Dear Thelma: I'm called names and bullied for being overweight


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Dear Thelma,

I am a 16-year-old girl and I have been called nasty names for most of my life.

Random kids at my school call me "fat", which makes me feel terribly embarrassed and angry. At the same time, I'm shocked by their audacity.

I have a hard time dealing with such harsh and unwarranted comments about my weight. Often, I would come back home feeling worthless and unloved. I am constantly self-conscious and insecure about my body and I do not know what to do about it.

Even my own parents fatshame me. Whenever we go to malls and if a skinny and beautiful girl walks past us, they would look at me pitifully – as if my life is over, just because I am overweight.

Also, they would often make rude comments about me and compare me to my skinny cousins in front of them.

I don’t understand why I should be bullied just because of my weight. Do fat people deserve to be treated like this? How do I deal with it?

Thank you,

Anonymous


Dea Anonymous,

Thank you so much for writing in! You've brought up a hot topic that plagues so many women and men. Let's dig in.

Bodies come in all shapes and sizes. They're all beautiful! However, unrealistic body images promoted by filters and editing are everywhere. Plus, there's decades of the beauty industry pushing unhealthy thin stereotypes at us.

As a result, some people have developed some very strange ideas about what we should all look like. When they bully people who don't fit these odd stereotypes, it has an effect on mental health.

We know people who are bullied over their body shape suffer from low self-esteem, and can develop eating disorders like bulimia. It can also contribute to anxiety and may be linked to self-harm. Note this affects men too. It's not only a female issue.

Why does this happen? Random kids at school are likely just bullies. However, your parents should know better.

It is possible that these comments come from care, that our loved ones want us to be healthy. However, it's still not OK because what they're actually doing is hurtful and shaming.

So we start by discussing how it should be.

If a person is truly concerned over your health, they pick a time where it's just you and them, and there's no party or other event. They express love for you, and respect for the relationship, and then state their concern. Sounds awfully fake, doesn't it?

But it goes like this. "Babe, you know I love you and want the best for you. I noticed that you're going through some changes. You're looking different. I'm a bit worried about you. Are you OK?"

Then, if you say something like you've been comfort eating, you can talk about it openly. If you shut them down, they respect that and leave you to deal with it.

Now mums and dads are a bit different, because parents have a duty to guide their kids. That means modelling sensible eating habits and helping their kids to follow them. Like the adage says, it's monkey see, monkey do!

Then, when kids go off the rails a little, (and who doesn't, especially when exams are due or there are yummy treats?) a mum or dad should approach you nicely. But as they have the duty to parent, you can't refuse to discuss the issue.

The first step for you is to sort out who you want to engage with and who you can ignore.

Random people making hurtful comments is just bullying. Walk away and ignore them.

If it's friends, you can talk it over. Summarise the issue, tell them how it made you feel, and say what you want them to do next time. "Calling me fat hurt my feelings. In future, please don't do that. Ask me about school instead."

An honest person will think it over, apologise and change. If they don't, you can walk away from the relationship.

But that is an ideal, and with family, especially if you're a kid, you may not have that power.

I suggest you start by taking your mum aside and confiding in her. Start by sharing that comments on your body really hurt. It may be helpful to show her this column.

Have a good chat about health where you both air your thoughts and concerns. You may find that you both need to change a few small things about how you think about food, diet and exercise. Frankly, that's OK! Rethinking ideas can be very helpful.

Whatever happens between you and your parents, they should help protect you from other bullies. Ask mum to help you direct body shamers like older family members into nicer topics, like your hobbies or the books you're reading.

If mum isn't approachable, identify a family member everyone respects, like an older uncle, and get them to support you. They should advocate on your behalf, and be able to jump in and shut rude people down when necessary.

Hopefully, this will help create some change. But, as you already have self-esteem issues, please don't hesitate to consult a mental health professional. You would not be alone!

I hope this helps. Please know I'm thinking of you.

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