Fatlash! Karen Kataline on child beauty pageants, obesity and the link between them

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Ever since a glammed-up JonBenet Ramsey graced the cover of People magazine, there's been an uncomfortable, voyeuristic fascination with child-beauty pageants and the moms who push their daughters into underage sexualized stardom. We're also a culture obsessed with weight, particularly with those classified as obese.

Social worker and author Karen Kataline, who recently released her debut book, Fatlash!: Food Police and the Fear of Thin, believes the two phenomenon are intertwined, and explains how through a series of personal anecdotes about her bizarre upbringing -- that of a child beauty queen forced on stage by an overbearing, unrelenting mother.

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Cultural phenomenon like the sexualization of children and a rise in obesity may be national -- even international -- in scope. But, Kataline's book, a "memoir with a message" that's been fifteen years in the making, drives these broad issues home. Fatlash! shares anecdotes from one woman's experiences with the Little Miss Denver pageant, a sub-pageant within the Little Miss Colorado series that's been bringing childhood glitz and glam and all that entails to our state for decades.

Kataline's tale begins with a seven-year-old "Princess by Proxy" stealing food from her parent's cupboards in the middle of night after her mother had put her on a restricted, 500 calorie per day diet. By the time Kataline was sixteen, she was none the better for her own pageantry experience, and none the thinner, either. The once dainty little lady now weighed in at 265 pounds. Forced to grow up quickly, Kataline has spent much of adulthood trying to reclaim her youth. "Overeating was a way to de-sexualize myself and get back at my mother," she explains.

Kataline almost called her book Body Armor, but ultimately chose Fatlash! because at the crux of her story is the notion that the more obsessed our culture is with other people's weight, the more likely we are to have a backlash -- or a fatlash, as she calls it.

As a social worker, Kataline's primary goal was to share her personal experiences in order to address a cultural trend that negatively affects not just our country's youth, but many American adults as well. "Not a lot of people with my experiences also have a mental health background," says Kataline.

At the end of the day, Kataline wouldn't ban childhood beauty pageants, and that isn't the purpose of her memoir. Rather, she wants to educate the public. "It doesn't take a beauty pageant to sexual a child," she reminds us. "My mom would have done that anyway, with or without the pageants."

For Kataline, pageants aren't a political issue; they're a boundary issue. "Whatever happened to pro choice?" she wonders aloud as she contemplates bans on 72-ounce colas and junk food in schools. "It's my body," she continues. "Not just my uterus, but my lungs, capillaries, and everything else."

The solution to our nation's problems, Kataline argues, is intuitive eating, which is to say learning to listen to your own body and not being told what to do. "I'll never be skinny," Kataline acknowledges. The author's constantly working to be comfortable in her own skin, and hopes her honest memoir will comfort those like her while educating a culture obsessed with pageantry and obesity -- and parents who struggle with boundaries.

You can pick up your copy of Fatlash! at Tattered Cover bookstores. For more information about the author and the book, visit Karen Kataline's website.

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