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Quickie: More bullying/abuse culture

December 25, 2012

And, one I ran across which is frustrating on its own, but also ties in a little too nicely with the observations about bullying and abuse culture from the last post:

Ana Mardoll’s Health: Today In Fat Hatred 

Hat-tip from NAAFA: The APA Monitor, the official magazine of the American Psychology Association, has a cover story on childhood obesity which they have decided to illustrate with two pictures (one the front cover for the issue) of fat children looking ashamed and guilty and sad for being the obvious blight on humanity that they clearly are because, you know, icky fat:

I had to include the cover photo, because ewww. And maybe they think they’re looking laudably inclusive by using a photo of Suitably Sad Hispanic/Native-Looking Fatty.
















In the same issue, there is also a piece involving bullying of QUILTBAG kids, with a photo of a smiling group of them (which I am not including here, but would recommend clicking through to the OP anyway!):

White LGBTQ youth.

With socially-acceptable body shapes and sizes.

And conventionally attractive, conservatively dressed, and outwardly conforming to gender expectations.

But the important thing is that for a very small subset of LGBTQ youth, psychologists are working rilly-rilly hard to make sure they’re bullied less. While still maintaining a culture of bullying that makes it seem perfectly acceptable to illustrate an article about fat children with not one but two pictures of guilty-looking fat children being acceptably downcast about the horrible blight on society that they clearly are just for existing.

So I guess the APA Monitor isn’t big on irony.

This is disappointing, but not a huge surprise. Because they are living in the same culture full of scapegoating and certain acceptable targets.

Actually, what made me turn this into a post of its own, rather than include the link in a roundup post, were some observations in comments, from Makabit:

It punches buttons for me, because the first time I saw a therapist was when I was eleven, and getting bullied at school. The therapist, I rapidly figured out, was there to figure out how to fix me so I wouldn’t be bullied. Maybe I could express interest in some of the things the other girls liked? Maybe I could ask one of the girls who was bullying me to help me pick out different clothes? Maybe I could stop reading during lunch, and strike up conversations? And as Amarie said, it came with such a glowing set of promises. Adult approval, friends, happiness…we will give you anything to change, or at least, we’ll promise anything. (Note, the dynamic of bullying is not such that it actually stops when the victim alters their body or behavior. Bullying is not some sort of rational strategy designed to get little Susie to lose twenty pounds, after which we’ll all accept her.)

As a society, we have come to associate thinness with health AND beauty AND virtue. That is a really heavily loaded combination. I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised that psychologists and teachers aren’t immune, but it’s intensely frustrating.

I honestly don’t think we (generic we) even try to prevent low self-esteem in overweight children, I think we panic, in fact, at any suggestion that a kid could be OK with him or herself and be fat. We would rather have the child be in psychological torment and motivated to diet than happy and overweight.

Or dealing with certain disabilities (hello social model!), or… And we’re back around to the One True Way of Being, and people honest-to-goodness getting offended at dealing with real humans rather than some kind of Platonic ideal.

That pushed multiple of my own buttons, as well, for similar reasons. I have written some before about experiences with the too-common practice of trying to place all responsibility for things going wrong on the person who is having difficulties coping (especially on kids, because existing power differentials).  Tying back in with the last post, the school psychologist referred me for one visit with a counselor when I was maybe seven, because of my “anger problem” which was largely down to objecting to bullying; that went so badly, and he pissed my mother off so much, that nobody made me go back.** I wasn’t so lucky later, nor are too many others who don’t fit the One True Kid mold.

When I was forced back into counseling in my early teens, as I wrote some about in the link above, I tried to avoid the subject of bullying at all. Not only because of the fish in water factor, by that point, but because the problems I was actually experiencing then were so obviously not what any of the therapists I saw were interested in talking about–to the point of getting told I was deflecting from my “true” problems, and showing poor insight into my own emotions and reactions–and blaming of one kind or another was what I’d come to expect. When I did let it slip one time that I was having a lot of trouble with bullying, the immediate response was to throw me into a ridiculous social skills group for teens, run by the same practice. This is not unusual for kids on the Spectrum, I understand, and in retrospect that would probably describe most of that particular group.

See also: the Social Skills Don’t Exist series at I’m Somewhere Else. It’s more that this, like the respect it’s ultimately based in, is not a one-way street. From the second post:

Another problem is that when you look at a person who isn’t fitting in and say, “This is happening because they have bad social skills,” you don’t acknowledge the fact that everyone contributes to one person’s social isolation. Basically, I’m trying to present something called a social model of social failure. The truth is that no one is naturally fated to be socially unsuccessful based on who they are.

You’ve got a problem going when, in a bullying situation, the one who is not going around tormenting other people is the (only) one who is perceived as having problems with social skills. That’s pretty bald in terms of what kind of “skills” are maybe expected.

Also, directly related to fat hatred: one therapist that I ended up seeing because I was experiencing some seriously disordered eating behavior, largely to try to stop size-as-an-excuse bullying, suggested that I should try Slim Fast for quick results. That person was supposed to be specializing in eating disorders (encouraging them?!). That is on the extreme end of “mention worries about your weight and other problems obviously verging on body dysmorphia, get encouraged to work harder on losing weight and changing your body”, but yeah, that honest-to-Glod happened. I was not anything approaching fat at the time, and was still getting encouraged to lose weight, but it should not matter. That shit is harmful.

I have seen a couple of decent therapists who did not seem bent on trying to make me be someone else entirely so that I could be happy. But only a couple, over the years. Again, they are not somehow separately floating above all the kyriarchical bullshit, as a group, with no interest in maintaining a sometimes very impressively crappy status quo chock full of hierarchical BS and the bullying and abuse that flow from that. This is one of the major reasons I have been attracted to liberation psychology.

More very relevant commentary from Makabit (emphasis added):

Yeah, basically the message from start to finish was that we needed to fix me, and that if I were more socially acceptable, the bullying would stop. I don’t think it was ever called bullying. It was ‘having a problem getting along with your classmates’. And there were a lot of suggestions about how to fix that problem, most of which focused on acknowledging my own fault for being weird, and getting less weird. Also less rebellious

But (swinging back to the original topic) I do think we still have a real problem in society at large, in that we’re really conditioned to take the side of the bully, especially when they conform to social norms and their victims don’t. And that’s where a lot of trouble with fat and bullying comes in–we have a whole culture built around bullying fat adults, and it’s almost impossible for some people to get their minds around the idea that ‘protect the kid who’s being bullied about their weight’ can and should exist without a hasty ‘but they should lose weight’ getting tacked on. As though it would be immoral to simply say “Jeremy needs to be protected from harassment” without adding, “and Jeremy needs to lose weight”. Because God forbid that Jeremy should not understand that being fat is the REAL problem here, and get the idea that his fat is being endorsed by adults bothering to protect him while he’s still got it.

We do this with other things too–sexuality issues of all sorts, kids with different disabilities, various subcultures, and such, but I think that fat is one of the harder ones to get even professionals to really grok, because we do have such a deep, bizarre anxiety about it culture-wide.

Well said. When some cultural expectations are totally jacked up and actively hurting people, the way to a more pleasant life is seriously unlikely to be trying to contort the individual to be “better adjusted” to jacked-up norms. Even in cases where “indistinguishability” might kinda-sorta work, if you ignore the damage you’re doing in the process of trying to get there. And the fact that nobody can actually totally fit those “ideal” expectations, by design.

And to quote Michelle at The Fat Nutritionist again:

The secret, of course, is that there is no Right Body, no matter how hard our culture tries to define one. There is no Platonic Body floating in indisputable ether — only real bodies that exist in the real world, available in an extravagant assortment of shapes, colours, sizes, and conformations. None of them wrong or right. All of them just are.

It’s not just our bodies, it’s everything about us “imperfect” human beings. And the society we’re living in is really damned bad at dealing with this.

BTW, the fact that mental health professionals are not infallible, and sometimes do run with the Just World Hypothesis and fundamental attribution error* crap that feeds into it, makes me wary when people will suggest that one solution to the problem of violent nutters harming people is improving access to mental health care. (That is without the added disablist fail of suggesting preemptively locking up/forcibly medicating all the “crazies”. What I am talking about is actually well-intentioned.) I’m all for improved access to actually helpful services, but first, do no harm. I would love to see more focus on improving the quality and, erm, helpfulness of said services before funnelling more people who may be disposed to violent behavior as a response to trauma in their own lives into the kind of hurtful “So your life is going wrong? It must all be you” blaming which too often happens.

Shame that “gee, maybe we should look at making services actually work for people better, rather than keep blaming them when the available services make their problems worse” sounds at all controversial, but yeah.

But, admitting that just like not all teachers are nice and a small minority are outright bullies who do a lot of harm, the same goes for mental health professionals–beyond the GIGO problem I’ve been talking about–seems to be more than a lot of people can handle. The societal GIGO, “you must change the fundamentals of who you are in order to be acceptable” stuff is more than enough there. If you admit that maybe some of the garbage coming out is harmful, that would mean that you’d need to look at what’s going in. And that’s a lot of messages supporting aggressive, judgmental, and outright abusive treatment of so many different kinds of people.


* Another thing I keep seeing presented as something that we all do all the time, when not necessarily so much:

Previous research has shown that cultural differences exist in the susceptibility of making fundamental attribution error: people from individualistic cultures are prone to the error while people from collectivistic cultures commit less of it.[24] It has been found that there is a differential attention to social factors between independent peoples and interdependent peoples in both social and nonsocial contexts…One explanation for this difference in attribution lies in the way people of different cultural orientation perceive themselves in the environment. Particularly, Markus and Kitayama (1991) mentioned how (individualistic) Westerners tend to see themselves as independent agents and therefore prone themselves to individual objects rather than contextual details.[28]

And if other people make mistakes or run into problems, it must be their own damned fault. Yep.

** Content: child abuse by proxy, physical harm 

That was during the time period that social services got called in because I had visible bite marks, pencil stab marks, and tons of bruises–and nothing was done about the situation because it all happened in school as part of child abuse by proxy. I got blamed for making this one girl in particular keep biting me, etc., basically by breathing in the same classroom, and there was nothing my parents could/would do about the situation. And when I got upset about this, I had an anger problem which required counselling and recommended medication.  (Which my parents at least knew the school could not require me to take in order to continue attending.)

ETA: And I really don’t think that my mother ever made the connection between the broken-record “but why don’t you just hit them back?!” blaming I kept getting at home, and my supposed “anger problem”. (Though, in that case, involuntarily yelling when suddenly stabbed with a pencil was purposely disruptive, “angry” behavior. No kidding.) If only beating up an individual asshole here and there would solve systemic problems! *sigh* /ETA

These things do happen. And they will continue as long as we tolerate it as a society.

5 Comments leave one →
  1. December 26, 2012 10:28 pm

    I think this post is amazing, can I reblog it on my blog?

    • urocyon permalink*
      December 28, 2012 2:01 pm

      Sorry for the late reply, but sure. 🙂

      In general, no need to ask, just as long as it’s credited.

  2. December 30, 2012 6:38 pm

    Reblogged this on Diversity is Art and commented:
    Reblogging this now but no ability to write what I want at this moment.
    This post is perfect, I wish I found something like this years ago when I was considered responsible for the bullying I suffered, forced to try to loose weight and trained in “social skills” that increased my social anxiety, I still suffer with the consequences of the therapy I got because of bullying, I think the therapy was bullying and more damaging because it was called help and made by adults with authority and knowledge, with the support of my teachers and family.

    • urocyon permalink*
      December 31, 2012 2:40 pm

      Exactly. 😦 It took me years to figure out some of why people treat bullying and other abuse victims the way they do, and justify so much really awful behavior. The blaming and shaming is damaging in itself, besides directly propping up abusive assholes. 😐

  3. August 2, 2013 11:23 pm

    Actually, there IS a ‘correct’ body – in all of its possible dimensions. This ‘blueprint is found within the very core of instinct Off (if and Only if) one has the correct type and amount of Instinct.
    Those who are gifted with this type of instinct name themselves NORMAL; this name implies moral superiority, and the outworkings of that same instinct, called Normalism, cause them to hate and despise all who are not precisely as they themselves are.
    In the world circumscribed by Normalism, all failure is moral failure. This means that all things happen by the power of individual wills, much as if the person in question possessed great Magick and was the equal of God in terms of controlling matters in their life.
    Hence, according to the instincts comprising Normalism, if you are not perfect in all possible ways, is is solely because you Chose to do; chose consciously, with full knowledge and the darkest mallice, with the goal of treason toward your peers and betters – and therefore, you deserve every evil thing done to you by way of retribution.

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