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Time picks on fat kids

June 19, 2008 | 11:04 am

Timefatkid With the presidential campaign in a lull, Time magazine this week devotes its cover story to that old standby: “Childhood Obesity: Threat or Menace.” Actually, the title on the cover of the June 22 issue is “Our Super-Sized Kids,” only slightly less trite than “Generation XL” or “Fat for Life,” the banner headline on a similar Newsweek story published eight years ago.

Newsweekfatkid How did I remember that old Newsweek story? I didn’t, until I looked it up. What I remembered was the cover photo, which like Time’s showed an unpleasingly plump boy holding an obscenely overlowing ice cream cone. But whereas Newsweek’s chubster was set to gorge himself on a one-scoop cone, Time’s tubby tyke had been served with two scoops. Double the pleasure — and embarrassment. (Actually, Time was  cutting back: Its 2004 article about obesity showed a fat kid with a three-scoop cone.)

As a former fat boy, I cringed when I saw both photos, and only party because  the kids looked like me when I was 10 or 11. Posing a fat kid with a giant ice cream cone is tasteless and cruel (even if the models were paid for flaunting their adiposity). Worse, the iconography of the covers refelected the fallacy that fat people are gluttons. (Interestingly, that was not the burden of Time’s story, which spread the blame for childhood obesity to include high-tech convenmiences and evolutionary biology.)

I have written at length elsewhere about how even balanced journalism about childhood obesity may aggravate the ostracism of fat kids that seems to have survived the recalibration of the bariatric bell curve. Maybe bullies don’t need an excuse to pick on fat kids, but pack journalism about the obesity epidemic gives them one by making the fat kid not only “different” but a national menace.

I’m not one of those devotees of “fat culture” who believe that urging people to lose weight is like pressuring deaf people to read lips — a form of genocide. On the other hand, do we really want a  world without fat people? 

But put that debate aside. Think only of the Time and Newsweek covers. Asking a fat boy to pose with a gargantuan ice cream cone is demeaning to him and to other chubby kids who might see the magazine — or have it brandished at them in the schoolyard. At least they didn’t show him patting his belly or slobbering. But there's always next summer.

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