Weight Discrimination & Children

February 23, 2009

I recently had the great pleasure of participating in an interview with Emme, the supermodel and nationally recognized body image and self esteem advocate.  Emme has twice been selected as People Magazine's 50 Most Beautiful Women.

Emme is working with Yale University's Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity to educate our country about weight bias, weight discrimination and wants to share with you helpful ways to teach your children about the harmful effects of weightbias and how to support a child in your life who is the victim of such a horrible experience.

I am bringing you this interview as the week of National Eating Disorders Awareness Week begins.  Please take a moment after reading this post to visit the site!  

With me on the call were several Savvy Source City Editors ... read on for the interview :

SS Pittsburgh - Tell us how you became involved with Yale University's Rudd Center for Food and Obesity? 

Emme - I met Kelly Brownell a few years ago.  I was very much influenced and made aware of his impact in food policy and his efforts over the years.  I have always viewed Kelly as a professional and the voice of reason.  Whenever I had to speak on this subject, I would get his perspective.  In the past two years, the Rudd Center was developed to be able to really take a stand in the prejudice and discrimination with obesity.  We're very lucky in this country to have Leslie Rudd, Kelly Brownell and the Rudd Center. 

SS Silicon Valley - What exactly is weight bias? Why is it such a growing problem in the US? 

Emme - The issue with childhood obesity is that it has doubled in the past 20 years.  30% of adults are obese.  1 in 5 children are overweight.  The obesity rate in teenagers has tripled in the last 20 years.  If you read the studies that are being done you realize that children who are obese have the same type of feeling as a child going through cancer treatments. 

They get mobbed, they get verbally assaulted by their parents, other friends, coaches, teachers.  To think that these kids are walking around, having to deal with this? It is vitally important that government take it past just talking about.  Nothing is really being done behind the scenes.

SS San Antonio - How can we help reduce weight bias at home and at school? 

Emme - Exactly what we're doing right now.  We're talking to different avenues in the media.  Openly communicating about the issue.  It is definitely not about keeping silent.  It is definitely about encouraging the conversation around the kitchen table.  It is about talking to kids who are not obese and talking to kids who are obese.  As a society, we need to treat each other better. If families were better aware of these issues, when children see that teasing going on in the classroom, on the playground, in bathroom stalls, it would be easier to deal with the situation.

When they see an obese child, encourage your child to stand up for that child.  We need to have more peer to peer efforts  working in our favor. Open communication.  I use the sunflower idea often.  Imagine a field of sunflowers that all look the same ... that wouldn't be very creative.  We need every flower to be different, otherwise every flower would look the same ... we need the world to look different.  When obesity is kept a secret, it really does lead a child down a really really bad road.

Be aware - as parents - how YOU speak to children about obese people in the movies, in a restaurant, in an image.  As a mother myself, I am aware that 80% of women aren't satisfied with their bodies.  Alot of negative talk is going on just inside the home ... telling children that our self-esteem is surrounded just by our body image and shape.

SS Newark
- How do you talk to your children about the negative advertising by diet companies and negative media?

Emme - First let them know that they are trying to sell us a product for us to buy and make us believe that it will fix you... not everyone can look like the models in those commercials!  They are trying to influence you.  When you buy that product, it probably wont do what its supposed to do.  Once again, are we ALL supposed to look the same? 

Tell your child : "Look at mommy.  Look at mommy's friend so and so.  Do all mommies look the same?"  Bring up real life examples of how everyone looks differently. 

Use your voice when you see negative ads.  Write to companies and news stations about the advertising and tell them to stop.

SS Tampa - What do you hope to accomplish with www.emmestyle.com?

Emme - Emmestyle.com is about to take a very large leap and create a revolution.  I can't tell you everything, but it's going to be more than anything has ever been.  It will become a site for women that has been neglected. It will be THE plus-size destination.  There will be a plethora of women there who love themselves.  We are in the midst of getting into the down and dirty of creating this revolution.  Join as a member and we'll keep you posted about all of the changes.

SS Cincinnati - Your motto, Shattering the Myth is a great one - how can we personalize that in our own small towns and with our immediate families.

Emme - You can instill change by doing a call to action ... ask every friend to write a letter concerning a specific offensive ad.  Big companies get away with things because they are not being held accountable .  Dont be a couch coach ... take that finger and instead of pointing it at the company, point it towards yourself.  What are YOU going to do about the situation?

Use your voices ... it will make such a change, especially with the internet.  Women and mothers can come together and make a change with the internet.

Specifically concerning your children:  Regularly ask your child how was your day ... keep your ear attuned - if you hear anything about teasing or anything about body size, listen.  Try so hard to not react to it or make excuses for it. Simply listen neutrally because then they will be able to tell you what's going on and you'll then have a bit of time to give words of advice.  Children that are just below being obese, that aren't thin-thin, they are affected too. 

When talking to overweight children and beign supportive, point out their strengths ... tell them, you are a creative soul, you are a great chef,  you are an awesome swimmer, etc.   Get away from the physicality and focus on their strengths.

Talk to teachers and communicate with the them to let them know its going on.  The more people you talk to, the louder the issue is heard.  If you can come together and not cause blame, the issue can be closed down quicker.

It is important that we have more positive role models ... this is a challenge.  Find people -not just celebrities - but role models in the child's life that happen to have curves on their bodies.  

SS Cleveland - Yale University's Rudd Center has recently produced two videos.  What do you hope the videos will accomplish in the fight against weight bias?

Emme - To increase public awareness of its consequences.  One video is geared towards teachers/parents and one is geared towards the medical community.  Suprisingly enough, there is quite a weight discrminiation between doctor and patient!

The other goal is to try and change the negative attitudes about obese individuals and replace it with tolerance and respect.  It's awfully hard in this culture right now when there is such loathing and fear around food.  It's hard to ask any of us overnight, to just be nice and be kind. There needs to be so much more education and exposure, so many more conversations and so much more knowledge.

SS Denver - Where can we find out more information about weight bias?

Emme - The Rudd Center's website. When you visit the website, please sign up for their newsletter! I constantly throw stuff over to my facebook page on the things I learn about there.  There are incredible studies and a discussion of all the horrible things happening relating to obesity discrimination.

Our culture is not yet at a place where there is tolerance, so we really need to sit down at our own tables and talk about this. 

SS Denver - What if your child is suffering from being isolated because of his or her weight?  How can you support them while getting any help they may need? 

Emme - Parents should provide open communication, good and bad.  Listen and be neutral.  Let them download.  When you're driving them home from school and you hear chitter-chatter or the kids are having snacks, alot of information is going on then.  Check with your school to make sure that the anti-bullying policy at your school also covers obesity and weight related teasing. 

SS Oakland - How can we set a good example to our children in terms of weight bias?

Emme - You want to be able to find positive role models for your children ... people with diversified figures that still do amazing things ... just because they have curves doesnt mean they are not role models.  Find those role models and bring them up to your children over and over.  

SS Oakland - When did you first begin struggling with weight?

Emme - I always joke that I was born a size 12.  I was never an extremely thin model, I was a size 12 walking in to my jobs. 

I was extremely athletic. That was my gift, but my gift covered an eating disorder ... at a very young age, I knew what diets were all about.  I purged through altheticism ... if eating was a bar, that bar kept getting higher and higher. I was very confident on camera and in the role i had taken on.  When i was alone, i was beating myself up that I wasn't doing enough.  I finally said that I needed to get off of that train.  I had a meal, and immediately needed to go workout.

SS Toronto
- What did you learn, culturally, about being a mother from your experiences growing up in Saudi Arabia?

Emme - I think I found my voice from the experiences of living there - where women are required to be covered and shrouded.  There is a complete lack in self esteem for women in that culture.  When you are together with the women with no men around at the hammam - the bathing areas - where we were able to be together without the shroud, there was a lively bit of self esteem - there was no body bashing.  Predominately, if the women were from a middle class family, you found that they had average body shape, if not more rounded.  I think what I took from that culture is that my gosh, here we are in America -- we have GOT to use our voices, where we are allowed to use them. 

We must continue to speak out about what we're passionate about.  What I found from my living there was that the acceptance of ones self needs to be how everyone feels .. back off to anyone else who wants to tell me to look any differently.

Some final comments from Emme: If we dont get this whole issue with obesity down pat and be able to get some exposure about the inequities in medical, school, we will fall deeper in trouble.  We need to be able to be advocates for one another.  This is not just about obesity, its about women, it's about men, it's about our children.  Its about all of us - standing up to support each other.

For more on this subject, visit the site of the National Eating Disorders Awareness Week, and view this video, as well as this one. 

Thank you Emme for your dedication to this issue, and for taking the time to talk with us about this important subject!


Naomi is the Cleveland City Editor for The Savvy Source.  You can read more of her work every day at Being Savvy Cleveland.

From the Parents

Similar Articles

  • Even More Emergency Preparedness

    Tough Subjects

    Sometimes we live in places where we need to prepare for emergencies beyond a fire drill.  Earthquakes, tornadoes, even the possibility of a terrorist attack.  These are scary situations, for sure, but we still need to prepare for them, especially ... read more

  • Signs of Child Abuse

    Gwendolyn Floyd - Tough Subjects

    This is a tough post to write, but statistically you will at some point know of a child who needs to be protected from abuse. It is your legal obligation to report any suspected abuse to the proper authorities. If you think a child you know is being ... read more

The Savvy Library

From the educational to the whimsical, our Savvy editors help you explore your world. You can search our 1971 articles by keyword, subject, or date.