“Fatness in American Culture“
21 January 2015
Response Paper: Fat Kids, Working Moms, and the “Epidemic of Obesity” – Race, Class, and Mother Blame by Natalie Boero
In her essay “Fat Kids, Working Moms, and the “Epidemic of Obesity” – Race, Class, and Mother Blame” Natalie Boero discusses the blaming of mothers for the fatness of their children by referring to recent newspaper articles about childhood obesity and preventive programs. Besides the common and popular explanations for childhood fatness like the consumption of too much fast food, too much time in front of the television and too little exercise, the role of mothers is considered to be another important reason for the “epidemic of childhood obesity”. This trend, namely the trend of “mother blame” holds mothers and especially working mothers responsible for the weight of their children by bringing the child’s weight in connection to good mothering.
Boero argues that mother blame has become more present in the everyday discourse as well as in the experience of mothering, but by judging the capability of mothers by their children’s weight, larger structural issues like racism, economic inequality, fat phobia, and sexism are disregarded. Mother blame is not a new phenomenon and has been used ever since the 1930s to explain social problems like homosexuality, crime, autism, depression, poverty and birth defects. Supposedly mother blame arises from cultural anxieties about the changing social role of women. For that reason mother blame is considered by feminists to be a patriarchal institution designed solely to obscure the social conditions under which women mother and to naturalize the characteristics of those who fit into the social construct of the “good mother” and consequently to blame those who do not fit in as “bad mothers”. Culture and media help to propagate the popular stereotypes of good and bad mothers. Thus, good mothers are supposed to be heterosexual, white, middle class and most importantly not to work outside the house. On the contrary mothers who do not meet these demands by being working mothers, welfare mothers, teenage mothers, queer mothers or single mothers are instantly labeled “bad” mothers. According to weight researchers and media, especially working mothers, mothers of color, poor and also overweight mothers are to blame for the overweight and obesity of their children. Boero criticizes that in all studies and programs concerned with childhood obesity and teaching mothers about healthy nutrition factors as socioeconomic status and social determinants of health are being ignored. Recently the trend of mother blame has even extended to focus on the unborn child by demanding “fetal rights” and an increased surveillance of pregnant women in order to prevent childhood obesity. So overweight women are being advised to lose weight before getting pregnant in order to prevent health risks for the child as premature birth, diabetes and obesity. Boero concludes that mothers of fat children just cannot win in society because they are left alone to navigate between ignoring their children’s weight and overemphasizing it. Fat children are seen by society as out of control and their parents are to blame for this bad behavior failing to be strong-willed and denying food to them. Also new studies show that a permissive as well as a strict parenting style lead to obesity suggesting that there is no right way for mothers not putting their children at risk because every approach can and will be criticized.