6-Year Old Author Fights Stigma Of Child Obesity

LaNiyah Bailey, 6, follows a healthy diet and exercises regularly. Yet, due to a health condition, she struggles with being overweight. After being constantly teased by children and adults about her size, Bailey decided to write about her experience. Her new book, Not Fat Because I Wanna Be, aims to help kids understand that bullying others because of their weight is wrong. Host Michel Martin speaks with LaNiyah Bailey about her book and her life. They are joined by her mother LaToya White and father Sango Bailey.

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MICHELE MARTIN, host:

As we said a few minutes ago, along with fighting bullying, first lady Michelle Obama has also focused much of her attention on trying to promote healthy eating and exercise for kids.

But as adults well know, it can be very hard dealing with rude comments about weight. It might be even tougher when your weight results from medical issues and you're just six years old.

Six-year-old LaNiyah Bailey has faced that struggle, but she decided not to just sit around and feel sorry for herself. With her parents' help, she has published a new book about her struggles with weight. It's called, "Not Fat Because I Wanna Be."

And LaNiyah Bailey is with us now, along with her mom, LaToya White, who helped her daughter with the book, and her dad, Sango Bailey. They're all here from member station WBEZ in Chicago.

Thank you all so much for joining us.

Ms. LaTOYA WHITE: Thank you for having us here.

Mr. SANGO BAILEY: (unintelligible)

Ms. LaNIYAH BAILEY (Author): Thank you for having me.

MARTIN: Your mom was telling us earlier that sometimes people can be kind of mean when people are a little heavy. Has that ever happened to you?

Ms. BAILEY: Yes. People used to call me names like, you're a big elephant (unintelligible).

MARTIN: And was it kids calling names, or did grownups sometime say mean things, too?

Ms. BAILEY: Both.

MARTIN: Both kids and grownups would say mean things. And Ms. White, LaToya, when did this start? I mean, did this start in Pre-K? When did you start noticing that kids were saying mean things?

Ms. WHITE: Well, it actually started when she was in Pre-K. The first instance was when she was at a daycare. I picked her up, and the next day she cried and cried and cried, and said she didn't want to go back. She told me that the daycare provider had been calling her fat girl and telling her that she was a pig, and all these nasty things.

MARTIN: The daycare provider?

Ms. WHITE: The provider, yes.

MARTIN: Who presumably is an adult.

Ms. WHITE: Is an adult, yes.

MARTIN: Okay. That must have been very hard to deal with.

Ms. WHITE: It was humiliating for her, and to see my child crying and, you know, not wanting to go back, it made me feel really bad because I couldn't do anything for her, because I was a working - you know, I'm a working mom. Of course, I couldn't keep her myself. So I then called the daycare provider, and I asked her exactly what happened.

And she said, well, that's a normal thing for me. She said I grew up with people calling me fat, so - she was like I called her fatso. I didn't think anything was wrong with it. And I'm like, well, you know, self-confidence is built at an early age. So that's something that you shouldn't tell a young kid.

So she didn't think anything was wrong with it, but immediately, we pulled her from that provider and put her someplace else.

MARTIN: Was that the lowest moment for you?

Ms. WHITE: No. That was the first instance. I would say the last instance was the worst. When we put her in another daycare, some of the kids had alienated her and started teasing her, calling her elephant, and telling her she looked pregnant, and all these things. And when we went to the provider for that daycare and told her what was going on, she said she was going to nip in the bud, and never did. These things still continued.

And every day, LaNiyah would come home crying, and it was just terrible. So I actually approached the parent of that child. I felt like I had to go above and beyond the daycare provider, because she wasn't getting us the results that we needed. So when I went to that parent and I told her exactly what happened, she said, well, my child would never do that.

She said, okay. Well, what I'll do is I'll take my daughter out to dinner and I'll talk to her. And she said that her daughter told her that, yes, mom, I did call LaNiyah an elephant. She said, and the reason why I did it was because when people use to tease me. She basically said she saw herself in LaNiyah. So the things that people used to do to her, it carried over and she basically had taken everything that people said to her and put it on someone else. That's another...

MARTIN: So perpetuating it.

Ms. WHITE: ...effect of being bullied.

MARTIN: Sort or perpetuating the cycle, there.

Ms. WHITE: Exactly.

MARTIN: Yeah. Dad, what about you? What's been the worst moment for you?

Mr. BAILEY: One day I was dropping her off, and she started crying. And I said, baby, what's wrong? And she said, I don't want to go. I talked to her, and she said that she didn't want to go in because the girls were being mean. They didn't want to play with her. And me, I'm not as calm as mom is. I was ready to fight and start hurting people that was hurting my baby.

And, you know, I talked with the provider and I told her that, you know, something needs to change, because bullying is a cycle. And it was just kind of hard to see your child crying and you know that they're hurting and that there's really nothing you can do, per se, to stop the pain.

I think that was the lowest point when I really got fed up and I was ready to just go to war and do what I have to do to protect my child.

MARTIN: Mm-hmm. LaNiyah, can you just explain for people how that makes you feel when somebody says something like that?

Ms. BAILEY: It makes me feel sad.

MARTIN: How did you get the idea to write a book?

Ms. BAILEY: When I came home, I went upstairs in my room and said I want to write a book. And my mom told me that's good, and I told her what I wanted in my book and she wrote it down.

MARTIN: If you're just joining us, this is TELL ME MORE, from NPR News. We're speaking with six year old LaNiyah Bailey about her new book, titled "Not Fat Because I Wanna Be." Her mom, LaToya White, and her dad, Sango Bailey, are also with us.

LaToya White, mom, I understand that one of the compelling issues here and one of the things that you also wanted to help people understand is that this isn't a solely a matter of her diet.

Ms. WHITE: Exactly.

MARTIN: Can you talk about that a little bit more?

Ms. WHITE: People have the perception that when you're overweight, that it comes from an unhealthy lifestyle, which isn't true in her case. She has a protruding belly, and one of the things that contributed to that is a swollen colon which was caused by constipation. And right now, she's on medication, and has been on medication for that for about two years.

And we've been testing for maybe the past year and a half for different things. She was diagnosed with something called polydipsea before, which is also a term, like water diabetes type of thing that a lot of people may not know about. And that makes a person drink water or any kind of fluid, like, a lot. So they're retaining a lot of fluid.

And right now, they're testing her for something called leptin receptor. It's a hormone that doesn't tell the brain when the body is full. So that person constantly is eating. So that's also helping pack on the pounds.

MARTIN: So there are medical issues that have contributed to her weight, and I presume that she wanted to write this book to help other kids understand how it feels to be teased and bullied and so forth.

Ms. WHITE: Right.

MARTIN: What about you? Why have you wanted to help her with this project?

Ms. WHITE: Well, I thought it would be therapeutic for her. I think that with her telling the world how she feels about what she went through, it'll help her embrace herself more. And it'll also help other people understand that you can't judge a book by its cover.

MARTIN: Can I ask both of you, though - and dad, can I ask you this question, as well, if you don't mind? There are those who would say that, look, adults can be mean, as we have just discussed. But kids can be mean, and part of being a child is learning how to deal with mean people. That's part of your job as parents, is to help her deal with situations that are not always going to be pleasant.

Can you just talk a little bit about that?

Mr. BAILEY: Okay. Well, the first thing that we tried to teach LaNiyah when it started happening was that, you know, sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me. We taught her that that really wasn't true, because sometimes words can be harder than a fist. And when she started grasping the concept of that, she started getting better about it.

It does go back since time started, but it seems like nobody has ever really found a way to stop it. And with society the way it is now, kids are taking problems - matters into their own hands, and that's something that I think if more kids and more adults, you know, sat down and talked about issues like that, it may not get to the point where you have kids taking weapons to school and trying to handle it by themselves.

So you want to protect your baby, but you know that you can't protect them from everything. And that's one thing that we try to instill in her, that no matter what, as long as she has her family, you know, her parents and God by her side, nobody can ever hurt her because we'll always be there to protect her.

MARTIN: Dad, what do you want people to draw from the book?

Mr. BAILEY: I want them to understand that, you know, like mom said, you can't just look at somebody and just think that you know. And it's part of our DNA. We all do it, you know. I caught myself doing it even after, you know, my own child was going through it. You see somebody, and the first thing you think of was a negative thing. And it's just part of us. So I want people to try to consciously change their habits, you know.

When you look at somebody, don't look at them and look like they're disgusting or they're nasty. Just look at them and know that they're a person just like you are. They have the same feelings you do, and they have their own issues, you know. Everybody has problems, and teasing them or pointing at them, it doesn't make anything better. It just makes it worse.

MARTIN: And LaToya, what about you? What would you like people to draw from the book?

Ms. WHITE: Just because someone is overweight doesn't mean that they live unhealthy, that they have unhealthy eating habits, or that they have an unhealthy lifestyle.

MARTIN: And LaNiyah, I'm going to give you the last word. So what is the most important thing you would like people to think about when they think about you and when they read your book?

Ms. BAILEY: Bullying is not cool.

MARTIN: Okay. I think that says it all. OK.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: Thank you, LaNiyah.

Ms. BAILEY: You're welcome.

MARTIN: LaNiyah Bailey is the author of a new book called "Not Fat Because I Wanna Be." It's based on her personal experience of dealing with people who made fun of her because of her weight.

Also with us, LaToya White, she is LaNiyah's mother, and Sango Bailey, who is LaNiyah's father. And they were all with us from NPR member station WBEZ in Chicago.

Thank you all so much for joining us.

Ms. WHITE: Thank you for having us.

Mr. BAILEY: Thank you.

Ms. BAILEY: Thank you. Bye-bye.

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