Adoption and Fat

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:

Dear Thomas,

That is a question with one very easy answer: yes.

Love, Kate

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.

Yeah, obviously.

31 thoughts on “Adoption and Fat

  1. Thanks for writing about this!

    Here was my response:
    Yes, there is an easy answer

    A fat woman has every bit as much right to be a mother as a thin woman. And why was there no corresponding question about whether a fat man has the right to be a father?

    My mom was/is obese, and she was/is a great mother. I don’t know what kind of stereotypes you all hold about fat people, but she didn’t… I don’t know, plop us and herself down in front of the tv with a giant bag of chips because she was too lazy to get off her fat ass. She fed us healthy and nutritious meals – I ate much healthier than some of my friends whose parents were thinner but who fed their children junk because they didn’t have the time/energy/inclination to prepare healthy meals. She was active and made sure we were too, she took us walking, biking, swimming, and played outside with us. The idea that anybody would tell her she’s not fit to be a mother solely based on her weight makes me so angry I can’t see straight. If you looked past the freaking stereotypes, you’d realise a fat woman is just as capable of providing a healthy, loving home to a child as a thin woman.

    That’s an interesting point about thin parents adopting fat children… but a fat parent isn’t going to be any better at helping a child accept their weight if they are a self-hating fat person like so very many are. I struggle with accepting my body in part because I grew up with my mom constantly dieting and complaining about how fat and disgusting she was. It’s funny that for all the fuss about people being too fat to be good parents, it wasn’t my mom’s weight that affected me negatively but her attempts to lose it.

  2. My boyfriend’s XW is fat, and she is a great mom to both of her kids. Neither of the kids (now in their late teens) is fat; both have their respective bio-dads’ genetics in that regard. I really don’t get what the problem is with letting fat people adopt, unless it’s the idea that we’re all going to drop dead before the kid grows up (which I think is probably wishful thinking for a lot of these assclowns).

    Damn it, I just can’t deal with Broadsheet anymore — between the trolls and the elitist yuppiefuck writers who think of fat people as slack-jawed McDonald’s-addicted carbon-wasting commoners, I just can’t bring myself to go back there any more. I did my share of troll patrol there for a while and damn near killed myself from it.

  3. That’s an interesting point about thin parents adopting fat children… but a fat parent isn’t going to be any better at helping a child accept their weight if they are a self-hating fat person like so very many are. I struggle with accepting my body in part because I grew up with my mom constantly dieting and complaining about how fat and disgusting she was. It’s funny that for all the fuss about people being too fat to be good parents, it wasn’t my mom’s weight that affected me negatively but her attempts to lose it.

    Bang on, Becky — and ditto. My primary purpose here was making the point that thin adoptive parents don’t guarantee thin OR healthy, happy children, but this is absolutely true as well.

  4. Yeah, Meowser, I hear you about Broadsheet. I won’t do troll patrol there, because it’s beyond a losing battle, though I do post the occasional letter and then look away. And I really love a few of the writers, not to mention the fact that it exists at all. But it’s definitely not the first time I’ve dropped 2 cents in the letters there b/c they wrote something outrageously stupid about fat.

  5. Word, Becky.

    My cousin had gastric bypass surgery and swears up and down that she “still has the heart of a fat girl” even though she’s a size six. Given how much she talks about how much better her life is now, I always thought she was lying about that… but recently occurred to me that she *does* still have the heart of a fat girl; she thought she was a horrible person and a horrible mother when she was fat, and she still thinks that, and she thinks that about other women who don’t do whatever they have to to be “healthy”.

    I really, really worry about her 10-year-old daughter… she’s already started talking about mommy being “pretty and thin” and daddy being “fat”.

  6. Thanks for writing about this, Kate. It’s one of those things that hits just a little bit too close tohome for me to really talk about it effectively.

  7. I’m glad to see you writing about this. When I checked out the letters at Broadsheet earlier today, I almost lost my lunch. The very first letter is something like “Fat people should be required to adopt so that they don’t pass on their defective genes.”

    Tell me that Salon would allow that letter to stand if it said, “Gay people should be required to adopt” or “Latinos should be required to adopt”. I’m not comparing the experiences of discrimination, mind, I’m just sayin’.

    I am somewhat ashamed to say that I have let this really get to me. Like some Victorian-era damsel, I even took to my bed earlier. I just could not face the world as it is, the world that says that I should not have been “allowed” to have my son because I am passing on my defective genes. On balance, I’d say he got more good than bad from me, but I guess those who see fat as the ultimate evil don’t see it that way. It is so goddamn depressing, this society in which we find ourselves.

    I think I need to up the meds.

  8. I continue to be outraged about this. WTF is wrong with that encyclopedia dramatica poster? (Not that I’m keen on that place anyway.) Since when is can a medical problem be fucktarded? I’m too lazy to do the Fat Hate Bingo right now, but I’m pretty sure I there’s several bingos there. Classic example of, “I know everything about you because I heard you are fat.”

  9. I just want to congratulate you on a moving, smart post. I’ve been a reader and lurker for awhile, and I attempted to explain to my boyfriend today why I enjoy reading your blog so much.
    I used the phrase “fat acceptance.” He responded, “But fat is unhealthy.” (We’re both medically average weight kind of people.) I said, “Aha, but listen to this,” and basically gave him the rundown of what’s been up at your blog lately, concluding with the subject of this post, which blew his libertarian mind. In the end he conceded that what fat people need is not another diet change or exercise regime, but fucking rights.
    We’re sold. Logic wins. Just wanted to say so.

  10. Nice job everyone! I appreciate what you are adding to the movement. Now I have to get my skinny ass into it as well. ^_^

  11. Tanglethis…I agree with Kate, my heart went aflutter when I read your comment. Logic FTW!

  12. Well, logic plus knowledge FTW, really. Most fat hating people think their logic is fine.

  13. This post really hit home for me. I have PCOS and struggled with both weight and infertility. The OBGYNS all told me to loose weight, and I’d get pregnant. Like it was that fucking simple. I guess they figured I wasn’t motivated enough. At one point I was on 900 calories a day and exercising 1-2 hours a day and not loosing a pound. I did that for close to 6 months. On the upside I can eat pretty much anything and my weight dosen’t budge from 225.

    It took us 10 years and finding the perfect OBGYN and reproductive specialist to finally carry a pregnancy to term.

    We looked at the option of adopting and were told that our chances were reduced because of MY weight. This was in 97/98 so it isn’t a new phenomena. I would suspect that its one of those dirty little secrets that even the fat people are too ashamed to talk about.

  14. I was a tiny baby adopted by naturally thin parents. They had me on my first diet at the age of five, and if I went 24 hours in their presence until they died without hearing about my weight, I don’t remember it. They were otherwise wonderful parents, but they taught me some seriously messed up attitudes about size, weight and food, lessons I’m still unlearning. I’ll give you one guess as to whose eating habits mine have resembled.

    Now, I’m 5″8′. and weigh considerably over 200 pounds. My daughter by genetics and environment is 5″ even and weighs about 115. She’s comfortable at that weight, even though her friends pressure her to lose some. Her father is also overweight. She’s a vegetarian who loves to exercise. I love meat and have to make myself exercise. Genetics have a delightful way of surprising us with what they can pull from those complicated helixes that form us.

    We are more than the products of our genetics and environment. They shape us, but don’t necessarily control us. I wouldn’t want any parents than the ones I had, and even though my daughter goes through typical teen embarassment over her parents, I have the feeling she’s pretty glad we’re in this life together. I’m grateful for my skinny parents, their flaws and all, and they were proud of their fat adopted daughters.

    Should I have been denied the right to have children because I’m fat? There would be one less honor student in high school if I had. Multiple non-profit organizations would have one less volunteer if I had. There’d be one less person in Who’s Who Among American High School Students and the National Society of High School Scholars.

    Being fat hasn’t kept me from raising a child with values, morals, goals, dreams, ambitions, plans, and a healthy body. My parents knew, as do I, how to raise remarkable women, regardless of what size body we live in.

  15. Awesome post. This just burns me up – it’s adoption studies which have made it so goddamn clear that fat is genetic.

  16. Fat Fu, no kidding. Between adoption and, as you pointed out ages ago, twins, how is it we’re still arguing about the genetic component? It’s mind-boggling.

    Which leads me to another pet peeve du jour: more than one article I’ve run across recently referring to Type 1 diabetes as “the inherited form,” as opposed to Type 2, which is caused by “environmental factors.”

    Environmental factors play a larger role in Type 2, but per the goddamned American Diabetes Association, “Type 2 diabetes has a stronger genetic basis than type 1…”

    Do fact-checkers exist anymore?

  17. Kate, I’ve been reading your blog for a few days now, and its fantastic. Thanks for writing so eloquently on all of these really important subjects, its so refreshing to hear a voice of reason.

    I just wanted to pick up on your comment on type 2 diabetes and say that Im constantly afraid of the way the disease is viewed these days. As someone who is probably very likely to develop it later in life due to EXTREMELY strong genetic factors (even my marathon runner, couldnt be healthier uncle has it. Let alone my mother, her sister and my grandmother) Its important to me that people stop associating every single incident of type 2 diabetes with ‘people stuffing their stupid fat faces’ (or something along those lines).

    I wonder if you would write in some more detail about it, if it interests you enough. I’d love to hear what you have to say.

    You might have even inspired me to write my dissertation on the subject of fat discrimination and the media or somesuch. Thankyou :)

  18. You might have even inspired me to write my dissertation on the subject of fat discrimination and the media or somesuch

    Apricotmuffin, that would be AWESOME. :)

    And I do want to write more about Type 2 diabetes, but I’m currently doing a lot of research, because it’s harder to find simple take-away points about diabetes than, say, heart disease. There’s just not much clear cut information about the risk factors (except that no, it’s not just a matter of stuffing your fat face), and I don’t have a science background, so I want to be careful about spreading misinformation — since fighting that is ostensibly one of the major purposes of this blog. But you’ll definitely see more on it here eventually.

  19. Wow…so if these rules applied 40 years ago I would not have the wonderful parents I have now. I was adopted and both my parents were overweight. Aren’t there enough hoops adopted parents have to go through. What a shame. :(

  20. I struggle with the same issues as TR (fucked metabolism and all that, but not the thin adoptive mother thing – actually my parents are awesome)…but anyway, this story is absolutely outrageous. I suffer from PCOS and want to adopt but I’m so afraid because of this story that I won’t be able to…sigh. Thank you for blogging about it. You’re awesome.

  21. When I read about this on Junkfood Science, I had to write the following letter to Sandy:

    I was horrified at the story of the woman who was “too fat to adopt”. I have PCOS. Because of this, I am short an ovary (it had to be removed three years ago because it was encased in a huge cyst), a fallopian tube, and a chunk of uterus (both removed along with the ovary three years ago).

    A friend of mine also has PCOS, and somehow managed to beat the odds and conceive three times–and she REALLY wanted children. She has one daughter and had two miscarriages.

    Because of the PCOS, she gained a lot of weight very quickly. She tried really hard to lose it, but, as you probably know, it’s next to impossible with insulin resistance to lose weight. I would guess that she is at least as large as the woman in the news story. Guess what? She’s a great mother, and her weight does not prevent her from giving her daughter a happy, healthy upbringing.

    I am sure that Kylie Lannigan would not be refused IVF if she offered up her money to a fertility doctor. I suppose these fat-haters would prefer she put her body and feelings at risk with IVF than be permitted to adopt? Not only are the hormones and the rest of the process really hard on the body, but it’s awful to have failed attempts at IVF. Many women mourn every failure as a miscarriage (which it is). It’s also possible that she would end up with multiple viable fetuses and have to make the choice to terminate a few or try to carry too many babies to term. All of this, plus going broke trying to make a baby with your own genes–is it worth it, if there are adoptable children available, and you are willing to choose adoption over IVF?

    She could give an EXISTING child a loving home, spending her monetary resources on clothing, toys, food, and other kid stuff, instead of blowing it on expensive, risky, and often unsuccessful medical procedures. I guess the adoption folks would rather advance their agenda of discrimination, though, than actually find loving homes for the children that need them.

    For the record, I am incredibly fortunate that I have no desire to have children. My husband and I are both just not interested in them, and I got thoroughly burned out on childcare, being the oldest cousin on both sides of the family. Years of forced babysitting (without pay) was enough of raising kids for me! I’m also just not into hairless apes. I’m into scaly creatures, furry felines, and slimy sea life :)

  22. the best thing my (then very skinny, now not so) mother gave me was a childhood where no one dieted, and there were no bathroom scales.

    there was healthy food & exercise too, but learning not to diet made being a teenager so much easier than it might have been

Comments are closed.