What's scarier than a haunted house on Halloween? Someone passing out "fat letters" to your trick-or-treating child.
As reported in USA Today, a North Dakota woman has a horrific and appalling idea for neighborhood trick-or-treaters this Halloween. During an anonymous radio interview with Y94, the woman revealed her plan to hand out "fat letters," rather than candy, to children who appeared to be obese. Her letter will deliver a message that attacks the very bodies of young children in a highly personal and damaging way, "Your child is, in my opinion, moderately obese and should not be consuming sugar and treats to the extent of some children this Halloween season."
This is an eye-opening illustration of just how pervasive weight stigma and body shaming has become in our society. Although this woman might honestly believe that she is doing these children a favor, her letter will actually have opposite and damaging effects. First of all, though many have been conditioned to think you can, you simply cannot tell by looking at someone, especially a young child, if they are "moderately obese." Secondly, punishing and humiliating children because of their percieved body size will not encourage them to become healthier. In fact, research shows that pointing out to a person that they are "fat," especially when you don't even know the person nor are you their medical doctor, will only serve to construct low self-esteem and poor body image. Not only will this woman's letter spoil the joy and exhilaration of the Halloween experience, but it will also leave lasting and harmful fat-shaming consequences.
With ill-informed ideas about body type, weight, and health, this woman mistakenly assumes that all children in larger bodies are unhealthy, and therefore, do not deserve to eat candy. She also presumes that these children have unhealthy eating habits, consuming candy often. "My hope is that you will step up as a parent and ration candy this Halloween and not allow your child to continue these unhealthy eating habits."
What do experts think about fat shaming children on Halloween? "It's just that kind of thing that for some kids, if they're vulnerable, might trigger major problems," North Dakota State University assistant professor of clinical psychology, Katie Gordon said. "Even if a child is overweight, they might be very healthy because of what they eat and how they exercise. It's ineffective anyway because it's not likely to help the kid."
Health is not something that can be judged simply by looking at a person – and this fact alone is a huge part of the problem. Too many people assume that those who are "overweight" have unhealthy eating and lifestyle habits. That is not always the case.
This North Dakota woman reinforces the tragic idea that people should be singled out and made an example of becuase of their body. Her behavior is unacceptable, and we as a society need to realize that her ideas and letter are symptoms of an epidemic in our country: fat-shaming and weight-discrimination. We know that her letter is a tactic that is ineffective and NOT a catalyst for change, yet it continues to be utilized (Boy Scouts and fat letters in schools). In fact, fat shaming and discrimination can lead to weight gain!
Let's stop judging other people's bodies and making assumptions about health (including children!). Let's preserve the thrill and adventure of Halloween - for children of every size. And let's talk to our children (and the adults in their lives) about the truth about fat-shaming: it is never OK, and if they are ever a victim of it, they need to talk about it, not internalize it or feel ashamed of who they are because of their weight, shape or size.