Last night, a reader named Becky drew my attention to Broadsheet’s coverage of Kylie Lannigan’s fight to adopt a child. Lannigan and her husband spent three years jumping through bureaucratic hoops and were deemed potentially wonderful parents — except that Lannigan weighs 277 pounds. The last hoop they want her to jump through? Losing more than 110 pounds.
In addition to how outrageous that is on its face, one reason Lannigan is fat is the same reason she’s trying to adopt: PCOS. She has a medical condition that causes weight gain (and, in some cases, infertility), but no other health problems. She’s been tested for heart disease and diabetes and is fine. She exercises. But she’s fat. That’s all it takes to mark her as an unfit parent.
And this is currently the first Google result for her name. Just FYI.
While the Broadsheet coverage (by Thomas Rogers) isn’t quite as infuriating as that, it’s pretty fucking bad — especially since I usually love Broadsheet. Money quote:
Does a fat woman have the right to be a mother? It’s not a question with any easy answers, but given the rates of obesity in most Western countries, it’s not one that’s going away anytime soon.
Emphasis mine. As I said in my first letter over there, ARE YOU FUCKING KIDDING ME? Okay, I left out the caps and the “fucking,” but that’s what I meant. Also:
That is a question with one very easy answer: yes.
P.S. For Christ’s sake. I mean, really.
I went back and wrote another letter later when I noticed this almost throwaway line:
Some studies have shown that obese parents tend to have overweight children, even when the child is adopted…
He doesn’t tell us what those studies are, though I’m sure they exist. Problem is, they undoubtedly do not take into account whether the children’s biological parents were fat. In the U.S., because of closed adoptions, it would be impossible to organize such a study on a large enough scale to produce meaningful results. But guess what? In Denmark, they did a study comparing adoptees’ weights to those of both their adoptive and biological parents.
Here’s what they found:
[T]here was a strong relation between the body-mass index of biologic parents and adoptee weight class and no relation between the index of adoptive parents and adoptee weight class. Furthermore, the relation between biologic parents and adoptees was not confined to the obesity weight class, but was present across the whole range of body fatness – from very thin to very fat.”
And the upshot was this:
“We conclude that genetic influences have an important role in determining human fatness in adults, whereas the family environment alone has no apparent effect. “
Emphasis mine once again.
(Hat tip to Gina Kolata, who mentioned that study in Rethinking Thin, which was the first I’d heard of it. I’m telling you, there’s a lot to learn in that book.)
In light of that study’s results, let’s take a moment to consider the physical and mental health consequences of letting thin people adopt children who have fat biological parents, in a culture that insists that A) fat is horrid, and B) the home environment has the greatest influence on a child’s weight.
The Rotund has written movingly about that very subject many times. Her thin adoptive mother started putting her on diets — and promising to reward her if she lost weight, but only if she lost weight — when she was seven years old. And as she puts it:
I love my mother, I really do, quite deeply. But we have not had a good or simple relationship. Our interactions have always been negotiated through the meaning of my fat and our differing… viewpoints on just what it means for me to be fat. Because to my mom? Me being fat means I am going to die alone and unloved and miserable. And probably young. To me, my being fat means that I am fat.
The Rotund has also written movingly about how, after dieting for most of her life, her metabolism is fucked beyond belief, she’s battled disordered eating for a long time, and how even now, she cannot bring herself to enjoy food— and while weighing over 300 lbs., she struggles to make herself eat more than 1,000 calories a day. (And no, she’s not losing weight.)
She doesn’t know who her biological parents were or are. She doesn’t even know for sure what her racial make-up is, let alone her family medical history. But I’d bet everything I own on this: one or both of her biological parents had fat genes.
The woman who raised her didn’t, and furthermore didn’t believe that genes had anything to do with it — why would she, given all the messages that parents’ habits and role modeling are almost solely to blame for children’s fatness? So the Rotund might very well spend the rest of her life trying to undo the physical and psychological damage that issued from having an adoptive mother who could not accept the natural state of her child’s body, who taught her child to hate herself, to be ashamed of herself, and to blame herself.
Yet many, many people, including those who make the policies, believe that having thin parents who won’t stand for raising fat kids will always be in the child’s best interest.