Image description: A fat white baby’s arm is partially seen between an overlapping floral blanket, blue onesie sleeve and the body and strap of a car’s seat and child safety seat. Image source: Al Soot on Unsplash
It’s definitely the fat kids’ fault.
That was the gist of a discussion I witnessed last week, in which a woman claimed that “childhood o*” is a problem because fat kids don’t fit in car seats. “I wouldn’t be able to live with myself,” she said, “if my kid died because he was too fat for a car seat.”
I’d like for us to stop and consider the positioning of this statement. The fault is automatically assigned to a body rather than a piece of equipment, which is a very, very common response to institutional and infrastructure-based weight stigma.
It is wild to me that diet culture’s first reaction to infrastructure barriers to child safety is “Well, clearly, it’s the children’s fault.” Is it any wonder fat children are incessantly bullied and tortured, by both children and adults, for their “unacceptable” genetic heritage?
We see this tactic consistently aimed at fat adults, too. Can’t fit in one airplane seat? Lose weight, fatty. No chairs you can sit in at the doctor’s office? Lose weight, fatty. Can’t access healthcare due to open bigotry? Lose weight, fatty.
Fat people, of any age, are never at fault for infrastructure that was designed to exclude them.
Expecting human bodies to conform to arbitrarily- and discriminatorily-designed physical infrastructure is fatphobic/fatmisic, racist, sexist and ableist. These pieces of our world don’t just magically appear. They’re not ground spawns or virtual objects in a video game. Chairs and buses and restaurant booths and curbs and counters and airplane seats and children’s car seats were all designed by flawed humans who built their own biases right into those designs.
Actual people made decisions about which children are worth protecting and which children aren’t. If car seats aren’t available to fit all children, it’s because of weight bias and stigma, not the unworthiness of some children’s bodies.
“Just make the kid lose weight” is never a reasonable answer to this situation, either. Even if we had a way to make fat children into thin children, which we don’t, fat children would still be equally worthy of care and protection. (What we do have is putting children on diets, which isn’t a scientifically-backed way of making developing bodies thinner, but is absolutely a scientifically-backed way of giving them poor body image, disordered eating patterns and eating disorders for life.)
If fat children are dying in car crashes because protective equipment was designed to exclude them, that is entirely on the shoulders of the people who designed and sold that equipment without making suitable equipment available for every type of child body. Not fat kids’ bodies.
*The words “obese” and “obesity” are increasingly considered to be slurs due to the way they stigmatize, dehumanize and medicalize fat bodies. I often use an asterisk in place of the full word to minimize harm when I’m quoting someone or otherwise need to refer directly to the term.