I just had an opportunity to see Zoolander 2. As Derek first looks for his son after many years of being apart, he fanaticizes about him being athletic, thin and good looking. He’s disappointed and aghast when he’s met by “Fatlander” — the way his son is referred to by the other boys he’s playing sports with. When he realizes who his son actually is, he expresses, “I can’t do this. He’s fat.” He greets his son by saying, “Hi sport, I hear that someone’s a fat little smarty pants.” Throughout the film there are comments about his weight size and referring to Derek Jr as “fat” “the chubby little bloodhound” “he’s fat enough for the slaughter” “There’s Zoolander talking to his fat son” “Turn to die chubby checker”, and many more references. At the conclusion of the movie, he reaches “redemption” by becoming the hottest new plus size model.
It’s incredible to think that this is a comedy film for people of all ages. I’m not quite sure how this is humorous, to anyone, for that matter. I also can’t help but think if the son were autistic, mentally retarded or physically disabled, how people would react to these parodies. We teach our children to be kind, caring and non-judgmental. This film counters all of these intrinsic values and relationship skills.
I found it interesting the way my two sons reacted to the references. My younger middle school age child, who’s very thin, practically didn’t notice it until I brought it to his attention. My older child, a high school teen, and more susceptible to overeating, noticed it instantaneously and commented on the fact that it could be hurtful for those struggling with overeating and health challenges. I was left wondering whether we’re somewhat immune to it, especially for those who don’t think twice about these particular challenges. For those individuals, it might just go over their heads. A scary thought that we may only be sensitive to issues that impact us personally and ones we can personally relate to.
It’s very much an issue to be sensitive to and considerate of. The reality is that the prevalence of weight discrimination has significantly increased in recent decades and is comparable to the rates of racial discrimination.[i] Teasing about weight is more common than teasing for sexual orientation, race/ethnicity, physical disability, or religion.[ii] Weight is the main reason for teasing and bullying at school.[iii] There are multiple forms of weight bias, which include physical assault, verbal teasing (name-calling or derogatory remarks), and relational victimization (being ignored, excluded from activities, cyberbullying, and/or being the target of rumors).[iv]
Kids who experience weight discrimination are more vulnerable to negative impacts on their physical, psychological, and social health. They are at significant risk for psychiatric disorders,[v] including depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, poor body image, and suicidal thoughts,[vi] as well as disordered eating, avoidance of physical activity,[vii] weight gain,[viii] poor academic performance,[ix] and social isolation.[x]
Weight bias exists because of the false beliefs that overweight and obese kids are to blame for their weight and could change their circumstances if they worked harder at it, that “tough love” and shaming will motivate them to embrace their health, and that “thinness” is more attractive and leads to greater success.
A study on parents’ perceptions of health professionals’ responses when seeking help for their overweight children showed that parents often feel stigmatized or blamed (that they are bad parents and are neglecting their children, aren’t teaching them differently, are passing down the genes to them, etc.).[xi] These factors can directly impact how they communicate with and act toward their children.[xii]
Weight bias very much exists in the family. Nearly half of overweight females and a third of overweight males reported experiencing weight-based teasing by family members.[xiii] Although it’s common and most often demonstrated by brothers toward their sisters,[xiv] it also occurs among same-gender siblings and sisters toward their brothers. Teasing in general comes with detriments to the child being teased and is associated with higher BMI in the long term.[xv]
Parents may demonstrate weight bias toward their children.[xvi] Nearly half of mothers and a third of fathers have been reported to show weight bias.[xvii] Surprisingly, fathers with higher education and income were more likely to endorse stereotypes, as were both parents who reported a strong investment in their own appearance. Also, parents who were overweight and obese were just as likely to endorse negative stereotypes as thinner parents.[xviii] These statistics highlight how we are all vulnerable to biases and need to be aware of our own biases.
Parents need to be more mindful and ask themselves whether their behavior and communication models what they are asking of their children.
Assess Your Actions:
(1) Are you exercising regularly?
(2) Are you eating healthfully?
(3) Are you doing things that send messages to your child regarding your body image (such as weighing yourself incessantly, getting frustrated because your clothing is tight, etc.)?
Assess Your Communication:
(1) What are you communicating toward yourself? (e.g., “I’m so fat I can’t stand it” or “This bathing suit makes me look so enormous.”). Your child is hearing you make self-deprecating judgements about yourself in regard to your weight and body size.
(2) What are you communicating toward your partner? (e.g., “Haven’t you had enough?” or “That will go straight to your thighs.”). Your child is hearing you make judgements of others in regard to their eating behaviors and body size.
(3) What are you communicating about people in general? (e.g., “That woman must have no self-control” or “Doesn’t she care that she looks like that?”). Your child is hearing you make judgements of others in regard to their level of motivation and appearance.
(4) Are you complimenting or commenting on other people’s weight? (e.g., “You look great —how much weight did you lose?” or “She would be so pretty if she lost some weight.”). Your child is hearing you make judgements about the value of others based on their body size and appearance.
Ways to Be More Mindful. Pay Attention to:
(1) Your biases and judgments toward yourself and others.
(2) The level of frustration and anger you feel when you’re thinking about your own health and fitness challenges and issues, or are confronted with others.
(3) What stuckness you have in regard to your own healthful behavior, and
(4) How much space there is between what you think and how you decide to act.
Instead of Impulsively Behaving or Saying What Is On Your Mind, Consider:
(1) Whether it is in line with your integrity,
(2) What consequences it will have for you and others, and
(3) Alternative ways of acting or communicating.
It is essential that parents are mindful not to criticize their body or the bodies of others in front of their children. As parents, we are the most important person in our children’s lives. If our children experience us disdaining our bodies, it makes it easier for them to dislike theirs. We can challenge ourselves and work proactively with our children to create a positive body image and increased self-love and self-compassion. This is a positive way to bond and foster mutual love and understanding.
[i] Puhl, R.M., and Kyle, T.K. (2014). “Pervasive Bias: An Obstacle to Obesity Solutions.” Commentary. Washington, DC: Institute of Medicine.
Puhl, R.M., Andreyeva, T., and Brownell, K.D. (2008). “Perceptions of Weight Discrimination: Prevalence and Comparison to Race and Gender Discrimination in America.” International Journal of Obesity, 32, 992–1000.
Andreyeva, T., Puhl, R.M., and Brownell, K.D. (2008). “Changes in Perceived Weight Discrimination Among Americans, 1995–1996 Through 2004–2006.” Obesity Journal, 16(5), 1129–34.
[ii] Puhl, R.M., Luedicke, J., and Heuer, C. (2011). “Weight-Based Victimization Toward Overweight Adolescents: Observations and Reactions of Peers.” Journal of School Health, 81, 696–703.
[iii] Bradshaw, C.P., Waasdorp, T.E., O’Brennan, L.M., and Gulemetova, M. (2011). Findings from the National Education Association’s Nationwide Study of Bullying: Teachers’ and Education Professionals’ Perspectives. National Education Association. nea.org.
Puhl, R.M., Luedicke, J., and DePierre, J.A. (2013). “Parental Concerns About Weight-Based Victimization in Youth.” Childhood Obesity, 9(6), 540–48.
[iv] Puhl, R.M., Peterson, J.L., and Luedicke J. (2013). “Weight-Based Victimization: Bullying Experiences of Weight loss Treatment–Seeking Youth.” Pediatrics, 131(1), e1–9.
[v] Hatzenbuehler, M.L., Keyes, K.M., and Hasin, D.S. (2009). “Associations Between Perceived Weight Discrimination and the Prevalence of Psychiatric Disorders in the General Population.” Obesity, 17(11), 2033–39.
[vi] Puhl, R.M., and Latner, J.D. (2007). “Stigma, Obesity, and the Health of the Nation’s Children.” Psychological Bulletin, 133(4), 557–80.
Eisenberg, M.E., Neumark-Sztainer, D., and Story, M. (2003). “Associations of Weight-Based Teasing and Emotional Well-being Among Adolescents.” Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine, 157(8), 733–38.
[vii] Quick, V.M., McWilliams, R., and Byrd-Bredbenner, C. (2013). “Fatty, Fatty, Two-by-Four: Weight-Teasing History and Disturbed Eating in Young Adult Women.” American Journal of Public Health, 103(3), 508–15.
Libbey, H.P, Story, M.T., Neumark-Sztainer, D.R., and Boutelle, K.N. (2008). “Teasing, Disordered Eating Behaviors, and Psychological Morbidities Among Overweight Adolescents.” Obesity, 16(2), S24–29.
[viii] Sutin, A.R., and Terracciano, A. (2013). “Perceived Weight Discrimination and Obesity.” PLOS ONE. July 24, 2013.
[ix] Paul, R.M., and Luedicke, J. (2011). Weight-Based Victimization Among Adolescents in the School Setting: Emotional Reactions and Coping Behaviors.” Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 41(1), 27–40.
Krukowski, R.A., West, D.S., Perez, A.P., et al. (2009). “Overweight Children, Weight-Based Teasing and Academic Performance.” International Journal of Pediatric Obesity, 4(4), 274–80.
[x] Robinson, S. (2006). “Victimization of Obese Adolescents.” Journal of School Nursing, 22(4), 201.
[xi] Edmunds, L.D. (2005). “Parents’ Perceptions of Health Professionals’ Responses When Seeking Help for Their Overweight Children.” Family Practice, 22, 287–92.
Pierce, J.W., and Wardle, J. (1997). “Cause and Effect Beliefs and Self-esteem of Overweight Children.” Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 38, 645–50.
[xii] Turner, K.M., Salisbury, C., and Shield, J.P.H. (2011). “Parents’ Views and Experiences of Childhood Obesity Management in Primary Care: A Qualitative Study.” Family Practice, 29(4), 476–81.
[xiii] Puhl and Latner, “Stigma, Obesity, and the Health of the Nation’s Children.”
[xiv] Cash, T.F. (1995). “Developmental Teasing About Physical Appearance: Retrospective Descriptions and Relationships with Body Image.” Social Behavior and Personality, 23(2), 123–30.
Rieves, L., and Cash, T.F., (1996). “Social Developmental Factors and Women’s Body-Image Attitudes.” Journal of Social Behavior and Personality, 2(1), 63–78.
[xv] Neumark-Sztainer, D.R., Wall, M.M., Haines, J.I., et al. (2007). “Shared Risk and Protective Factors for Overweight and Disordered Eating in Adolescents.” American Journal of Preventive Medicine, 33(5), 359–69, E3.
[xvi] Schwartz, M.B., and Puhl, R. (2003). “Childhood Obesity: A Societal Problem to Solve.” Obesity Reviews, 4(1), 57–71.
[xvii] Puhl, R.M., and Latner, J.D. (2007) “Stigma, Obesity, and the Health of the Nation’s Children.” Psychological Bulletin, 133(4), 557–80.
[xviii] Davidson, K.K., and Birch, L.L. (2004). “Predictors of Fat Stereotypes Among 9-Year-Old Girls and Their Parents.” Obesity Research, 12, 86–94.