In Part 1 of this series, I talked about my presentation to a fifth grade class in West Hartford, Connecticut who were assigned the task of exploring the topic, “What is Beauty?” The project stemmed from the International Baccalaureate Organization, established in 2013, to develop internationally minded people who will help to create a better and more peaceful world. To this end, children are taught multiple attributes that include critical thinking, inquiry based on research, appreciation for the perspective, values and traditions of others, cultivation of empathy, compassion and respect, social justice, integrity and honesty.
I am a firm believer that prejudice and intolerance toward others results largely
from ignorance and lack of understanding. In the 1990s, I founded the nonprofit
organization, Vitality, committed to human wellness and respect for diverse sizes
and shapes. The inspiration for this came both from my experience in treating girls
and women who were suffering from eating disorders as well as my feelings of
helplessness as a mother of a daughter who has had a larger than average body since the age of seven. She endured years of taunts and bullying (e.g., “Hey, Lardo, Is your father a Suma wrestler?”) which resulted in social isolation and feelings of shame about her body.
The fifth graders were moved when I told them about the disrespect that I encountered when wearing a fat suit disguise to challenge “fattitudes” in presentations to children and adults. They were also shocked at the lengths that girls and women would go to in response to societal pressures to conform to an unrealistic body size. This included spending over $50,000 on weight loss products and programs, weight loss surgery to close off part of the stomach, wiring shut the jaw to prevent eating and even injection of female horse urine.
The “Thank You” letter that I received from the students is a testament to the importance of implementing programs such as the International Baccalaureate that strive to help foster responsible, aware and compassionate members of local, national and global communities.
In Part 3 of this series, I will share my first hand experience of discrimination while wearing my fat suit on a national television show on the topic “Teenagers Desperate For Beauty”.