3.16.2011

Dear Mrs. Obama

I admire you in many ways, but I need to speak plainly to you about your Let's Move campaign aimed at "fighting" and/or "defeating" childhood obesity by first telling you that while your intentions seem to be in the right place, this is a terrible idea that will have horrible consequences for our already ailing society.

I speak to you as a fat woman who grew up as a fat kid. Fat by your (and everyone else's) standards, anyway. Even at my most active and health conscious, I've always been at least 30 pounds overweight, and by any medical standard, that makes me obese. I've always had good to excellent health, but a few things have started to creep up on me. Most of those things exist in my family (who is by and large not obese) and are likely genetic, but many would try to blame it on my weight, simply because that's the easy thing to do.

I've spent 31 years in this body and for roughly the last 21 years, I've been stabbing myself with metaphorical knives of fat hate. I've dieted, only to gain the little weight I've lost back and then some. I've put myself down so much for being fat that when I read back some of the words I've written in blogs about myself, I want to cry. Because no one should hate themselves as much as I have hated myself. 

And I see the results of my years of self-hatred reflected in my kids now. I have an 8-year-old son who utters the word "fat" like it's a curse word, and I sometimes wonder if he's made fun of any fat kids at school. It wouldn't surprise me if he did, but that's my fault, not his. My 9-year-old daughter draws pictures of herself that make her look like an emaciated supermodel, in stark contrast to the curvy body she is currently growing, one that will likely resemble her mother's someday. I live in fear that she will look at her little pooch of a belly and think she can starve it off, like I once did when I was just about her age. I don't know that I will ever forgive myself for inadvertently planting the seeds in their brains that fat is a defect. But I've done my best to start reversing the damage. They love being outside and they love the green smoothies I'm making for them. I'm trying to make them as socially conscious their father and I are so that they will make choices not merely because they want to maintain a svelte figure, but because the health of their bodies and that of our planet matters. 

But you know what? Those same seeds of self-hatred were planted in my brain and they were planted in the people who planted them in mine. And I dare say they were also planted in yours. Now you're working hard to sow them into the minds of our youth at a time when people in this country are more volatile than ever toward those who are "other." 

I just cannot abide by that. 

Our heavier-than-average children are not defects that need to be fixed. What you should be addressing is our country's overall approach to health and nutrition. The government you and your husband represent is in bed with agricultural lobbies and corporations that seek to genetically modify our food supply to boost profits. GMOs may have devastating effects on our health and environment, the longterm of which has yet to be observed but may already be happening. Meanwhile, you're subsidizing a grain industry that stuffs GMO corn into cattle that have 40% more saturated fat and far greater risk of e. coli infection than that of grass-fed animals. And the chemicals and feces in the run-off from these government-subsidized farms and feed lots has contaminated lakes and rivers and oceans with oxygen-depriving nitrogen and deadly bacteria, destroying entire ecosystems and creating "dead zones." The Gulf of Mexico was already suffering long before BP got its hands on it. Our destructive agriculture is also causing foodborne illness in our vegetation crops. We're now getting e.coli on our spinach, strawberries, and in our peanut butter. Food recalls are through the roof as the industry deregulates itself more and more, at the hands of former big agriculture/food industry CEOs posing as regulators. Kids of all shapes and sizes are DYING because of illnesses caused by these practices. Why aren't you bringing attention to that?

To make it worse, that same government-subsidized grain is also going into chemical sweeteners that then go into the cheap processed foods that people who are struggling in this economy (destroyed by the very corporations and banks that our government bailed out) buy because it's all they can afford, or because the crafty ad executives hired by these companies tell people that "everything's okay in moderation" and that their sweeteners are "all natural."

Well it's harder than hell to be "moderate" when high-fructose corn syrup is in everything from commercial "fruit juice" to loaves of "whole grain but not really" bread.

These sweeteners have been shown to have a very detrimental effect on people's health and metabolisms. People then seek out pharmaceuticals to treat the ailments--their diabetes, their high cholesterol, their cancer--caused by this industrialized food. And all this, of course, makes the drug companies--which receive massive tax breaks and other subsidies--richer by the minute. And all this, of course, creates a great conflict of interest when it comes to doing the truly healthy stuff, doesn't it? You represent a government that has inextricably linked the overall health (or lack there of) of our nation's citizens to the wealth of corporations and their shareholders. Millions are suffering for the financial benefit of a few

THOSE are the defects that need addressing. That is the campaign you should be waging. And that's only the very tip of a very sick iceberg.

Mrs. Obama, leave the fat kids alone. They never did anything to you. But you and the rest of this country who has its head on backward about health, nutrition, and body image are doing a hell of a lot to hurt them by reinforcing the damaging message that there is something wrong with them simply because of their size.

29 comments:

  1. Thank you for this. Really and truly.

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  2. Thank you, Megan, for visiting here and for bringing people's attention to these issues as well.

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  3. That is the best redirection of anger I've read in a long time. Awesomely written.

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  4. I appreciate that, Aim. This angers and saddens me a lot. I am happy to join the chorus.

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  5. Very well said. You should email this to her as well!

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  6. Thank you for writing this Allison. I have wondered if this movement was going to turn into a witchhunt for fat kids. You met m around the time I reached a weight where I was considered obese and there was nothing wrong with me. I was generally happy, very active(I played at least 2 seasons of soccer every year) and healthy. It wasn't until I started obsessing over what other people thought about my weight that my activity level went down. I didn't want others subjected to the sight of my whale sized body.

    I hope that I can become comfortable in my skin one day but I know for damn sure that something like this movement would have made me even more ostrasized for those few "extra" pounds that I have always and probably always will carry. I was made to be a curvy girl and there is no program that will change my genetic makeup.

    Thank you again Allison, I love you dearly

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  7. I hope you are sincere about bringing this to her attention. Being an educated woman, if Mrs. Obama truly believes what she is campaigning for, then this will surely open her eyes.

    Nicely put.

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  8. Thank you so much, everyone. And I will definitely be e-mailing this to Mrs. Obama.

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  9. Hi Allison, Timing is everything. Marilyn brought your blog to my attention literally minutes I hit the publish button on my blog writing to M. Obama as well! I hadn't planned on actually sending it to her, wouldn't know where to begin to do that, but you are an inspiration! If you possibly can, please let me know where you send yours and I'll send mine as well. If you would like to see my letter it is at www.leftoverstogo.com/blog/ I would also like to publish your letter on my facebook page for Leftovers To Go
    Thank you so much for this articulate and much needed response! Warmly, Dr. Deah Schwartz

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  10. ooops, of course I meant minutes AFTER I hit the publish button. Prematurely hit the post comment button in my excitement at reading your post! :D

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  11. Thank you, Gina!

    Dr. Deah -- You are more than welcome to distribute this wherever you like!

    Apparently, Michelle does use her Facebook page, so that might be one place to try. There are contact forms through Whitehouse.gov as well, but no actual e-mail address that I could find. Of course, a good-old fashioned letter to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW; Washington, DC 20500. It doesn't hurt to try all three! :)

    Thank you again!
    -Allison

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  12. Oh and I will definitely read your letter too!

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  13. Absolutely awesome post, Allison. I'm a scientist who examines these issues and I'm always struck by how much more powerful it is when people speak from the heart and their personal experience about how policies affect us than all the data I can muster. Anyway, wanted to alert you to a few resources that you may find supportive. First, if you are interested in a summary of the scientific data that supports your advice to Obama, check out this article I co-authored: http://www.nutritionj.com/content/10/1/9. A less academic version can be found here: http://lindabacon.org/HAESbook/pdf_files/HAES_Manifesto.pdf. Next, there's a community of people committed to "Health at Every Size" - you can learn more about various resources and register your voice at www.HAESCommunity.org. Also, I've written a book on the topic, called Health at Every Size (www.HAESbook.com). Thanks for speaking up.

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  14. Allison, I posted this to my Facebook and am including it in the links section of my blog. You addressed two issues dear to my heart: size diversity and real food! Thank you. Thank you for understanding. Thank you for digging deep for the truth. Thank you for speaking up!

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  15. Awesome Allison! Just awesome.

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  16. Bravo, Allison! It's the same advise given by the food pyramid folks. Her message has heart, but no substance. Your story certainly highlights another part of the story that our dear Mrs. O may be very unaware of. Her youngest was gaining, however, and that was the spark that set off the canon. Unfortunately, her message needs to address the why and the how in a whole new way; neither of which her message is doing. Not much of a surprise, though, it's all keeping things status quo or business as usual. Sad. Great article!

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  17. Such a great post, Allison! I hope she reads it and takes your message to heart. :-)

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  18. Great post, Allie! Ms.O really needs to read this and everyone else's stories, and rethink her focus.

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  19. Thank you Allison! It really does my heart good when I find someone with good old common sense, something that is in very short supply right now. Addressing this problem is way over due, and where better start than at the top. Hopefully Mrs. Obama shares your common sense and will adjust her campaign accordingly. I also would like to post this on my facebook page. It's something that can't get too much exposure.

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  20. I posted this to my facebook page to share with others. Well said! Excellent! I'm so glad you are speaking up, and I'm so glad that I married into a family of "big & tall" men where I am accepted and considered beautiful as a curvy woman. I love your list of the real health concerns of our day that we should be focusing on!

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  21. Allison, kudos to you! If you ever write a book about your experiences and journey as well as further thoughts on it you know I would buy it in a heartbeat. We need your voice! Thank you. And keep us all updated if you do get a response.

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  22. Hi - got referred to this through Facebook and really enjoyed it. I added a link to your post to the list of links on this topic that I've been collecting under the Paul Campos/Daily Beast post on Big Fat Blog - hope it's okay that I added this.

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  23. Beautifully and powerfully written! Thank you, thank you, thank you for expressing all of this so well.Theresa Woodsong

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  24. Thank you for posting this, very thoughtful and near to my heart. Especially the hereditary issues that get blamed on my weight.

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  25. This is beautiful, brilliant, and heartfelt! THANK YOU for speaking up.

    Liz

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  26. Wonderfully said...you hit the nail on the head when you said some people eat what they can afford. Some people need to eat off the dollar menu's because that is what they can afford. It is sad to be in the middle class because we have a hard time after bills being able to afford to eat healthy.
    I too have battled my weight up until I had gastric bypass 9 yrs ago. But I have other issues that I have to battle now...
    Thank you for bringing this to her attention.
    Lori

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  27. Beautifully written.

    You are correct her intentions are sound, but the message and marketing of this program are missing the mark by isolating a group of young individuals without regard to the whole picture and the health of all.

    Yes, we need to increase children's desire to eat better- but that message is skewed when cocoa puffs are advertised as "healthy".

    Why not work to help ALL children develop an appetite for good foods from the earth, enjoy playing actively outside and teach them the foods harming ourselves & the earth need to disappear.

    While she is making attempts in this direction, changing the slant away from discussions of obesity would embrace the true dilemma of our increasingly sick society.

    May I ask have you sent this message to Michelle Obama directly?

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