It is quite a normalized activity to shame and discipline fat bodies. They are continually seen as disgusting and have often been used as an analogy for much that is wrong with our society. Fat is synonymous with gorging oneself and therefore many are more than willing to subject their bodies to all sorts of horrors in the hope of avoiding becoming fat.
Samuel Labberton, 24, and Brittainy Labberton, 21, are charged with third-degree criminal mistreatment for allegedly starving their daughter and feeding her laxatives to ensure that the child did not become fat. When they took their child to the hospital to seek medical treatment, doctors became suspicious and contacted child protective services.
According to probable cause documents, the Labbertons’ daughter, identified as A.L., was born in August 2008, weighing 5 pounds, 4 ounces. Doctors had instructed the Labbertons to feed her regularly to keep her healthy.
A.L. was hospitalized less than two months later after she failed to gain sufficient weight, say investigators. The Labbertons allegedly told doctors that their daughter was fussy and threw up food.
“When you have a baby that is so sick and in pain that all she does is scream and cry and throw up her formula like the exorcist, I kid you not,” said Brittainy.
But doctors say they saw no signs of that when the girl was in their care and she was described as “happy.” Since then, A.L. has been in foster care, with the Labbertons given supervised visits.
According to papers from the prosecutor’s office, Brittainy said “Oh My God she’s fat” and “I have a fat baby” when A.L. was up to to 13 pounds, 7 ounces in December 2008. She allegedly indicated that her husband has a weight problem and did not want her girls to be fat.
Brittainy tells it differently.
“I was so concerned she was gaining the weight so fast. I didn’t care that she was gaining the weight. That is fine. But too fast, it scared the crap out of me,” said Brittainy.
In January 2009, the Labbertons had a supervised visit with A.L, after which, the foster parent indicated that A.L. was fussy and had diarrhea. Prosecutors say tests on the bottle indicated the formula was more likely a laxative. Since then, CPS says it is no longer allowing the Labbertons to make bottles for the child.
As a mother, I know what it is to worry about the health of a child, however if it is proven that this woman was truly motivated to harm her child because of a fear of fatness, clearly we must all acknowledge the role that social conditioning played in her actions. Almost everywhere we turn fatness is stigmatized. Fat bodies are constantly erased from discourse, unless the purpose is to shame or promote them as decidedly undesirable. Few even recognize what a real female body looks like because society promotes plastic surgeries and photo shopping. It is the idealized images that we have to blame for the actions of Samuel and Brittany. Because of the hatred that we routinely display towards fat bodies is it any wonder that Brittany sought to protect her daughter? No parent wants their child to experience pain of any sort. Fat women in particular are viewed as sexless pathetic beings and no matter how hard we try to have a positive attitude towards fatness, the fact remains that just like any other marginalized or oppressed body, life is not easy for someone who is above what society considers to be a normal weight.
The other issue that is being obscured in our desire to attack Brittany is the fact that she was suffering from post partum depression. Women are not slaves to their biology, however it has been scientifically proven that a woman suffering from post partum depression is capable of acts that she would not have otherwise considered and this being the fact, Samuel had the responsibility to act in the best interest of his child. In much of the coverage surrounding this case, the media has been quick to assert Brittany’s culpability, while ignoring the role that Samuel played. Even if he did not actively place laxatives in the child’s bottle, if he did not act to prevent harm, he shares her guilt and unlike Brittany his only reasoning is fat hatred.
In the instances of child abuse in which post partum depression plays a role, the media has been quick to give men a pass on their parental responsibilities because child rearing has historically been the role of women. Women are demonized in part because of our social construction of the long suffering mother who is incapable of causing harm. Motherhood does not suddenly make one immune to social conditioning or illness. Brittany’s fall from grace is that much more than Samuel because of gender. Men are expected to play a secondary role in parenting and it is this that has caused this story to be framed around Brittany.
As long as there is a woman that we can blame, we will not look at the ways in which fat hatred lead to the harm of this child. We will not examine the ways in which gender often serves to protect men from the consequences of inaction or passive parenting. It is clear that Brittany currently presents a danger to her child, however it is equally clear that society played a very strong role in creating the conditions which caused her to believe that her actions were an act of love.