Self-Image and the Formerly Fat

White Wedding

Sometimes, photographic images help to form people’s self-images, particularly around issues of obesity, but not always. Childhood Obesity News has looked at various strange relationships between people and their pictures. For the Good Men Project, Kimanzi Constable wrote of how he was first inspired to lose weight by his brother’s wedding in 2007. A tuxedo had to be special-ordered for him, and that was bad enough, but the real blow came when he saw the wedding pictures. He remembers:

I was appalled to see how big I looked. I cried myself to sleep that night. I woke up the next day determined to lose the weight.

Actor Corey Stoll, who played Rep. Peter Russo in “House of Cards,” was an obese teenager, with 310 pounds plastered onto a 6′ 2” frame. He lost 100 pounds for college, but has fluctuated a bit since then, and calls himself, “a fitness fanatic for a few months every year.” Stoll admits that he still sees a fat kid in the mirror. But he turns that liability into an asset by making it a tool of his trade:

I’m at peace with the fact that I have a certain degree of dysmorphia… No matter how successful I get, I’ll always have easy access to what it feels like to be that outcast, to feel separate, with that level of self-loathing. It’s not who I am now, but it’s there. And it’s never gonna go away.

But what about kids who are too young to know what a photograph is, or what the words “childhood obesity” mean? Remember the little Colombian girl who at the age of 10 months weighed as much as a kindergartener? Her slender, unemployed mother was at a loss to explain the baby’s sudden, freakish increase in size. Fortunately, earlier this year they connected with Gorditas de Corazon, an organization that specializes in helping children who experience unexplained and overwhelming weight gain.

At the moment, life in a caring medical environment represents normalcy. For a one-year-old, as long as Mom is on the scene, all is right with the world. With no basis for comparison, for all Juanita knows, her life is exactly the same as that of any other child. She may never have seen any of the newspapers, magazines or websites that have published pictures of her, and if she has, her brain is probably not ready yet to make the connection between the image and the body she lives in.

The Future for an Obese Infant

Now, imagine the trajectory of young Juanita’s life. What if her morbid obesity has an origin so obscure that no medical team, however dedicated, can change its course? Maybe she will grow up to be one of the most obese women on the planet. Or maybe one of the many possible co-morbidities will claim her life tragically early. But let’s make the optimistic prediction that the clinic will be able to help, and that in a few months or years, little Juanita will indeed be appropriately small and will not stand out in glaring contrast to her age mates.

Even with a best-case outcome, there will surely be annual checkups. At some point, the child will wonder why she, unlike her friends, has to show up for a bunch of medical tests every so often. Will her mother try to shield her from the knowledge that she was a world-wide celebrity before her first birthday? Would that even be possible? If Juanita attains and maintains a normal weight, what will her teen years and adulthood be like? How will it affect her to know that anyone with Internet access can retrieve numerous images of her as a notoriously fat baby?

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “7 Healthy Habits That Helped Me Lose 170 Pounds in One Year, 09/14/14
Source: “Heading ‘Strain’ cast, Stoll once was an outcast, 07/09/14
Image by Photocapy

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About Dr. Robert A. Pretlow

Dr. Robert A. Pretlow is a pediatrician and childhood obesity specialist. He has been researching and spreading awareness on the childhood obesity epidemic in the US for more than a decade.
You can contact Dr. Pretlow at:


Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the American Society of Animal Science 2020 Conference
What’s Causing Obesity in Companion Animals and What Can We Do About It

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the World Obesity Federation 2019 Conference:
Food/Eating Addiction and the Displacement Mechanism

Dr. Pretlow’s Multi-Center Clinical Trial Kick-off Speech 2018:
Obesity: Tackling the Root Cause

Dr. Pretlow’s 2017 Workshop on
Treatment of Obesity Using the Addiction Model

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation for
TEC and UNC 2016

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the 2015 Obesity Summit in London, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s invited keynote at the 2014 European Childhood Obesity Group Congress in Salzburg, Austria.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2013 European Congress on Obesity in Liverpool, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2011 International Conference on Childhood Obesity in Lisbon, Portugal.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2010 Uniting Against Childhood Obesity Conference in Houston, TX.

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