I’m sure no regular readers still harbor doubts as to whether fatness is used as an excuse to shame and terrorize children. Just in case you needed a reminder, though, here’s the Washington City Paper’s story “The Battle Over Heavy T.” It’s the story of a young boy who is constantly being hunted down, for the hideous crime of wanting to live at home with his mother and eat more than 800 calories a day. And it reads like something out of Orwell.
In late March, police and CFSA workers showed up to take Terrell away. When they arrived, Terrell was hanging out inside his apartment with his cousin. The two boys raced out the back door. Terrell ran next to the taller boy, trying to stay in his cousin’s shadow so the police wouldn’t see him.
The ruse didn’t work. An officer snagged Terrell and escorted him to the front yard where a bald guy from CFSA waited with a car.
At the agency’s Sixth Street office near L’Enfant Plaza, Terrell sat surrounded by workers “talking their jibber jabber shit.” It seemed like they knew everything about him. They peppered him with questions. What have you been eating? How often do you go to school? How often do you go to the YMCA?
There’s a moralizing tone to the article, a gentle incredulousness that this child was unhappy in a hospital program where he was initially restricted to 800 calories a day, or that he dares to think he isn’t ugly. It’s not snide, but I get the sense that the author doesn’t know what story he’s telling — the story of a child victimized for his size and a mother stretched too thin to help him, or the story of a dumb shit who brought trouble on himself with his appetite. I know how I read it, though. Honestly, I think there’s only one way to read a story that starts with a fat kid peering out into the street, wondering if the car that just pulled up is there to take him away.
Clearly, there are several things going on in Terrell’s story that make it more complicated than just “fat kid gets brutalized by Child Services.” The kid does not eat well, and he eats a lot. He seems to have historically been hungrier than most kids his age — he’s typically bottomless for a 15-year-old, but according to his mother, he’s been insatiably hungry for a long time, even before he was put on his punishing diet. His mom seems to have a drug problem and maybe can’t give him the attention he needs, though being a working single mom would alone prevent her from monitoring his every bite. These are facts. But so are these: Terrell is on steroids for asthma, which can cause extreme weight gain — something that’s being basically ignored. His model for “acceptable” eating so far has been a program where he lost a pound and a half a DAY. His mother has been threatened with jail time if she doesn’t give him up. He is failing his classes because he’s scared to leave the house and go to school. He couldn’t go out and play — or go work out at the Y — if he wanted to, without being dragged back to the starvation-based weight loss program against his will.
Here’s the end of the article, which I think about sums it up:
Most likely, life for Terrell will once again be his second-floor bedroom. He will not go back to school. When the knock comes on the door, he’ll hide. Before he goes outside, he’ll scan the street.
Terrell walks over to his mother. She lifts his shirt and hugs him around his belly.
“All ’cause you want to be chunky,” she says.