior high – I wasn’t mocked by my teacher but instead she tried to make me into her special project. She wanted me to keep a food diary and present it to her every week and I said “fuck you, jack”–as did my mom, bless her. In my yearbook, she had the gall to write something along the lines of “eat right and get lots of exercise!” To this day, I think extremely uncharitable thoughts about her. Extremely..

    By the time high school rolled around, both I and my mom had had enough and my doctor got me out of gym class for three years.

  27. My favorite gym teacher experience was in junior high. We had been split into pairs and were running short distances and timing each other. I can’t run far, but I can run fast. Anyway, we had to go up to the teacher and tell her our times. I told her mine, and she refused to believe me, because I was obviously too fat to have run that quickly. She made me run again, with her watching. Asshole.

  28. Bah. I hated gym class, starting with middle school. Having to change in front of others combined with forced physical movement made it the bane of my exsistence.

  29. Man, that whole thing about gym class really hit home. Seriously, in my school kids in sports were separated the same way they did in english, math, science etc; according to ability, the assumption being that the kids that need more help will get it, and kids that need a push will also get it.

    So what criteria was there for determining which set you would be in for sports class?

    Run up and down a big room with beepers at either end- the beepers beeped at first once a minute for a few beeps, then once every 55 seconds, then every 50 seconds, and so on. You had to reach the wall before or as the beeper sounded, and once you missed 3 you were out. In front of everyone. Your set was determined by the number of beeps you kept up with. Kids that had asthma, or just poor stamina, or were slow runners, generally would run themselves ragged trying to just squeeze in one more beep.

    And that pretty much reflects the entire attitude taken to all sports classes from that day forward. It’s a damn shame, because I loved badminton, and hockey, and cricket, and the free use once a week of the local gym with the rowing machines and weightlifting machines, and swimming, but I hated sports class.

  30. My gym teachers were more idiotic than sadistic, but my high school gym class had the most idiotic grading system I’ve ever encountered. We started out the year by doing physical fitness tests and were scored based on the percentile we were in for our of our age group. Then each quarter we’d take the test again and be graded based on percentile (the 90th percentile was an A, the 80th was a B and so on) or improvement (15 percentile points improvement was an A, 10 points a B, and so on).

    Needless to say, relatively few people are going to be in the 80th percentile or above naturally, and virtually nobody can improve 1 or 15 percentile points for three or more successive testings. I mean, really. A huge number of people are going to stall out around a D. To make matters worse, when you turned 15 (gym was only required freshman year) part way through the school year, you were suddenly supposed to be the times and such for the new age group – so you’d have the 50th percentile for a 14 year old as your baseline and be expected to improve to the 65th percentile for a 15 year old by quarter’s end.

    It was all so stunningly illogical, I almost couldn’t mind it, particularly since the way the system was set up even some of the relatively athletic kids did terribly. Completely ridiculous.

  31. So, there’s 42 comments here and 42 comments at Shakes.

    42!!!!

    Oh, but I’m making it 43. I break the Universe. :(

    In other news: SPOT ON POST.

    Really. Spot. Fucking. On.

  32. Another problem with the way a lot of gym classes are structured is the competition. Even in relatively sensitive classes, kids often end up having to form teams and play against each other (because so many sports are team-based, after all). My Aspie kid had a terrible time in gym, and was finally switched to adapted PE partly because he had some coordination problems and got frustrated not being able to do things perfectly, but more because he’d get so upset when his team lost. When we switched to adapted, he went instantly from gym days being consistent screaming crying I don’t want to go to school fits to him saying “I like gym”.

  33. So, there’s 42 comments here and 42 comments at Shakes.

    What’s funny is that I see them as approximately similar communities, but the discussions on this post are totally different from each other.

  34. It’s so interesting that this conversation has turned to gym class, because just yesterday, or maybe it was two days ago, my husband and I were having a conversation about how gym class could be SO MUCH BETTER. Like, it could combine kinesiology and learning about muscle groups and such with various types of physical activity that used those groups, only some of which would have to be typical gym class offerings. Some of it could be, you know, working in the school garden. Or building sets and hanging lights for the fall play. Or chopping wood! (Um, maybe there’s liability issues there, but seriously, chopping wood is really a lot of fun!)

    Or, you know, I remember in college that lifeguarding class was physically demanding – the parts in the water, anyway, not the parts where we watched videos or practiced CPR – but it was SO rewarding as compared to gym class because there was, like, a PURPOSE to it all. Whereas competitive sports for gym class are pointless, at least by high school, because the school’s real teams are the sports competitions that people care about. The “body conditioning” option I had in high school was ridiculous… a few rubber bands and some ten pound weights, a gym teacher with a timer, and girls chatting. (That was for “girls’ conditioning.” The boys conditioning – in the boys’ gym – involved a pretty decent assortment of machines, but still.) Tennis was so boring (“Oh look, missed another one. Gee.”) that we were given the option just to walk in circles around the court, and most of us took it. What a waste.

  35. Oh, and have I mentioned that what REALLY makes me want to vomit is people obsessing about the so-called health problems of middle-class and affluent children, when it’s children from lower-income families who are the ones who really need the help?

    Wait, didn’t you get the memo? Fat middle and upper class children are a tragedy that must be addressed IMMEDIATELY. Fat poor children’s parents are probably just ignorant and think it’s ok just to feed their kids twinkies and bottles full of coke.

  36. attrice, the fat children’s parents are actually fakers and aren’t really poor, because otherwise they couldn’t be fat. this is also why they have the fanciest cell phones.

    (my boyfriend’s dad always pulls this one out and it drives me positively bonkers.)

  37. attrice, the fat children’s parents are actually fakers and aren’t really poor, because otherwise they couldn’t be fat. this is also why they have the fanciest cell phones.

    Oh, sure they’re poor, they’re just getting fat off of the taxpayers’ money, getting all those food stamps and such.

    [insert rant about the government food assistance program here.]

    I actually teach a couple of lectures in my food class on the government’s advice about eating – their recipe book that they offer for eating frugally on the welfare program has to be seen to be believed. Seriously. I don’t have the link at home, and it’s buried on their website, but I’d love to see a Shapely takedown of it sometime. The sample meals, no joke, include meals like :1/2 c milk, 1/2 c orange juice from concentrate, 3/4 cup pasta, 1/2 cup plain tomato sauce, 1/2 c canned green beans. Yum!

  38. I said on Big Fat Blog that gym class is still stuck in the 50′s for the most part. There’s still an emphasis on playing sports as competition, not team-bonding, and kids are rewarded for being the fastest and most athletic. If you’re fat, or skinny and uncoordinated, it’s hell on earth. And Superfit? It should have been abandoned YEARS ago.

    I think having kids do Dance Dance Revolution in gym is a great idea. It’s different and reaches kids of all types. Unfortunately, too many schools use it as a tool for weight loss and not developing coordination and getting kids moving to make them feel good.

  39. Found it! Unstable browser crash warning – it’s a pdf. Oh, I forgot the best parts, like how it always specifies an odd number of things that have to be divided (3 cups for 4 people, which stumps some grad students I know), the ubiquity of onion powder, the fact that the only “vegetarian” recipe is for cheesy potatoes, how nothing in the “salad” section contains vegetables, how it’s all predicated on having loads of free time to cook and store foods. Oh, my god, if this is the government’s idea of how to help people eat better…
    (yes, I know it’s from 1989, but we still knew a lot better than that then)

  40. I’m going to go ahead and be fat and fucking healthy right in this person’s face. Then I’m going to eat some fresh raspberries (huzzah for summer outdoor markets) and go for a run.

  41. attrice, the fat children’s parents are actually fakers and aren’t really poor, because otherwise they couldn’t be fat. this is also why they have the fanciest cell phones.

    Well if they’d just stop having so many children (when they’re not using abortion as birth control) then they’d be able to buy all organic and stop being so fat at us all the time.

    But no, they’d rather pay for cable or something else that poor people don’t need.

  42. Those who can’t do, teach

    Those who can’t teach, teach PE

    Could we not do this, please? Perhaps I’m being oversensitivie here, but I’m fat and a teacher and I’m getting very, very tired of my existence being treated as a bad thing.

  43. You’re right, car. He’s actually usually saying that poor people today have no values, unlike when HE was poor as a kid, and that their fatness and fancy gadgets are proof of this. !!!

    Also, those recipes are hilarious. And awful.

  44. I would think people would only have to observe some kids for awhile to see that it’s not “bad eating habits” making them fat. The skinniest kid I know eats frosting straight from the container on a regular basis, and also eats butter by itself.

    I wrote about this in my blog awhile ago, but they never taught us how to play these sports. You were just supposed to KNOW the rules and how to play and be good at playing them anyway. Spending any time teaching us would have bored all the jocks.

    I remember my sixth-grade gym teacher making fun of me for not knowing how to play baseball. He asked, “Have you been out of the country for the past twelve years?” He never did get around to explaining how to play.

    Granted, I did have an exceptionally bad gym teacher that year. He often made sexist comments and made fun of the fat kids.

  45. Yeah, Sniper, I don’t really like that, either. I can do it just fine, I just like teaching it better.

  46. I graduated from my hs in 2007 and can tell y’all that gym is still a waste of time, although I never found it that miserable. For the most part, the PE teachers would make us do warm-up exercises, than leave us to ourselves. Some kids would play volleyball, some basketball. If you were me, you walked around the track with the other non-athletes.

    Not awful, but it definitely did not inspire anyone to try new physical activities if they weren’t already there. Of course, every now and then we’d all be forced into a game of dodgeball or something, and the jocks would get pissy with you if you sucked, and I never saw the PE teachers stick up for anyone. They also publically weighed us (though they did not announce the results) and they DID make us do weightlifting, which I HATED.

    Now that I think about it it seems like they just randomly assigned us stuff and had no real interest in the class.

  47. Seriously, KH, you’ve got to start posting things that I disagree with so that I don’t just fall over with a severe case of crushitude.
    Don’t think you’re off the hook, FJ & SM.

    I can haz more idiocy?

    Sniper, if you ask me, teaching well is one of the absolute most underrated professional skills, and one of the easiest scapegoats for all quadrants of the political spectrum. It is our SKOOLS that make us fat, make us disrespectful, turn us into criminals, turn us into robots, make us question too much, not enough, the wrong way, turn us into feminists, misogynists, teach us too little about sex, too much about sex, the wrong things about sex —

    I mean, I don’t want to shut down discussion about the values our school systems teach, obviously, but it’s a tough row to hoe to be a teacher and in that firestorm all the time.

  48. Thanks, Arwen. I don’t want to make this into a teachers-are-great thread, but I do get tired of being blamed for everything from “feminized boys” (yeah, I know) to jobs going overseas.

    Did anyone catch The Today Show the other day where somebody wrote in asking for nutrition advice? The writer was fat and wanted to lose weight but had no idea what to eat. Really, the letter sounded made-up because I don’t know a single fat person – or a single woman, for that matter – who doesn’t know plenty about nutrition, calories, etc.

    Anyway, the perky advice-giver suggested giving up “favorite foods” one at a time. That is, switch to diet soda for three months. Then cut down on fried foods, then sugar, etc. She promised that the pounds would just “melt away”

    Now, the letter writer didn’t indicate what she was eating already. They just assumed she was living on, oh, I don’t know, churros and coke. It was the old “just make healthy decisions and you will be thin” crap.

    And it’s everywhere. So damned frustrating.

  49. Oh man, gym class. I hated gym.

    The irony was that in middle school I was a fanatical soccer-playing bike-riding veggie-eating nerdling.

    I also had very little upper-body strength and wasn’t particularly fast, so while I could run forever, I couldn’t do a push-up or a fast half-mile.

    A big section of our gym classes was focused on making kids good at the Presidential Fitness Tests, which meant — concentrating on speed over endurance and working on upper body strength. Also, we played a bunch of sports that I either didn’t like or freaked me out — I played the violin, so I would drop the hockey stick or dive away from the volleyball instead of risking squishing a finger.

    High school was better (mostly because we got weight-lifting twice a week, which I loved), but even then I spent the mandatory two years of gym dragging my feet and manufacturing injuries. It wasn’t until 11th grade, when I stopped taking gym, that I went back to running every day and biking.

  50. Free fruits and veggies for everyone! Local, organic produce for all my friends! While you’re at it, bring back gym class and train future phys ed instructors to focus on encouraging the joy of movement instead of forcing everyone to move their bodies in exactly the same way, regardless of any pain (physical and/or emotional) it causes! Subsidize exercise facilities until they’re affordable for everyone! Create more bike paths! Clean up local bodies of water so everyone can swim for free! Build cities on the scale of human bodies instead of cars, and keep the streets safe enough for everyone to walk around! Ban high fructose corn syrup! Keep fast food and soda and junk food corporations out of the schools! Raise the minimum wage and shorten working hours so people have more time to cook and be active! KNOCK YOURSELVES RIGHT THE FUCK OUT creating an environment that makes it easier for everyone to eat a variety of fresh foods and get plenty of exercise!

    But don’t tell me that’s going to make everyone thin — and really, really don’t tell me that making people thinner should be the main point of such a plan.

    I love this. Right on.

  51. Those who can’t do, teach

    Those who can’t teach, teach PE

    Could we not do this, please? Perhaps I’m being oversensitive here, but I’m fat and a teacher and I’m getting very, very tired of my existence being treated as a bad thing.”

    I think it takes a very unique person to be able to teach for more than 5 minutes without going completely batshit crazy. I’m consistently amazed that my former roommate is teaching middle school voluntarily. I didn’t even like middle schoolers when I WAS one.

    Having said that, I can’t think of a single gym teacher in my past that wasn’t a complete and total asshat. Weighing us in front of everyone (sometimes with our shoes on), yelling disparaging things if we were slow running “the mile,” berating us for not participating fully, docking points if we didn’t change all our clothes (I would frequently change into my gym pants and leave my regular top on), caring more that we learned every nuance of the rules of football than attempting to instill a lifetime enjoyment of fitness. Etc. Yeah, some of that is a problem with the institution of P.E. in general, but dammit, I really fucking hated my gym teachers. Even when I wasn’t fat.

    We could talk about the one that told my friend her football punt was good for a girl. Jackass.

    OK, I’m better now.

  52. P.S. I’m watching “Unwrapped” on the Food network right now (OMG! Teh fattyz luv teh foodz so much dey have theyz own chnnelz!) and they’re about to talk about churros. As stadium food. I’ve never seen them at a stadium before (maybe it’s regional? they don’t have them at Shea) but damn, they look tasty.

  53. We could talk about the one that told my friend her football punt was good for a girl. Jackass.

    I had an English teacher who insisted that a “pyrrhic” victories was “weak or feminine”. No mention of King Pyrrhus who was a man, unless history has missed something really big. This guy’s asshattery reinforced my developing feminism. That’s the thing about teaching – you will be an influence, but not always in the intended way.

  54. (slow, solitary clap building to every fat person on the whole earth clapping loudly, whistling and stomping feet).
    Oh, Kate, this one is out of the park.
    I am going to have to print it out and post it in my cube at work, and then get fired, and then say it’s totally worth it, losing my health insurance and everything, living a destitute life with my little child in my car, and all, because, if anything is worth risking it all for, it’s this post.

  55. “Human bodies are not a fucking problem to be solved.”

    I agree with Dani, that’s t-shirt material right there!

  56. On the subject of P.E./P.E. teachers:

    I hated P.E. all through school. So much so that I ended up FLUNKING it my freshman year of H.S. because I didn’t show up for the exam (written. A written exam for P.E.?!?!).

    But my senior year, I had to take one semester of it again, to make up for that flunking. And finally, I almost enjoyed P.E.

    Not only did she let US pick what we wanted to do, but she was more concerned with whether we were enjoying ourselves than anything. Oh, she did emphasize doing things correctly, but in a good way. Like when we did line dancing. (Yes, line dancing. Boot Scootin’ Boogie and all that shit.) Heh. I was the best one in the class at line dancing. (What can I say? I’ve always enjoyed dancing, and was pretty damned good at it when I was younger, even if I do say so myself.) She had me up at the front of the class, showing everybody how to do it right. But it wasn’t humiliating. A little embarrassing, yes, but that’s just because I was IN FRONT OF THE WHOLE CLASS. But it was fun, too, especially once we got into it.

    Honestly? If I’d had a P.E. teacher like her when I was younger, I think I would have enjoyed sports and exercise a hell of a lot more. She made it fun, not torture. Every. Single. Other. P.E. Teacher. I had made me feel like it was a punishment.

    Only I had no idea what I was being punished FOR.

  57. Liza: think it takes a very unique person to be able to teach for more than 5 minutes without going completely batshit crazy.

    Yes. It. Does. I just taught my first intro class for college freshmen, and it was so humbling. I contemplated writing to professors I had in college and apologizing… but then I thought, “What would I say? ‘For some reason it didn’t occur to me that you’d actually be able to see me sleeping in your class, or that you’d take it personally. I’m, uh, not sure why.” You people who teach in elementary, middle, or high schools, with younger kids and back-to-back class periods and in many cases less funding/professional resources… I mean, the mind boggles. I could never do that in a million years.

  58. HI THERE! I’m A Sarah, and I am a bleary-eyed insomniac who at the moment can’t get my sleep-deprived brain in gear enough to read upthread enough to see that it was Sniper who said that first, not Liza.

    Nice ta meetcha!

  59. OH MY GAWD, Y’ALL, now I see that it was Liza after all. I just should not be allowed to talk or type today. HEY! That means no dissertating. Whee!

    (Also as long as I have now read upthread, I wanted to say that the reason I’m worried about sending my kids to school, when they reach that age, is that they’ll then be a captive population for whatever asshattery the government decides to inflict on them for their health. Not the teachers, which I expect to be a mix of great and terrible and in-between, just like people in general.)

  60. Urgh, I hated gym class in high school. The teacher would show obvious favouritism to the athletic types who won all the races (and their friends), and would only refer to the gym-class-underachievers like me if it was to demand how much exercise we did outside of school. She’s the reason I was something of an exercise-phobe for most of my teenage years.

    Kind of off-topic, but I was watching Dr. Phil today (I’m so white trash sometimes) and there was a fatphobe on the show who admitted to actually THROWING UP after seeing a fat person eat, because it was just that disgusting to her. So they brought out a gorgeous, confident fatty who had absolutely no time for people who didn’t think she was amazing… it was pretty awesome, until Dr. Phil came out with “Being thinner isn’t going to make you a better person, but you need to lose weight – for your health.” I made this face (I hope the comment system doesn’t wipe it) >:-O

  61. Can I plug a post I once wrote about sports teaching and science teaching? Please?

    Like A Sarah, I find i have waaay more respect for my teachers now I’m occasionally on the other side of the lectern. It’s bloody hard.

  62. I know I’m a bit late to the conversation, but I have to disagree with most of this post. You are right that the writer jumps to the conclusion of what the main cause of child obesity is. However, you also seemed to jump to a conclusion that none of those other measures you outlined were being attempted. More importantly, to deny that childhood obesity is in and of itself a problem is to ignore the medical and scientific evidence that points to the effects that childhood obesity CAN have later in life. Obviously, some kids will outgrow it, some are not truly suffering obesity (as noted by the BMI comment), but there are health effects that can be directly related to childhood obesity. What is wrong with the government acting in ONE of the ways in which they can seek to have an effect? Yes, they should take a more well-rounded approach, but who knows what their other plans are? They are not saying fat = bad, that eating is the only problem/solution; they are simply saying, “Here is one possible contributing factor to obesity, it is one that we have control over and can act upon immediately, so it is one solution we will pursue.” I just can’t believe that you are opposed to an attempted solution to help curb childhood obesity by providing healthy snacks FOR FREE because it offends your personal feelings on weight.

  63. Anyway, the perky advice-giver suggested giving up “favorite foods” one at a time. That is, switch to diet soda for three months. Then cut down on fried foods, then sugar, etc. She promised that the pounds would just “melt away”

    Now, the letter writer didn’t indicate what she was eating already. They just assumed she was living on, oh, I don’t know, churros and coke. It was the old “just make healthy decisions and you will be thin” crap.

    Yeah, ‘cos his “favorite foods” couldn’t POSSIBLY be, I don’t know, broccoli or apples or something.

    But even if the writer IS eating churros and coke….the whole attitude of telling them “Give up your favorite foods and you’ll get thing” seems pretty arrogant.

    For some of us, food IS pleasure. I know that’s an unpopular attitude, I know that’s wrong-thinking for all the diet-bullies out there, but it’s true.

    I’d be really offended if someone told me, “Oh, just give up your homebaked bread and the pounds will melt right off”

    I’ve also heard of doctors/dieticians telling people to “avoid fruit” because it’s “full of calories.” The hell?

    Yeah? I enjoy reading, too…you want me to give THAT up? (probably yes, because then that would give me more time to run on a treadmill)

    I’m so sick of the “you cannot have pleasure in your life until you have perfected yourself like meeeeeee” attitude.

  64. I just can’t believe that you are opposed to an attempted solution to help curb childhood obesity by providing healthy snacks FOR FREE because it offends your personal feelings on weight.

    Brian, I approved your comment from the moderation queue because it is such a stellar example of you deciding not to read the post. Perhaps you missed this paragraph — I can see how you’d skip right over it, given that it’s tiny, not full of exclamation points or capital letters, and has nothing whatsoever to do with the ideas you’re bringing to the table:

    And that’s inevitably my problem with programs like this, and the way they’re sold to us. I am 100% in favor of free fruits and veggies (though I’m not naive enough to think those won’t be traded for sweets by fat and thin kids alike, I should add). Free fruits and veggies for everyone! Local, organic produce for all my friends! While you’re at it, bring back gym class and train future phys ed instructors to focus on encouraging the joy of movement instead of forcing everyone to move their bodies in exactly the same way, regardless of any pain (physical and/or emotional) it causes! Subsidize exercise facilities until they’re affordable for everyone! Create more bike paths! Clean up local bodies of water so everyone can swim for free! Build cities on the scale of human bodies instead of cars, and keep the streets safe enough for everyone to walk around! Ban high fructose corn syrup! Keep fast food and soda and junk food corporations out of the schools! Raise the minimum wage and shorten working hours so people have more time to cook and be active! KNOCK YOURSELVES RIGHT THE FUCK OUT creating an environment that makes it easier for everyone to eat a variety of fresh foods and get plenty of exercise!

    Look, you don’t have to agree with us to comment here. But you do have to read the fucking post.

  65. Brian’s knee-jerkery aside, I have to say, Kate, that this is one of those posts where the planets aligned just so, and you hit the nail bang on the head. It’s even short.

    Well done.

  66. Why hasn’t someone figured out that telling kids to lose weight will not make them healthy? I’m reminded of the MST3K short, “Spring Cleaning”, where a man fruitlessly tries to close a door with no springs in it, and Crow scoffs,”Yeah, try it eight more times, maybe it’ll work!”

    Nooooo Springs! I watch a Shoutcast feed of MST3K all the time, that short is annoying.

    I was doing a bit of rare actual tv watching recently and I saw about three different advertisements demanding that kids drop everything and “go outside to play”. I began thinking, what if they’re just encouraging kids to give up even more sedentary activities, to the point that they don’t have time to read? We’re always crowing about the drop in child literacy rates, but it’s not like they can run around and kick a soccer ball with a copy of Little House on the Prairie dangling in front of their faces. Junkfood Science had that article about how we’re more active today than we’ve ever been in history.

    Kids have mandatory activity in gym class, mandatory activity at recess, and a lot of them are in organized sports or dance classes. There should be some time when they can sit down and relax, where hopefully they’ll have a book in their hand.

  67. But even if the writer IS eating churros and coke….the whole attitude of telling them “Give up your favorite foods and you’ll get thing” seems pretty arrogant.

    That also. There is an absurd but pervasive notion that fat people don’t deserve to eat. This doesn’t just apply to “junk” food but anything except maybe green, leafy vegetables. Carrots are starchy! Fruit is full of sugar! Nuts are full of fat! Oh, my god, is that 2% milk? Don’t you realize that your lemon sorbet is going to kiiiilllll you? And if a fat person has a piece of cake or a slice of pizza…. fatocalypse

    People actually make fun of my skinny husband because he eats a low-fat, vegetarian diet. “You’re thin, you could eat anything!” But he’s got high cholesterol and some digestive issues and a lot of foods don’t agree with him.

    Insanity.

  68. OMG, I love you all. Seriously, I want to marry y’all as a group and name all our children Kate Harding.

    I’m a teacher, or was, but my son is still not going to regular school. Because it just takes one bad teacher, plus the other kids, plus the bureaucracy to spoil everything. (Not that I was a troublesome heavily teased activist in school or anything. Heh) if he wants to go, he can, but it’s such a minefield.

    Our PE was ok–at least I’m not super scarred by it. I was skinny but uncoordinated so basketball/tennis/etc was a nightmare, but a lot of time we played red rover and stuff and that was fun. It was the other kids more than the PE teacher that made it awful. (Same school, 13 years, same kids = years of therapy)

    My mother is both old and anorexic and she always talking about friends who’ve died and how her food choices are actually a good thing, because she’s less than 100 lbs and still alive. And I have to point out that cancer isn’t related to weight. Stroke, not related to weight. Dying of natural causes at 99, not related to weight. Me strangling her when she talks about how disgusting it is when people eat? Not related to weight. I mean, heh, um, yeah. *sigh*

  69. At the school where I used to teach, (taking in my resignation letter today, actually, in part because of the teacher hate Sniper and Liza were talking about), the gym teacher is TOTALLY TOTALLY AWESOME. She makes them *do research* about sports and their rules–before they play them! She makes them learn about muscles and bodies! She’s a big, big, healthy, healthy woman! You guys, she even teaches them HOW TO SWIM! We all adore her.

  70. Gym class was tolerable in elementary school, but once I got to junior high school, it got to be awful. First, because they seemed to be grading on objectives, at least sometimes; second, the whole changing-in-public thing (especially when, in seventh grade, you don’t need a bra yet and therefore don’t wear one); and third, sometime in seventh grade I woke up one morning with HIPS and a BUTT and I think I spent the rest of the school year relearning how to walk.

    Clearly gym classes should take into account the fact that these are adolescents, and their bodies do weird things like GROW.

    Although it seems that the entire Establishment doesn’t actually take the realities of human anatomy and physiology into account when devising plans. Babies on low-fat milk? Taking cholesterol, which glues the brain together, out of toddlers’ diets? Great, a bunch of malnourished, unglued children. I want THEM running the EU (or the US, or whatever) someday!

  71. Do churros taste as good as they look in the link Sniper posted? I’ve never had one and they look yummy. (I’d start with a baby-flavoured one, obviously.)

  72. As someone with her own mind (thankyoumuch!), I loved learning yet hated school

    YES, so totally. When I tell people schools are not in the business of teaching (or facilitating learning), they think I’m crazy, but I was convinced of that even BEFORE I switched high schools and the counselor in the new system wanted me to repeat a class I’d taken the year before, because it was a required course but I’d taken it too early! As if school wasn’t boring enough, augh!

    Mind you, I had some excellent teachers – even a couple of pretty good PE teachers (although I also had one who “suited up” a couple of times a year and otherwise tromped around the gym in her Absolutely Verboten heels sneering at anyone who didn’t do things perfectly). It’s the system I have problems with, not so much the people in it.

    College, however, I loved, with a deep deep passion. Knew I wasn’t interested in a degree but went when I could afford it anyhow.

    And I hate to think of sending my children to school.

    I home school. And my kids all love fruits and vegetables, to the point that I have to hide them or threaten Dire Consequences should I want to keep some fruit or veggie long enough to cook with it. Even middle daughter (the picky eater who hates even spaghetti and hot dogs and makes cooking one dish everyone will eat generally impossible) will eat a green pepper a day if I let her, and also likes broccoli, carrots, celery, etc.

    Although I admit half of them won’t eat cooked vegetables. And the one who will eat just about anything I put in front of her doesn’t like corn, which I’ve always found odd. But, yeah. They find the whole concept that kids are not supposed to like vegetables just strange.

    Did anyone catch The Today Show the other day where somebody wrote in asking for nutrition advice? The writer was fat and wanted to lose weight but had no idea what to eat. Really, the letter sounded made-up because I don’t know a single fat person – or a single woman, for that matter – who doesn’t know plenty about nutrition, calories, etc.

    Some researcher I ran across argued that “fat people who say they’re eating very few calories but aren’t losing weight just don’t know how to count calories,” saying that “a lot of them don’t know drinks have calories, and even orange juice and milk can really add up!” I’ve known my share of dieters wondering if toothpaste has calories, and this researcher thinks they never consider what they’re drinking, where the calories are printed right there on the side of the container? Please.

  73. A quick thought for the teachers:

    I was deliberate in how I phrased my comment above, making sure it was clear that my ill-will was towards the specific gym teachers I had the misfortune to be assigned to, and not towards gym teachers in general and especially not towards teachers in general. (Although I’m sad and outraged that so many others had rotten gym teachers like mine.)

    I hold most of my teachers, especially in high school, in quite high regard. Ok, there were a few duds, but that’s just how it happens. In fact, I’ve been off and on trying to track down one of my old teachers because I’d like to write him a letter telling him that even though it’s over 25 years later, I still remember many of the stories he told us in class, and I’ve told them to my husband. And to tell him that in a roundabout way he had a huge influence on my career choices, and to thank him for it all. Somehow, I think he’d be amused by that.

    I understand it’s a burn out job, but you may be doing more good than you know. Thanks.

  74. Holy crap, Kate! That finale rant is successfully every single issue that I tear my hair out over every single day! OhmyGOD if only they would focus on our actual troubles….

  75. @Charlotte:
    School didn’t help me either. Kids made fun of me for being fat (although when they started, I wasn’t even that) and for being a nerd. Even though I had Osgood Schletters, I was on the soccer team, but people still thought teasing me was ok. I cannot, will not allow my future children to go to school and experience what I did. I think that schoolyard taunting made my anxiety genes go crazy, and I will not do that to them

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