It was like having to swallow a tablespoon of cod liver oil.
Athena Hall was about one dozen pounds overweight when she attended Burton International Academy during the 1990s. She was teased, bullied, and kept to herself during recess and visited the library for refuge during her lunch period.
“That way, I felt, no one would see me by myself,” Athena recalled.
S.R. Taylor, Athena’s mother, has penned a children’s book on the subject. Called “Round,” the publication tells the story of chubby Olivia Catherine Amanda Mae Brown and her desire to be selected to perform in her school’s theatrical production: “The Backyard Ballet.” Olivia wants to be a butterfly but was made to feel like a beetle by classmates.
“You’re just entirely too round, Olivia Catherine Amanda Mae Brown,” says one student. “Can you even dance or jump high off the ground?”
“We were inspired to write this because of the journey that she went through, Taylor said. “Athena was made to feel different. She was ostracized.”
Two of the main reasons people are bullied are because of appearance and social status. In a recent national survey of overweight sixth graders, 24 percent of the boys and 30 percent of the girls experienced daily teasing, bullying or rejection because of their size. The number doubles for overweight high school students with 58 percent of boys and 63 percent of girls experiencing daily teasing, bullying or rejection because of their size. African Americans, Latinos and Native Americans have experienced the highest rates of increase in childhood obesity. On average, 25 percent of children in these ethnic groups are affected by obesity.
The issue has been so impactful that even Lansing turned its attention to it. Gov. Rick Snyder signed an anti-bullying law on Dec. 6, 2011, making the state the 48th to enact bullying legislation. “This legislation sends a clear message that bullying is wrong in all its forms and will not be tolerated,” Snyder said in a statement. “No child should feel intimidated or afraid to come to school.”
It originated as Matt’s Safe School Law, so named for southeast Michigan eighth grader Matt Epling, who took his life in 2002 after a school hazing bullying incident. Schools are required to create and implement anti-bullying plans if they do not have one already. The Act requires schools to inform the parents or legal guardians of bullies and their victims, and create a procedure for the reporting and documentation of cases of bullying. The Detroit Public Schools Community District tracks incidents at school level. Not district-wide.
Sharon DuMas, founder of Full and Fabulous, maintain that bullying is real and can have a devastating impact on children. For the last six years, she led a mentoring program called Curvy Girls at Catherine Blackwell Academy on the Detroit’s lower east side. There, she encountered girls who have attempted suicide because of their weight.
“We work with them to build their confidence, their self-esteem, to show them a different person than who the kids are teasing,” says DuMas who started her organization in 1982. “It’s a process.”
Donna Ballard’s daughter, Allison, was recommended to DuMas’ Curvy Girl program by a therapist. Ballard points out that her child’s self-esteem has risen. “She sees things differently,” Ballard says of her University Prep Math and Science ninth grader.
Cynthia Caldwell is also impressed with the program. Her daughters, Elaina and Shantelle, have experienced debutante balls, etiquette classes and other rites of passage exercises. “She makes them feel good about themselves,” Caldwell said about DuMas.
DuMas points out that children who are being bullied at home by siblings, parents and others. She offers the following tips for parents and children:
- Understand that being an overweight child is not easy. Some can feel unhappy because they can’t control their eating habits.
- Buy healthy foods intended for the whole family; limit snacking; make sure they are drinking plenty of water.
- Don’t allow siblings to tease or call your overweight child names or make fat jokes about them.
- Ask your child if they are being teased or bullied frequently
The Obesity Action Coalition offers the following helpful tips and resources:
- Help your child learn to defend themselves from bullies by encouraging them to stay calm, look the bully in the eye and stand up tall.
- Encourage your child to ask the adults around them for help.
- Make an appointment with your school principal and your child’s teacher to inform them of the bullying and to ask their help in addressing the situation. Ask about the school policies on bullying and for any available resources to help you and your child.
- When bullying incidents occur, write them down with your child.
- Encourage your child to join an organization or group at school.
- Enrolling children in self-defense or martial arts classes can build their confidence and teach them how to protect themselves from bullies.
“I just want children to be comfortable in the skin that they are in and not let what others are say affect their greatness in whatever area that is,” Athena Hall concludes