Mothers of Fat Children are the New "Refrigerator Mothers"
Dalek of the Day
A (maybe not so) quick note on my use of the word "fat":
I am politically aligned, for the most part, with the fat acceptance movement. I don't use words like "big," "larger," etc. because they are obvious euphemisms. I don't use "overweight" because it implies that a person's weight is excessive as compared to some "ideal weight." I don't use "obese" because it's a wholly useless term. Medically, the concept of "obesity" is directly related to BMI (body-mass index), an outmoded measurement with no consistent relationship to overall health and body composition. Colloquially, the word "obesity" is used to elicit terror, as in "obesity epidemic." I, for example, am technically definitely "obese" at 5 feet tall and in the neighborhood of 190 pounds, even though I am hardly round and therefore "don't look it" and have actually been told in heated discussions "You might be overweight, but you're not OBESE!" In mainstream discourse the word is divorced from its "official" medical definition, and instead specifically connotes bodies that are massively, monstrously fat. It evokes the horrifying spectre of fatness so extreme that it impedes mobility, self-care, and access to public spaces. Essentially, it evokes fatness that is disabling--because the idea of being disabled is a completely petrifying thought. (See my "Feminism and fat politics on Feministing" post for a link to a piece I wrote on the intersection between fatness and disability, and the conflicts that inscribe themselves on the extremely fat body.)
TL;DR: I use the word "fat" because it is just straightforward and descriptive. It doesn't have to be an offensive term.
Over on CNN, there's a piece about some study that purports to suggest that cold, uncaring mothers make their children fat.
To be fair, there are researchers quoted in the piece who try valiantly to steer the discourse away from blaming mothers, but you know they're fighting a losing battle.
Back in the sixties and seventies, (now wholly discredited) psychologist Bruno Bettelheim came up with the idea of the "refrigerator mother" and blamed her for autism. If children were autistic, their mothers were to blame--they weren't affectionate or nurturing enough. They weren't feminine enough; they failed to embody womanly virtues.
The "autism epidemic" is definitely an ongoing phenomenon, but its particular brand of mother-blame has shifted from blaming "refrigerator mothers" to lionizing "warrior mothers," thereby stigmatizing mothers who don't have the resources to advocate for their children, or who refuse to silence and other their own children or subject them to crackpot treatments in the hope of "curing" them.
As a culture, we haven't moved beyond sexism and constantly scrutinizing and criticizing mothers--and blaming perceived social ills on failed gender performance--so the "refrigerator mother," who fails in her maternal duties by failing to epitomize the "nurturing" female nature and by (gasp!) working outside her home, hasn't gone away. She has just moved to new territory, to the "childhood obesity epidemic."
One could write a whole book about the construction of childhood and fatness, and both real and perceived relationships between fat children and their parents. (And maybe someday I will.) In the meantime, anyone interested in the matter--or in an introduction to fat politics in general--should check out The Fat Studies Reader. Seriously, even if you (are a tool and) can't read "fat studies" or "fat acceptance" without snickering or sneering, take a look. Better yet, go straight for Shadow on a Tightrope or Bodies Out of Bounds if you're into gender or queer studies but are unfamiliar with fat politics.