Vijai P. Sharma, Ph.D
What is common between a child with thick glasses, one with braces on the teeth and one who is visibly obese? All three have to put up with teasing on an almost daily basis. However, an obese child has to put up with teasing and much more!
In a study published in the Journal of American Medical Association, April 2003 issue, Dr. Jeffrey Schwimmer, pediatric gastro-enterologist at the University of California at San Diego observes that the quality of life reported by obese children is comparable to that of children with cancer receiving chemotherapy!
The study underscores the difficulties obese children face every day. They are teased about their size. They tend to suffer with such physical ailments as fatty liver disease, obstructive sleep apnea, fatigue, diabetes and orthopedic problems caused by overweight.
Consequently, they have trouble playing sports and thus miss the opportunity for exercise badly needed. Ironically, a physically fit and normal weight child has more opportunity to exercise at school than an obese child who needs it even more.
Girls and boys in this study of 106 obese children ages 5 to 18 were equally adversely affected by obesity.
Kelly Brownell, obesity researcher and Director of the Yale University Weight Disorder Center, relates a story of a patient who was absent from school one day and her teacher, noting her absence, said, "She's probably home eating." Imagine the teasing that child might have faced the following morning in the class, with the other kids taking a cue from the teacher that taunts and snide remarks are encouraged.
In a class of 30 children, four or five are likely to be obese. But, that doesn't make life easier for these children carrying the social stigma.
Compared to children of normal weight, obese ones are more likely to miss school on account of teasing and/or physical ailments.
Some overweight children compensate for teasing and peer rejection by becoming class comedians. Unable to participate in many sports or to walk and run as fast as others, they try to be accepted by the group by entertaining them. Some, if they are bigger and taller, may gain leverage or acceptance by bullying the smaller ones. Many will simply absorb the negative comments of others into their already lowered self-esteem.
Some mental health experts claim that children who are teased even mildly are more likely to suffer from low self-esteem and depression as adults.
Once, I went to a classroom to address the problem of teasing. Needless to say, everyone doesn't feel comfortable in admitting to being a victim of teasing in front of the whole class. A few brave little souls acknowledged that they were teased. The few who admitted to it were either overweight or wearing glasses or both.
I asked everyone in the class to say something positive about the child sitting next to them. Though the starting was awkward and slow, but they soon caught on to the idea. I was impressed by the fact that they became as creative and competitive in this exercise as they had been while inventing nicknames and other derisive remarks.
The biggest problem of nicknames and negative labels is that a victim may come to identify with them. Objects of teasing begin to label themselves in similarly derogatory terms such as, "dumb," "fat," "clumsy," "ugly," etc.
Oddly, one can become better at putting oneself down than those who are derisive can be.
Your own put downs can do more damage to your self-esteem than those by an outsider.
Put downs, no more! Only put ups, please! Be your best friend. Respect yourself. Find something to make you proud of yourself. Don't let the negatives weaken your grip on what you are proud of.
Not many people are happy with their bodies. "A" doesn't want to be so fat. "B" doesn't want to be so skinny. "C" wants to build more muscles. "D" wishes one or the other part of the body to be not so big. And so, it goes on and on. But, the one who achieves happiness and self-satisfaction is the one who takes concrete steps in doing something about it.
You can set a goal to be healthy. You can assume responsibility for such things as making healthy choices, taking care of your body, liking yourself, feeling better about yourself and appreciating your skills and talents.
You can take responsibility for following such concrete steps as looking out for your health, avoiding sitting for extended periods of time, for exercising and eating moderately, as well as wisely.
To become the person you want to be, accept the person you are. Then, work up to a sweat!
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Copyright 2003, Mind Publications
Posted April 2003