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Thoughts on Fat Camp?

Hey folks! withoutscene gave me a heads up to this article over at Sociological Images regarding fat camp. I had some experiences with fat camp when I was younger so I figured I'd post a comment:

I went to fat camp for three years in my mid-teens. I enjoyed being there a whole lot more than I enjoyed being in the outside world but there was definitely a hierarchy of fatness and there was plenty of fat shaming and unhealthy food behavior perpetuated. The camp I went to inexplicably also allowed girls with restricting eating disorders to attend, only they had to come up to the kitchen and eat extra snacks before bed to keep their calorie count up. I can imagine being in an environment where everyone is pushing eating less and exercising more could be a serious triggering thing for an anorexic or bulimic person.

My camp was pretty much the same as the previous commenter described, low calorie meals and exercise all day long. I definitely lost weight by the end of the summer and was happy about it because my parents were happy, but once I got back to reality the weight came right back on and it was back to the dysfunctional power struggle between my parents and my fat. They ended up sending me back two more summers but finally we just couldn’t afford it anymore. It’s not a cheap way to spend a summer, which is another sociological consideration because most of the kids there had pretty rich parents.

So. I can’t speak for every kid who has had a fat camp experience, but I knew I was there because my parents thought there was something wrong with me that needed to be fixed. It was not just a fun time. To an extent it felt like camp was my atonement for not fitting the mold. The fact that I enjoyed interacting with other kids like me at camp didn’t really ever make up for that.

As I was writing I became curious about the rest of the fat community out there. Did you go to fat camp? Were your experiences similar to mine or totally different? Do you think your experiences shaped you in a positive or negative way? If you never went to fat camp, did you ever want to? Other thoughts?

I went to Kingsmont, by the way. Anyone else?

Many fat people "not that sick at all" according to Canadian doctor | Wait...what?

Viola's picture
April 12th, 2009 | Link | I didn't go to fat camp

But I actually wanted to, as a teen, because I thought it would "cure" me. My parents never had the money for things like that, or orthodontia.

lilacsigil April 13th, 2009 | Link | Until very recently, I

Until very recently, I thought that "fat camp" was an imaginary punishment for fat kids. My parents would say, "We should send you to fat camp," but in Australia in the 80s, there was no such thing. In books and on TV, I only saw it mentioned as a threat, so I really didn't think it actually existed! Summer camp is pretty unusual (and expensive) in Australia, and mostly exists for a specific sport or activity - riding camp, maths camp etc. I never went to one, and I was pretty definitely middle-class. A few years ago, I was reading someone's journal and the author casually mentioned that her parents had sent her to fat camp and it set her on the path of yoyo dieting, and I was quite shocked to realise that it was a real thing.

creeloo April 13th, 2009 | Link | I read about fat camp in

I read about fat camp in American youth novels and was so glad Australia didn't really do the whole summer camp thing. I felt anxious and ashamed just reading about it. Going on regular school camp was bad enough because I hated group activities, adding the imperative to lose weight would have made it a thousand times worse.

lilacsigil April 13th, 2009 | Link | Australia

In retrospect, I'm glad Australia didn't have them - my parents would certainly have sent me if they could, which was pretty tragic as I wasn't actually fat at the time, just a tall, solid, very active kid. The only real body-shaming I got was at home, and I really didn't need external reinforcement for that!

vesta44's picture
April 13th, 2009 | Link | I never got sent to fat camp

I never got sent to fat camp either. We were middle class, I guess (both my parents worked), but we couldn't have afforded it (not to mention that I would have loved to have gone, just to get away from my mother for a while, so no way would she have sent me if we could have afforded it). And I don't think fat camps were as prevalent back in the late 60's/early 70's as they are now (I'd heard of them, but didn't know anyone who had actually gone to one).

WLS - Sorry, not my preferred way of dying. *glares at doctor recommending it*

lauria April 13th, 2009 | Link | We were not wealthy enough

We were not wealthy enough for me to go to fat camp, but I remember wanting to go. I imagined it as this place where you did fun exercise (horseback riding, swimming, dancing - things I considered fun) and ate healthy yet delicious food. I never thought about how hungry I'd be all the time if I ever went to one. I pretty much thought that I deserved to be hungry all the time anyway, so it probably wouldn't have been a deterrent for me, at least in theory.

The camp I actually went to was a Girl Scout camp, where there was never any fat shaming and they were all about empowering us. It was far better than any fat camp could ever have been. As I got older, there were more fat girls there and I fit in a lot better than I did at school. I remember camp as the only place I ever got to be popular. Plus, the camp I went to had horses, and that was all I wanted from camp at the time.

richie79's picture
April 13th, 2009 | Link | No fat camps in the UK until

No fat camps in the UK until a couple of years ago, in fact very little by way of programs or interventions for fat children period, and given that I didn't fall into the target demographic, it's not something I even became aware of until I started reading around fat acceptance.

I have previously come across the idea raised in the article that fat camp provides an opportunity for a child to share their experience with others like themselves and to spend time in a less judgmental environment than that provided by their mainstream school and friends, but I don't entirely buy it. As one of the commenters says, we shouldn't be separating kids out based on body size, we should be teaching them that people of all sizes deserve equal treatment.

Furthermore, whilst progress might be made in terms of building self-esteem and self-confidence, this could nevertheless be be considerably offset by the inescapable fact that they have been placed into that weight-focused environment because they're considered 'deviant' according to mainstream norms.

Besides, 'fat camp' strikes me as little more than a rather extreme immersive diet and exercise program, the short-term and often dramatic impact of which is frequently reversed once the body becomes accustomed to the lower calorie intake - or more sustainable eating habits are resumed - as demonstrated by the number of 'repeat visitors'.

It's also interesting that people have mentioned the cost of these programs, because if the parents have spent as much as £4K (in the case of the Leeds Met Carnegie camps), possibly making sacrifices or taking on debt to raise the cost, I can see how the child might feel (or be made to feel) guilty for any subsequent 'failure' to continue or maintain the weight loss.

With its emphasis (as with all forms of dieting and weight loss) on 'success and 'failure' the whole thing just has far too much potential to damage or corrupt the relationship between parent and child, which IMHO should never be conditional let alone depend in any way on something as ultimately inconsequential as the number on a scale.

"if you think fat people have no self-discipline, consider the fact that they haven’t killed you yet." - Miss Conduct, Boston Globe

rachelr's picture
April 13th, 2009 | Link | I've never been to fat camp,

I've never been to fat camp, but I was asked last year to review Stephanie Klein's "Moose: A Memoir of Fat Camp." There was lots of fat-shaming done at the camp Klein attended, as well as lots of disordered eating tips of the kind given on pro-ana boards (Klein learns how to be bulimic from other kids at the camp). But I was also struck by how the kids felt an acceptance there denied to them in their own personal lives and environments. For most of the kids, it seemed like it was the only place they felt they truly belonged.

withoutscene's picture
April 13th, 2009 | Link | I immediately thought of

I immediately thought of Klein when I saw the OP. I was particularly irritated at the way the media downplayed the fat camp problems when they spoke to her. I haven't read her book, but I think it is useful to illustrate that sense of inclusion that fat camp can foster (for some?)--but the fact that that part got played up in the media and the fat-shaming/fuckedupness got played down was a problem for me.

In addition, I think we have to remember that Klein's experience reflects that of a fat kid who was on the skinny side of fat--meaning that she was on the top of the fat camp hierarchy (and her friends probably were too--especially considering at least one was a camp counselor). I have to wonder if the feeling of belonging/acceptance varies by weight/weight loss at those camps.

Bilt4Cmfrt's picture
April 13th, 2009 | Link | I've never been to a fat

I've never been to a fat camp myself but, from what I understand, it can be as conflicted as other have already described (Fun to be with other kids in a non-judgemental setting while being hounded / tormented by staff and councilors to get skinny). However, there is one other aspect I've heard, that comes into play as well. Let's call it the 'Biggest Loser Phenomena' where kids are calorie restricted and exercised too within an inch of their lives to 'successfully' lose a few pounds by the end of the summer and then are sent home. No calorie restriction. Old exercise habits. Hmmm. . . Wonder what happens in most cases? And, of course, if the kids parents are fairly well off / obsessed with their children's weight, guess where the kid ends up next summer? Now, THAT sounds familiar. Something about diets and a yo-yo. . . . Whatever, as long as Junior or Little Miss isn't FATZOBESE!!123!!! Plus, suffering adds character, don't ya know?

Now that I think of it, Biggest Loser is probably the best analogy for Fat Camp. Only the public humiliation of weigh-in isn't nationally televised and, in most cases, the Camps realize that they couldn't get away with the level of endurance style physical abuse BL does. Not with kids. Doesn't mean some of them haven't tried though.

If my memory serves, there HAVE been more than a few situations in which charges of abuse were filed and, at least, one or two hospitalizations / deaths directly relating to pre-adolescent weight lose camp practices in the past 10 or 15 years. Anybody out there remember anything more specific?

Learning How to Logic- Lesson #1
Q: How come there weren't any fat people in Concentration Camps?
A: There were. They were the ones who's metabolisms allowed them to
survive starvation.

diane April 13th, 2009 | Link | While I never wanted to go

While I never wanted to go to a fat camp, I did think about them---how I'd get to be around other fat kids, but then I knew we'd be eating less and exercising more and then when I came home it'd be back to the same routine and I'd gain whatever loss I had back--and I could do that on my own! In fact I had done it on my own over and over and over--so I didn't need them for that.

Also, I didn't need a camp to tell, show, remind me I was fat--I already knew that and had constant 24/7 reminders in case there were two seconds I might have been thinking of something else. What I had wanted as a kid though was anorexia--as a kid, all it seemed to me was that these people were super skinny and needed to eat to gain weight--i should have such a problem!! Plus they all seemed to be performers and models and all I wanted was to be the ingenue and that meant one thing---thin. I even used to dream that "something" not too horrible but something would have me in the hospital on IV for such a long time that by the time i went home I'd be thin. Scary to think that as a young girl I had such thoughts but I remember them all to well. I used to wonder why it took Janis Ian until 17 to learn the truth when I already knew it at 9.

pani113's picture
April 14th, 2009 | Link | Thank God I Didn't

Wow! This sounds really really awful. Funny thing was my grandmother (who raised me) was a control freak. I wasn't even allowed to go in my own drawers. When she said jump everyone did. But even as a kid I REFUSED to diet. I always felt it was a matter of pride not to. To me, weight loss efforts seemed undignified. And instinctively she must have know this battle of wills she would have lost because they never made any serious attempts to make me diet. A blessing!!!!
"Fat can be beautiful. Intolerance is ALWAYS ugly!"

nati's picture
April 15th, 2009 | Link | sweat it out, b*tches.

I have several friends that went to fat camp. They're like me, if you get the weight off I can keep it off...I stay within 5lbs at all times, but a few years ago I went through a major crisis and I gained I don't yo yo...I'm thinking of going to fat camp this summer...just for the support and to have my life revolve around working out while I get down to a size 14...where I'm comfortable. losing 80lbs is a big job...


worrier April 15th, 2009 | Link | "What I had wanted as a kid

"What I had wanted as a kid though was anorexia--as a kid, all it seemed to me was that these people were super skinny and needed to eat to gain weight--i should have such a problem!! Plus they all seemed to be performers and models and all I wanted was to be the ingenue and that meant one thing---thin. I even used to dream that "something" not too horrible but something would have me in the hospital on IV for such a long time that by the time i went home I'd be thin. "

I had very similar thoughts to you. I didn't specifically wish I had anorexia, but I pretty much wished for the other things you did. I think it shows the strength of the fat hatred that we've all grown up with.

We don't really have summer camps in New Zealand in the same way the US does, not when I was a kid anyway, so we didn't have fat camps. But then my regular life was had all the bad parts of a fat camp and none of the good parts, it had the dieting, ridicule, criticism, but none of the cameradery (sp?) of other fat kids.

Hasta la vista, baby!

vpw's picture
April 16th, 2009 | Link | I started to write a

I started to write a response and then realized I had a lot to say. I hadn't even thought about my experiences at fat camp in at least six years. I'll be posting something on my blog within a few days.

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