It’s Halloween, and instead of candy, a person the Atlantic describes as “an outspoken woman in North Dakota” plans to give overweight trick-or-treaters notes for their parents explaining that they are fat. Not the parents—the kids are fat in this scenario, although it’s likely that everyone in their family has similar eating habits, and the kid probably only went as a pumpkin/Jabba the Hutt/Honda Civic because a combination of genetics and environment have made him obese at an age when he has almost zero control over his daily routine or health. But fuck that. Your kid is fat. You sent him out for candy, and he came home with shame. Also probably a lot of candy, since not everyone in North Dakota is a relentless bitch.
If you’re wondering how the Atlantic knows that a woman in amusingly-named Fargo Moorhead is handing out mean notes to trick-or-treaters before trick-or-treating has actually begun, it’s because she alerted the local news. “Cheryl,” as she identifies herself, also did an interview with radio station Y-94, in which she made the following specious claim:
I’m contributing to their health problems and really, their kids are everybody’s kids. It’s a whole village.
The first part is probably true; surprising kids on Halloween with a note that says they’re fat will almost certainly contribute to their health problems, for example when they’re 28 and can’t stop throwing up and know their boyfriends only say they’re skinny because they have to. Childhood trauma, particularly around weight, can lead to eating disorders in later life. But I’m more interested in the assertion that “really, their kids are everybody’s kids.”
Cheryl uses “really” in the standard way here, which is equivalent to “when you think about it” but without the thinking part. The old (1990s) saw that it takes a village to raise a child is kind of true, in that children are heavily influenced by the cultures in which they grow up. It does not mean, however, that every adult enjoys parental privileges in her relationship with every child. I am thinking particularly of the privilege to determine what they eat.
Of course, Cheryl does not have to hand out candy on Halloween. If she doesn’t want to be complicit in the fattening of kids around her village, she is welcome to hand out apples and pick toilet paper out of her trees later, or turn off the lights and skip trick-or-treating entirely. If she really wanted to participate in the village-style raising of children, she could even take aside the parents of obese trick-or-treaters who arrive at her house and explain, politely, that their kids are fatties fatty, two by four, likely to require modification to the bathroom door. But those would probably be unpleasant conversations.
Here we stumble upon the difference between helping people and shaming them. You’re only helping if the person gets to say something back to you. By sending fat kids home with mean notes for their parents, Cheryl isn’t so much joining the village as taunting it from a safe location. Her position re: obesity is not markedly different from that of contemporary American culture, in that she is willing to point out how fat everyone is but not willing to do anything constructive about it.
Nearly 70% of American adults are overweight, and it’s not because no one ever points it out. The mania for articles about our widening citizenry has died down a little in the last few years, but the United States remains a nation that thinks of itself as fat. And yet we continue to watch TV for five hours a day and eat meat-on-meat sandwiches.
Instead of lamenting how fat America has gotten, we might try to shift our culture away from convenience and passive entertainment and toward free time and physical culture. Instead of reporting fat children to their parents via letters, we might try to integrate ourselves with our neighbors so that our understanding of nutrition and health can become theirs.
By “we” I mean “you.” I’m not going to do any of that stuff, because I don’t care that other people’s children are fat. I care that they are children, and therefore unlikely to amuse me or buy drinks, which is pretty much what I want from the global village. It would be nice if they grew into slender and attractive adults, but they can be fat, too, so long as they are not dicks.