On ruining my children’s summer.

My kids go to this insanely awesome camp. They come home dirty and tired, telling god-awful jokes and roping me into games I’ve never heard of, telling tales of kindness (“I got Camper of the Day! Because I helped the little kids!”) and singing really annoying songs, like for instance, “This Is A Song That Gets On Everybody’s Nerves.” Summer camp, just as God intended!

But, as is often the case in human endeavor (I don’t know if you’ve noticed), the occasional imperfection slips through. One song that came home really bugged me — that is, not in the way it was meant to.

To the tune of Ironman: “I’m the ice cream man/ running over fat kids in my van/ when I ring my bell/ all the little kiddies run like hell/-icopters/ but they won’t get far/ cause I have a sniper in my car/ when I shoot them down/ a hundred days later/ their blood turns brown/ then I start again/ because/ I’m the ice cream man…”. Etc.

Can you pick out the one word that resulted in a lecture about social justice?

Nope. No, not that one either. “Sniper”? Well, good guess, given that we’re a gun-free house, but: Nope.

“Fat.” The word “fat.”

I don’t know what the word “fat” means anymore, because for the most part, we tend to apply it to anyone over a randomly arrived at size that a rough majority of society has determined is “best.” Women use it as a weapon against ourselves, whether we’re a size 2 or 3X, and entire wings of the advertising industry are predicated on our fear of it. I know that some people, in consultation with health care professionals (emphasis on the word “professionals,” as opposed to random passers-by with a set of eyes), can determine that they are objectively obese, and need help in order to achieve a healthy weight, but I’m not sure we’re talking about anything objective when we haul out the word “fat.”

We do, however, use the word “fat,” or the suggestion of it, as a tool of comedy. Because, see, “fat kids” are funny! And running after the ice-cream van, in that completely uncontrolled mania that fat people display toward food? Hee-sterical!!

It matters not that neither of these images has anything to do with reality. There’s nothing objectively funny about size, and saying that one size is funny and worthy of finger-pointing tends to, oh I don’t know, diminish the humanity of those who are of that size, suspect themselves to be of that size, are accused of being that size, or – you get my point.

Then there’s the fact that the so-called “fat” don’t necessarily eat any more or less — or have any greater or lesser tendency to run down the ice cream van — than anyone else. Some people of a socially-acceptable size eat all they can and still wish they could gain weight, and some achieve that socially-acceptable size through a punishing program of self-denial. As my husband pointed out when he chimed in on the lecture, to a very large extent, size is a lot like height: It’s in your genes.

And finally, the underlying idea of fat humor (one of the very few remaining ways in which Americans allow ourselves to make fun of a group of people for being who they are) is the sense that the “fat” are somehow less worthy than the not-fat. That it’s ok to laugh at a fat kid, because all he really wants is ice-cream, and he doesn’t count for much, anyway. I have a theory that this may be because Western society is so thoroughly soaked in Christian notions of shame and guilt that even though many of us no longer subscribe to any religious creed, we still see self-indulgence as a sign of moral weakness — and surely people are “fat” because they are gluttons, and thus, morally inferior. It’s a theory, anyway.

So there I am, telling my poor kids, who were just singing a silly song (and hey, kudos on teaching them the tune to Ironman!) that “fat” is not funny; that if you feel yourself to be fat, are frequently told that you’re fat, or are in fact bigger than the average bear, and you hear that song, it will certainly cut you to the quick; that the notion of unrestrained fat people is wrong; and that FURTHERMORE, human value should not be assigned according to size (and then Dad added genetics. Oh, it’s a barrel of fun by us!)

Look, honestly, I get this kind of song. Kids need to mess around with notions of death and horror, kids are amused by stuff that adults have long-since gotten over, kids need to walk on the very edge of respectability in order to find just where the line is. I get it!

But you know, and I know, that there are a million-zillion kids everywhere, learning to hate themselves a little more every day, because they don’t conform to some amorphous and ill-conceived notion of a “right” size, and shit like this DOESN’T HELP.

So while I surely did not take it upon myself to talk to the wonderful folks at the near-perfect camp about one word in one song (I promise), I did talk to my kids, to help them hear their words’  impact, and try to see the world around them a little more clearly.

Honestly, couldn’t the ice-cream man have run over “little babies,” or “old people”? Dark humor, people, it’s what all the cool kids do!

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  1. Nicole (TFJB)

     /  July 20, 2009

    When I was a camp counselor, about fifteen years ago, the songs tended to gay-bashing. I was an extremely poor fit for that place.

  2. dianersb

     /  July 20, 2009

    It’s not so much ruining their summer as teaching them right from wrong. It’s a lesson far too many people haven’t been taught. If more people had awesome parents (like you and your husband seem to be), we would have far fewer people yelling “eat a sandwich” on the interwebz.

  3. SmilaSnow

     /  July 20, 2009

    I absolutely agree with your theory regarding Christian ideas of morals and fat shaming. Making yourself miserable and denying yourself pleasure means you are a good person. People like to joke about “Catholic baths” and such, not realizing that this way of thinking has permeated nearly everyone in Western society.

    PS: I miss you on Jezebel, but I understand why you left.

  4. rocknrollunicorn

     /  July 20, 2009

    The song is somewhat ironic for me because I was a “fat kid” and I’m still not slim. But there is an ice cream truck that comes by every evening at 10 p.m. and it’s really loud, and I hate it. Were I to chase it down, it would be to strangle the ice cream man. Maybe I’ll re-write this tune.

    But really, that sounds like good parenting to me — I’m pretty sure that teaching your kids lessons like this sometimes requires interrupting their fun 😉

  5. Whatever happened to The Worms Crawl In, The Worms Crawl Out? Maybe my memories are rosy tinted, but I can’t imagine a song like this would have gone over ok at my girlscout camp back in the day.

    There is so much wrong with that song… from the “fat” kids to the “sniper” to the “hell-icopters”.

  6. Maritsa

     /  July 21, 2009

    I completely agree on your theory about Christian shaming/guilt w/r/t weight and food. Self-denial and abstention are so admired, while “indulging” is looked down upon. My mom buys into this particularly strongly, which is very frustrating and not helpful in the long run.

    My son is only 11 months old, so we’ve had no teachable moments with him yet, but I did have to give my mom a slight lecture when she made some comment about being “worried” about my son because he was too fascinated by jewelry. Sigh.

  7. Oh, I love this post. And I wish more people raised their kids the way you’re raising them!

    I agree with everything you’ve said. So many people think it’s just fine to make fat jokes–because if they’re heavy, it’s their fault, right?
    I actually think this attitude has made obesity a bigger problem. Not enough research goes into the reasons behind overeating
    because of the idea that it’s just a moral failing. And for people who deal with depression and stress with overeating,
    making them feel bad about their weight is pretty much the worst thing you can do.

    I bet they are missing you on Jez. They were crazy to take away your star! Honest to God, though, Gawker’s gotten so Byzantine and ridiculous.

    I bookmarked your blog!

  8. Lau

     /  July 21, 2009

    My ex went to an Orthodox camp where they sang a taunting song at the visiting (must have been Conservative) girls for showing their knees. The general upshot was “wow, what a bunch of whores”. Good for you for taking the time to teach your kids that even “silly” camp songs are not okay if they send the wrong message. (“Good for you” doesn’t really come close to strong enough.)

  9. Karin

     /  July 22, 2009

    Great post. Have you read “Rethinking Thin,” by Gina Kolata? Great book. You’ll be shouting “Yeah, sister, YEAH” the whole way through.

  10. that song is awsom man!!!!!!!!!!!!