Kelly Moen is an active patient advocate and vice-chair of the Obesity Canada Public Engagement Committee. Kelly and his wife Cathy gave a talk about living with obesity and the impact on family earlier this year. This topic has inspired Kelly’s family to write a series for our CONDUIT newsletter. In this third installment, their son Ethan provides his perspective. You can read Kelly’s installment here, and Cathy’s here.
Ethan is a 15-year-old who is active in community league sports. He and sits on student counsel and sports leadership, and is a member of the school swim team. He spoke at the University of Victoria about inclusion at age 10, and was also class representative who gave the school address when transitioning to middle school. Once at middle school, he served on the sports leadership team and the swim club, and was a finalist for the communal award at age 14. Ethan is a fun-loving compassionate guy ready to take on the world, his heart is full of kindness and love.
I didn’t know what different body types were growing up, or that there was a difference between fat and thin. Or, that there was any stigma towards anyone. However, I started to become more aware of the stigma that my talented and courageous parents faced as I grew older.
As I got older and more socially mature, I began to notice a lot of people murmuring, whispering, an occasional gasp here and there. At first, I didn’t realize what it was all about however; as time went on, I began to see the discrimination that larger-bodied people faced. As I have grown older, I have recognized the time and financial sacrifices my parents made for us to ensure we were in the domain of the body privileged. They have never put us on a diet; they have never shamed our bodies; they have always built us up and never torn us down. They have worked hard to make sure we are in community sports all year round, and they guide us with our food choices.
When I was younger, my dad was working towards achieving his goal of completing school with a degree in psychology and a master’s in clinical counselling. He focused on studying the self-regulation of eating and the psychology of obesity. I was fortunate enough to be able to attend the University of Victoria with him on several occasions. This was a catalyst for my fascination with learning what the sociological and psychological effects of implicit bias does to a person. This idea had such an impact on me that during one of these trips to the university, I ended up giving a presentation.
Another time I went to the university where my Dad was giving a presentation to a few of his professors. He spoke on the lack of proper land for the First Nations populations and the impact on their health. After he was done, I asked if I could give my presentation. At that time, I was in grade four, and I was excited to share what I had learned from going to university classes with my dad. What I wanted to share was a lesson that is truly one of the most crucial and vital experiences the university classes and my parents ever taught me: that everyone should be included.
That everyone has a place in the world, and we should love them no matter their shape, size, colour or ability. Everybody matters.
I began to engage my peers and teachers in dialogue about implicit bias and, more specifically, implicit bias towards larger-bodied people. At one point in grade six, my class had the honour of having some political representatives come to our class. I decided to engage our city councilman and MLA on how they would fight the war on obesity. I was surprised by one party’s lack of knowledge and the other party’s willingness to take a step in the right direction. Interestingly, the party that was willing to take that initial step listened to what I had to share. One of their suggestions was to help remove barriers for those who do not have access to costly recreation centre memberships. The party also noted that they did recognize the discrimination that people who struggle with obesity face.
I have witnessed my family and others who have obesity experience weight bias. When I go out walking with my family, I see people stare, judge, occasionally gasp, whisper and murmur among each other. It’s always followed with a confused and shocking glare shot towards me, as if people are confused why I’m skinny and the rest of my family isn’t. It’s like they see me walking around with a bunch of aliens. However, I don’t see it that way. I believe that everyone is trying to be the best version of themselves they can be.
I love my mom and dad so much because of how resilient they are and how courageous they are. They’re not afraid to back down and have that tough conversation. My mom will always be in your corner, cheering for you as loud as she can. My dad will always give you a shoulder to cry on and empathize with you.
My parents will support you and cheer for you, and I promise you I will do the same; you matter, everybody matters, and I am proud of who is raising me.