Sometimes Parenting With a Little Shame is a Good Thing

03.6.12

Apparently shame is no longer residing in society’s approved toolbox. This is not a good thing.

When I was teen everyone suddenly worried about our self esteem. No one was particularly concerned about behavior or excellence. There was little discussion about giving kids the opportunity to excel, or obstacles to overcome. There was only talk of self esteem. It didn’t end well.

Self esteem in a vacuum is bullshit and now we have a new load of crap that will do nothing but keep our children from performing. It’s the anti-shaming people who now want you to feel good about everything.

Like the self esteem movement it began with good intentions. Isn’t the path to hell lined with good intentions?

The no shaming seems to have begun with victims of sex crimes and then moved onto the fat movement. Obviously people who have been sexually assaulted should not be shamed. It doesn’t matter what you were wearing, it doesn’t matter who slept with/made out with/dated/groped, you (men, women and children) don’t bring about abuse. The No Shame movement as it relates to victims of sexual abuse makes a lot of sense.

It starts getting murky when we discuss shame and fat. Do I think that people should be shamed for being fat? As in telling them, “You should be ashamed of yourself.”? Of course not. Do I think that feeling ashamed of yourself is a natural consequence of being very fat? Yes, we all know that to be true. Recently there was an outcry about billboards in Georgia “fat shaming” kids. Anyone sensible can see that they weren’t bringing shame to children, they simply acknowledged the fact that children were feeling ashamed and that one of the many side effects of obesity is that your (get ready for it) self esteem takes a dive.

Bad grades? Don’t be ashamed. Bad behavior? Don’t be ashamed.

What then is the purpose of shame? If there’s one thing I learned from the grifter mom it is that shame can play a wonderful role in a civilized society. Shame keeps us from behaving badly (some of us). The absence of shame is often seen around criminal and immoral activity. The opposite of shame is not goodness, the opposite of shame is shamelessness and the connotation there is not a pretty thing.

My girlfriend Katie has a daughter who was tantrum prone and I remember when I met her the four year old was flinging herself on the floor and screeching about some injustice. Katie looked at her and said, “My gawd, aren’t you a little bit ashamed of yourself?” I knew then and there that we’d be friends.

It’s not a bad thing, a little shame.

#Unashamed and Strong for Life

02.17.12

I’ve thought long and hard about how to write a post about the #ashamed hashtag you’ve seen a lot of in the last week or two. In the event that you haven’t seen the discussion surrounding ashamed, let me bring you up to speed.

Earlier this year a Children’s Hospital in Georgia started a campaign revolving around childhood obesity. I’ve posted some of their videos here and here. In addition to incredibly powerful videos there are billboards that accompany them. The billboards and videos feature real life overweight children talking about the real life issues that obesity causes. The issues are social (loneliness) and physical (heart disease, diabetes and more). The videos (watch them) are presented with neither judgment nor over dramatization. The fact that these children are in physical and emotional pain is dramatic enough, nothing more is needed.

strong4life ashamed

There is a campaign to have the Children’s Hospital take down these billboards, the belief is that these billboards bring shame to children who are fat. Many top bloggers are bothered by these ads. Leading the charge is Leah Segedie.

Leah Segedie, who is the brains behind Mamavation, finds these ads to be riddled with shame. Leah is undoubtedly an authority in the weight loss arena as she battled depression along with her weight and has had a wonderful lifestyle change. She lost a hundred pounds and found her voice. Leah would be the FIRST person I would talk to if I needed a lifestyle overhaul. Leah is also an incredibly compassionate and passionate woman, she is bright and articulate, she is educated and she is charismatic. You get the picture? Leah is a woman I respect, enjoy and look up to. As a rule I do not call her judgment into question.

The women behind the #ashamed movement have it wrong. I don’t believe for a single solitary second that an ad campaign will make these children feel ashamed for being overweight. I believe with all my heart that the fat that’s covering these children’s bodies might make them ashamed. It should be noted that the fat covering their bodies also makes them ill and it’s much easier to die of diabetes or heart disease than of shame. Further, these ads are empowering. In the state of Georgia 40% of the children are overweight. Georgia is at the heart of the obesity epidemic and it’s imperative that they become forerunners in the fight against obesity.

By talking about fat, rather than whispering, some of the stigma has to leave. It’s not like no one can see. I’ve gained 15 pounds in the last two years, everyone can see it. If I only talk about it while whispering in private it’s not like people won’t notice. One of the many goals of this campaign is to have parents actually acknowledge that their children are overweight. It’s not baby fat, it’s just fat.

Having too much fat on your body is a medical issue. Yes, it can become a social one, and yes, it can be emotionally crippling. Not talking about the fact that children are overweight won’t stop them from hurting. Not discussing the fact that adults are robbing children of their health when they don’t provide proper nutrition and exercise won’t make anyone thinner or healthier.

When I was a teen everyone was worried about self esteem. There was this ridiculous notion that every child should feel good about themselves. Ted Bundy had incredibly high self esteem. What was missing was giving children the opportunity to feel good about themselves by presenting them with tools to reach the goals they wanted to achieve. The whole give a man fish or teach him to fish thing. If you don’t want children to feel ashamed let’s give them a reason to feel proud, give them a goal they can reach like walking a mile or riding their bike to school for a week. Teach kids to put together a healthy lunch or how to stop eating before you’re full and then to wait twenty minutes before eating again. If you want children to feel good give them some tools, forget advocating against healthcare workers who are trying to save lives.

Some feelings will be hurt. I assure you those feelings were hurt long ago, and if it takes an ad campaign in a region where children are gifted disease by their diets then so be it. I say let’s have hurt feelings, because the folks who are going to look at these commercials and feel like they’ve been sucker punched are going to be the parents. The kids already knew how they felt, it’s not a mystery to them.

I support Strong4Life and I’m sad that we’ve reached this place. I hope that Georgia can be the canary in the coal mine for all of us and that we can all love our children enough to make changes that will keep everyone living happier, fuller lives. Every part of me believes the women behind #ashamed have their hearts in the right place. I think they just missed the point.