A special thank you to our guest blogger, Joey, for this incredible write up.
When I was younger, I didn’t look like the other kids. I was what my parents called “chubby”; I had dark olive skin – a gift from my 50% Italian DNA – that was far different than that of the porcelain white skin of my (much thinner) schoolmates; as I got older my stick straight black brown hair turned to tight curls that only accentuated my round, “chubby” face; that “baby fat” I’d been promised by my mother that would just “melt away” turned to rolls of fat that resembled the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man far more than Christie Brinkley. I was, by all accounts, the fat kid. The fat, ugly kid who would spend her life defined by what she weighed, what clothing fit her, what society saw when they looked at her. By age 25, I weighed 343lbs, was wearing a size 28 (if I was lucky), and had at least two abusive intimate relationships under my belt, with men kept their women fat to ensure no one else would want them & to have control within the relationship to knock me down on my “fat ass” by calling me things like “Shamu” or “Free Willy”. And so, at the age of 25, I made the choice to have gastric bypass surgery after 14 months of research and consideration (and after 20 years of being called “fat” & “enormous” & “ugly”) and subsequently lost, as of this blog writing, 199lbs. A year after my gastric bypass surgery, and approximately 115lbs into my weight loss, I had full body abdominoplasty (aka a tummy tuck) & liposuction of my right & left flanks. Three years later, I returned to my plastic surgeon for brachioplasty (aka removal of excess skin and tissue from both my arms, which I – and plenty of other women, I’m sure, refer to as my chicken wings) plus additional liposuction of my right & left flanks again, as well as liposuction to my underarms, & skin/tissue removal to the roll of skin underneath my breasts that stubbornly wouldn’t go away with exercise and which completely altered my body, in what most people at Vogue would likely label a “negative way”. Today, I am considering breast augmentation and a revision of my tummy tuck, thanks to an unplanned weight loss in the last 18 months that has left me far saggier in the midriff than any girl would be pleased with. I am honest enough to tell you that I made the choice to have gastric bypass surgery to improve my health (thanks to that surgery I was able to avoid developing diabetes, sleep apnea, considerable heart and lung problems, and a plethora of other clinical issues that would have eventually led to my premature death) but that I made the choice to have cosmetic surgery because I didn’t just want my scale to say a smaller number but because I wanted to *look* skinny. I wanted to be pretty by society’s standards and without cosmetic surgery, I would have never achieved that because of the way my excess skin & tissue shaped my figure. The contours of my body were changed entirely thanks to my plastic surgery and I achieved what I had aimed for: I was skinny, which meant not only was I pretty but at this point, I probably weighed LESS than Christie Brinkley. Score!
So what’s all this got to do with child abuse, you’re probably asking. Here’s your answer:
Recently in Northern China, a man divorced & then sued his wife because she gave birth to a baby he deemed “ugly”. And because he also believed himself to be an attractive man & his wife a beautiful woman, he claimed there was no way the child could be his biologically. After investigation, it was discovered that his wife had indeed been faithful, but had neglected to inform her husband that’s she’d had extensive plastic surgery in order to become the “beautiful” woman he had married. As a result, a Northern Chinese court found that his wife had deceptively coerced this man into marriage & then into procreation, and as such this man was entitled to $120K plus a divorce, freeing him up to find a “natural” beauty who will give him “beautiful” children instead of “ugly” ones.
I am without words.
Welllllllll…. Ok. Maybe I’m not without words COMPLETELY. Maybe I can muster up a few. I’ll give it a shot.
According to www.childhelp-usa.com, there are 3.3 *million* reports of child abuse in the United States each year, which involve nearly 6 *million* American children. Additionally, the U.S. has the *worst* child abuse record of any industrialized nation in the world, as evidenced by the loss of FIVE children daily to abuse related injuries and crimes. Of those deaths, 80% are children under the age of 4. It’s well known that child abuse crosses every socioeconomic, cultural, & religious level but probably less known is that about 80% of abused children meet the criteria for having at least one psychological disorder (things like Bipolar Disorder, Borderline Personality Disorder, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, & any number of Anxiety/Panic Disorders, to name a few) by age 21 – presumably a direct result of the child abuse they suffered & survived in their youth and/or adolescence. So we know that child abuse & neglect is rampant in this country. Lucky for us, we also, to some extent, know why. ChildHelp USA reports that about 30% of the children who suffer & survive their abuse and/or neglect will go on to abuse their own children. When broken down, we know statistically that 14% of all men in prison & 36% of all women in prison were abused as children, an undeniable correlation between abuse & neglect that is only bolstered by the fact that children who survive child abuse/neglect “…are 59% more likely to be arrested as a juvenile, 28% are more likely to be arrested as an adult, & 30% are more like to commit violent crime.” It certainly doesn’t take a MENSA level IQ to see that a cycle of abuse & neglect not only exists in this country but is, by all accounts, rampant & vicious.
Of course, this recent incident in China doesn’t fit neatly into the box that has traditionally defined abuse & neglect – can we call a father abusive for thinking his child is ugly? Can we call a man neglectful for refusing to acknowledge a child as his own because the child’s mother altered her appearance & subsequently gave birth to a baby who wasn’t the eye candy Daddy was hoping for?
I think yes. And here’s why.
The social stigma of appearance, the heavy weight we place on children to look a certain way above the less emphasized appreciation we place on important things like academic achievement; development of basic core values like compassion & philanthropic kindness; and the irreplaceable and vital growth of positive self worth that does not reflect back on a person when gazing into a mirror, is becoming exponentially more important to children and indeed, families as a whole. Shows like Toddlers & Tiaras, Dance Moms, and even Hannah Montana (a show that depicts a young girl “forced” to lead two lives – one where she’s the average preteen and one where she’s a world renowned rock star, suggesting that to be famous and have worth one must have a talent and be beautiful while the average girl need only dress herself down and hide from those closest to her who she truly is) are teaching the lesson that appearance will determine every aspect of ones life: the ability to have romantic relationships, the chance at that promotion or increase in salary, and even, as demonstrated in this story above about an “ugly baby”, the possibility of being loved unconditionally by ones parents. So when a father looks at his baby and decries how “ugly” that baby is, how is that NOT abuse? How is it NOT neglectful to abandon your family because your wife isn’t a “natural beauty” and your child reflects her biological traits rather than the cosmetically altered ones your wife endured to answer society’s call to be a certain type of beautiful? Let me answer that for you: It IS abuse and it IS neglect.
When a father beats a child until their face can no longer be recognized, we gasp in horror and demand that justice be done. When a mother takes a 6 month old colicky baby who won’t stop crying and shakes that baby until its dead, we call her a monster and insist on a punishment that fits the crime. But when a man decides his baby isn’t pretty enough to show off to his friends and coworkers, when a man divorces his wife because she wasn’t born with the face and body he watched walk down the aisle at their wedding, and when a man then sues that woman for “deceiving” him & subsequently giving him a child that society wouldn’t find visually appealing, we…. give him a hundred and twenty thousand dollars? Hmmm. Something seems off here.
A few months ago, I blogged about what I called “state sanctioned child abuse”. It was in response to an article about a Tennessee statesman who wanted to dismantle a wildly successful social services program that would punish not just children but entire families for a child’s “poor performance or attendance in school”, potential legislation that was vague and completely void of specific criteria that would have kept safe the families benefitting from this program and in fact, would have likely stripped even compliant participants of the benefits that were actively and *successfully* working to improve their quality of life and transition out of the program and into a situation that would have left them independent & financially solvent without the assistance of the state after completing the program requirements. I’m reminded of this blog now because this court (albeit in another country but I can’t help but see parallels in our own judicial system that might have, had this mother and child been American, sided with the father in his mission to abandon responsibility for a child he fathered but didn’t think was “attractive”) is sanctioning child abuse. What will this child know as it grows up about the father that contributed to half its DNA? What will it do to this child’s psyche to know that her father didn’t think she was pretty enough to keep in his life? Isn’t this the exact type of emotional abuse we fight to eradicate every day in every corner of the world? ChildHelp USA defines emotional abuse as, ” Any attitude or behavior which interferes with a child’s mental health or social development. This includes yelling, screaming, name-calling, shaming, negative comparisons to others, telling them they are “bad, no good, worthless” or “a mistake.” It also includes the failure to provide the affection and support necessary for the development of a child’s emotional, social, physical and intellectual well-being. This includes ignoring, lack of appropriate physical affection (hugs), not saying “I love you,” withdrawal of attention, lack of praise and lack of positive reinforcement.” This man is emotionally abusing a NEWBORN. He is failing, and in factREFUSING, to provide “…appropriate physical affection (hugs), not saying “I love you,”…” And a court has sanctioned this emotional abuse. A judge has basically said, “Eh. No biggie. The well being of this child just isn’t as important as the fact that his wife was “ugly” & didn’t tell her husband that before letting him impregnate her.” A judge has said, “When you’re “ugly”, humane and dignified treatment just isn’t yours to claim.
But then, I guess with the right attorney, “…failure to provide the affection and support necessary for the development of a child’s emotional, social, physical and intellectual well-being…”, really isn’t all that important and gets you $120K instead of the sound ass kicking you deserve for being a judgmental, chauvinistic, & shallow piece of shit.