So Dawn’s got a job sitting for the kids of Dara-Lynn Weiss. I’ll give y’all a moment to ride out the rage blackout from that article.
We get more badly-written appearance exposition that makes Dawn sound like a bitch: [Norman] was fat. (I don’t mean to be unkind. There’s just no other way to say it. He wasn’t stout. He wasn’t husky or stocky or pudgy. He was fat.) At least Suzanne didn’t drop in another reference to Dawn’s oh-so-superior eating habits.
Sarah is obsessed with rainbows, which makes me think of my friend, who used to draw a rainbow at EVERY art session in Year 1. When the teacher suggested that she draw something else for a change, she drew a person...standing under a rainbow. Up until this point it looks like Sarah is a nice, normal kid...and then it starts.
Sarah, it turns out, has been tasked with bullying Norman (I keep typing “Normal”) about his weight when their parents aren’t around to do it themselves. Bullying and shaming are a super-convenient way to get your kid to lose weight because you don’t have to get off your ass and make changes that might be inconvenient to you, like no longer keeping a Claudia Kishi-worthy stash of junk food in the house. And – and here’s the really great part – when it doesn’t work, you get to wash your hands of all responsibility and just blame it all on the kid! Of course, there is the eensy weensy matter of the total annihilation of your kid’s self-esteem, but pfft, it’s his fault for not sticking to the completely unrealistic diet you set him, amirite?
Speaking of Norman’s self-esteem, the fact that he was happy to see Dawn and didn’t automatically assume that she’d be horrible to him about his weight suggests to me that he’s had someone – like his nanna who used to babysit them before she died recently, or a teacher or both – who’s been supportive. If it was his nanna, then...Jesus, that is heartbreaking. I cannot even imagine how he must have felt when she died. I like to imagine that while his nanna was alive, she told Sarah to can it and treated Norman like the likeable kid he is. For that matter, I want to know why Miss I Ban My Charges From Playing With Toy Guns didn’t show that kind of conviction about Sarah’s bullying.
So anyway, Sarah drags Dawn to Norman’s room and barges in on him. Norman is sneaking food, because that’s what happens when you make somebody’s weight loss all about not disappointing you. You don’t solve any of the problems, you just force them underground.
Sarah actually says “We don’t even know where he gets [the junk food]”, like she expects Dawn to believe that Norman has it sent by owl, rather than getting it from THE STASH THAT HIS FAMILY KEEPS IN THE GODDAMN PANTRY. I mean, this is Stoneybrook, where child labour laws don’t exist, so it actually wouldn’t be beyond the realm of possibility that this seven-year-old has a lucrative secret job at the Rosebud Cafe that he sneaks off to under the pretence of going to soccer practice, except that at the end of the book Norman says “There are no more treats in the house. My mother stopped buying cookies, soda, and cake.” Which means that Sarah knows DAMN WELL where the junk food is coming from and is just being a little asshole. Jesus.
Sarah starts bitching at length about what a disgusting fat pig Norman is, and apparently bullying isn’t as bad as toy guns because Dawn doesn’t tell Sarah off for it at all. She does distract her with The Little Mermaid, which I’ll admit is pretty big guns from a BSCult member – not only did Dawn just suggest watching television, she picked a timely movie! – but at no point does she tell the little brat to stop being a horrible little shit to her brother. It makes me crazy that these girls will just let one sibling bully another (or three siblings gang up on one) and do shit-all about it. If you don’t have the balls to step in and stop that behaviour then you have no business babysitting for those families. You are assuming care of those kids and it is your responsibility to make sure that none of them are being treated like crap. You can’t control what the family does behind closed doors, but you can and should stop them from behaving like that while you are in charge. I bet Nanna Hill didn’t allow that bullshit.
Dawn notices that Norman has got up and left mid-movie. I would probably have assumed that either he doesn’t like Disney Princess movies or he’s sick of it because Sarah’s watched it 348537865 times, but since this is the BSCult where kids aren’t allowed to go off and play on their own, Dawn correctly guesses that he’s sneaked off to eat. We find out that as well as putting Norman on a Hollywood starlet diet, the Hills don’t feed their kids until 8pm. I am not surprised at all that Norman is hungry and wonder how Sarah stands it. Also, eating that late is one of the worst things you can do if you want to lose weight. Those kids probably go to bed right after that, which means that their bodies are getting no chance to burn off the biggest meal of their day, so almost all of those calories are staying in the body and turning into fat. As for their eight hours between lunch and dinner, Norman's damned if he does and damned if he doesn't. Even if he does manage to eschew the pantry full of junk food in favour of an empty stomach, he ends up screwing up his metabolism, because, as I understand it, when the body is starved it goes into survival mode and holds onto more fat stores. You might lose weight in the short term, but the moment you stop starving yourself, back it comes. This whole system is incredibly unhealthy and incredibly counterproductive for weight loss, so Norman is pretty much being set up to fail and then told it’s his fault. And what really gets me is that they’ve apparently been to a fuckload of doctors and nutritionists for advice. I can’t imagine that at least one didn’t ask about what time the family eats each meal on a typical day and what they keep in the house, so either they told the Hills to fix it and the Hills just ignored them, or the Hills lied their asses off to the specialists. Either way, the Hills must know how not conducive to weight loss these conditions are but prefer to just lambast Norman. Charming.
And then, Sarah’s even snottier friend Elizabeth comes round and starts picking on Norman too. Dawn tells her that her jokes aren’t funny but again doesn’t actually tell her to stop. She does then talk to Norman about it, who tells her that he’s “used to” bullying about his weight and that his whole family does it. He then says that they’re threatening to send him to a camp for overweight kids, and you know, I hope he goes. Remember Mystery #2 where Mel’s parents threatened to send him to a psychiatrist? I had that said to me during high school, and I got really angry when I actually went to a therapist years later and found out that it isn’t a punishment or a shameful thing at all. I went there thinking the therapist was going to teach me how to be more normal and instead got long and compelling speeches about how I WAS normal and some people just have a really narrow definition of what "normal" is, and while, yes, I had issues that needed to be sorted out, it didn't make me a bad person. And she taught me how to sort out my issues, rather than just telling me to do it and then wondering why I couldn't. If I’d known it would be like that, I would have gone to the damn specialist in high school, as it would have saved me many years of feeling like crap. So I can just picture this camp where Norman’s with adults who are supportive and encouraging, kids who are nice to him and get where he’s coming from, and routines where he’s eating healthily and exercising but not being starved. I can see him discovering that it’s not him, it’s his dickhead parents, and feeling better about himself. But because it’s being presented as a punishment, he (understandably) thinks it’s going to be an even worse version of the shaming and ridicule he’s subjected to at home.
And speaking of presenting things as a punishment, it makes me crazy that his parents are taking that attitude to health food. Aside from the fact that singling him out and shaming him is an unspeakably shitty thing to do (someone on here mentioned that they have actually seen that lead to eating disorders), eating healthily is not a punishment. It is a lifestyle, and it doesn’t have to be an unpleasant one. As someone who started eating more healthily a year or two ago, I can tell you that it is a hell of a lot easier to stick to it when you’re enjoying what you eat, and there are plenty of things you can enjoy. Hell, often you can eat the same things you used to enjoy but in a healthier way. My family used to make deep-fried potatoes; now we bake them instead. If done right (the trick with the potatoes is to boil them first so they’re soft inside) they taste good enough that you don’t miss the unhealthy version.
It also doesn’t have to be all or nothing; in fact, unless there is an allergy or other condition involved, it shouldn’t be all or nothing. It is much easier to eat less of something than to eliminate it entirely from your life. If you tell yourself you can never eat something again, you get the forbidden fruit effect, crave it and often end up succumbing, probably eating an unhealthy amount of it because you’ve already broken your diet so what does it matter? Whereas if you allow yourself a reasonable amount of treats, you’re less likely to fall off the wagon because you know you’ll still get to have them, just not as much as before. And let’s be real here, a few chocolates here and there are not going to make the difference between size two and size twenty. Allowing yourself a few treats consistently is a MILLION TIMES healthier than yo-yo dieting.
My rant is interrupted by Elizabitch throwing a snowball at the window and proudly showing off a fat snowman with “Enormous Hill” written underneath it, aaaaand chapter break. The suspense is somewhat ruined by the fact that we all know Dawn's not going to do anything about it, because Ann doesn't believe in disciplining kids for anything ever. You know she'd be that "parent" who lets her kid run rampant and when someone complains she lays into THEM and then coos "Don't listen to that nasty lady, my little popsie!"
We cut to Dawn at home, thinking back on the aftermath of what would have been Snowmangate if anybody actually bothered to make the fuss that this kind of bullying warrants. Norman saw the snowman and was heartbreakingly resigned about it. Sarah smashed the snowman after that. If the Hills weren’t emotionally abusive cunts I’d assume that she was afraid of getting into trouble, but not only do her parents allow her to be horrible to Norman, they encourage her to. So while it’s possible that she is afraid that their little piece of artwork is one step too far, I’m going with option B: she had a little pricking of conscience. I blame their parents for Sarah’s behaviour. If a kid gets praised for doing something, they’ll keep doing it. Mr and Mrs Hill give Sarah a fuckload of positive reinforcement for bullying her brother, giving her the message that that’s a way to win their love. And she’s seen what happens to kids who fall out of favour with Mr and Mrs Hill. No, while Sarah’s behaviour is horrible and inexcusable, I give full blame to Mr and Mrs Hill. They are the Dr Frankensteins who created this little monster.
Dawn spent the rest of the job hanging out with Norman (and even let HIM choose what they did!) and saw that he was a good, likeable kid. When Dara-Lynn got home, one kid was told on and reprimanded (well, passive-aggressively sighed at) for their bad behaviour, and if you think that kid was Sarah, you have too much faith in this family of shitcunts.
When Dawn gets home, Mary Anne accosts her and tells her that Lewis is coming to visit in a week. Dawn panics and worries if confiding her fears to MA will make MA see her as less of an individual. Mary Anne, however, thinks a makeover is a super neato idea, and proceeds to give Dawn one based on stuff in the fashion magazines they’re poring over, even though Mary Anne flat out admits that she doesn’t know any more about this stuff than Dawn does. Personally, I wouldn’t let anyone who says that anywhere near my hair, face or wardrobe. Mary Anne is clearly talking out of her ass, but Dawn thinks Mary Anne is the authority because she’s married in all but name.
Dawn sees that a lot of the models in the magazines are wearing off-the-shoulder tops and improvises by cutting one of her tops and tucking the ends under. Between that and the huge hair Mary Anne gave her, I’m picturing her as Kylie Minogue, which is a good thing in my book. I really like Kylie’s 80s look, probably because her hair looks like mine. We get this conversation:
Mary Anne: OMG WTF ARE YOU DOING?!
Dawn: That’s...what the magazines said I should be wearing?
Mary Anne: Oh...I mean, of course! I knew that! Do that!
I mean, it’s not Mary Anne’s responsibility to be her stepsister’s keeper, and I don’t think Dawn’s makeover in itself is necessarily a bad thing. She’s doing it for the wrong reason, but contrary to what Cult propaganda says, trying a new style is not inherently bad. What’s bad is that Mary Anne is pretending to know more about fashion and dating than she actually does and allowing Dawn to take the crap she pulls out of her ass as gospel.
The girls decide to take a picture of Dawn’s new look to send to Lewis and Dawn SMIZES!!! I like to smize for photos. I even do it at airport immigration in Japan, where they have a machine that mugshots anybody entering the country.
Claudia’s job at the Hills. Hoooooo boy, this is going to be another long one.
Suzanne Weyn thinks that Claudia and Sarah are alike because they’re both bitches to their siblings, or as she puts it, because they both have “a brother or sister who is sort of odd”. 3_foot_6 has already explained why the “odd” part is extremely shitty, but in addition, the analogy doesn’t even work because Claudia and Sarah are bitches to their siblings for completely different reasons. Claudia is a bitch to Janine because Janine is good at something their parents think is important and Claudia is bad at that thing, and their parents make her feel like shit about it by setting completely unrealistic standards (see: 81% = not good enough. That snark really made me understand why Claudia doesn't try a lot of the time. Unrealistic standards make me feel like there's no point in trying too.) So Claudia feels like the black sheep of her family, and she resents Janine for being the type of kid their parents approve of. I would have thought that Claudia would actually sympathise with Norman, since Norman's status in the Hill family is what Claudia thinks she is to her own family, and Sarah is kind of the embodiment of what Claudia thinks Janine is. Claudia assumes that Janine is getting in a dig at her every time she uses a big word or talks about her studies; wouldn’t it piss Claudia off to see the kid who’s in favour actually acting like a hosebeast to the black sheep?
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying the Hills’ emotional abuse is the same as Claudia’s family dynamics. As this book goes on it becomes very clear that Suzanne Weyn thinks the Hills’ behaviour is a harmless little mistake by parents who mean well, rather than something that can and does do massive and long-lasting damage, and I find that more than a little disturbing (though not as disturbing as the J-dramas I’ve seen – yes, J-dramas, plural – where kids have thanked the offending parents or teacher for bullying and shaming them because it made them work harder and achieve more. I’ve also seen multiple shows telling bullied kids that they just need to harden up, which makes me breathless with rage.) But as Claudia feels like the black sheep in her own family, I would find it more likely that Sarah’s behaviour would push Claudia’s buttons rather than inspire sympathy in her as Suzanne Weyn is suggesting.
The little shits from Norman’s school have followed him home, taunting him and throwing snowballs at him. At the time I wrote my main draft of this snark, I was reading a book about the uproar and debate that ensued when a man slapped a kid who wasn’t his own. I wonder what these people would think about punching kids that aren’t your own, because, as a former bullied kid who was left with huge issues for over a decade afterward until I finally got therapy, that is what I would like to do right now. Instead of being sympathetic, Sarah gets in some bullying of her own when Norman reaches for some comfort eating materials.
Norman storms off to his room and doesn’t want to talk to Claudia. Dawn later narrates that he wasn't keen on the idea of having a different babysitter each time, and I think this may be why. Maybe the reason he wants the same babysitter all the time isn’t because he’s a Suppressive Person out to destroy the BSCult at its very foundation by causing a bloody death match at their next meeting (though that would be amazing. And you know all the neighbourhood kids would be cordially invited to watch, with some kind of educational event afterwards. They could call it the Diaper Games.) Anyway, it's probably actually so he can bond with his babysitter, so that when shit like this happens he’s got somebody he knows and trusts who he can go to, rather than some random stranger he’s only just met. He probably misses his nanna so bad right now. ;_; Especially as, once again, Claudia didn’t actually tell Sarah off for being a little bitch.
Claudia gives him space and then talks to him when he comes back for what may be comfort eating materials or, as I mentioned before, may just be sustenance. Is he not allowed a snack AT ALL between lunch at midday and dinner at eight?! Norman makes the accurate observation that his parents make his weight issues all about them. Claudia thinks they care about his health, and maybe they do, but they are sending the very clear message that he is behaving badly to them by not sticking to his diet, and they will not make the tiniest effort to help him with it or make it remotely achievable, because that’s just too much work. Norman tells Claudia that he eats his feelings and I smack my head repeatedly against a hard surface that either not one of these nutritionists tossed comfort eating out there or, more likely, they did point it out and the Hills just ignored them because again, helping him with that requires actual effort and also requires them to treat their son like a human being.
Claudia says “Maybe you wouldn’t feel sad if you lost some weight. You might feel happier if the kids didn’t pick on you and call you names.” I know exactly what the intention behind this was, as it’s in the same vein as the comments I got about standing up for myself, which I’ll talk more about in Chapter 12. Claudia wants Norman not to have to go through that crap, and since she can’t stop the bullies from bullying, she’s turning her attention to him and trying to come up with a way Norman can stop them. And since he’s already undergoing all this for his health, she probably just meant for it to be an extra incentive, like, not only will you be healthier, you won’t have to deal with that assholery either! The intentions are good, but the message is absolutely horrific. She’s reinforcing everything his shitty parents and bratty sister and asswipe classmates have been telling him, that he doesn’t deserve to be treated well because his body is the wrong shape. She’s telling him that the bullying is his fault and that he should bend over backwards to please people who are nasty to him just because he doesn’t fit their superficial standards (if you seriously think the kids at Norman’s school have a vested interest in his health, think about what those same kids will say in a few years – or perhaps even sooner – about drinking, smoking and doing drugs, which are also bad for your health.) Her comment also assumes that losing weight is easy, which is really hypocritical when you consider a) every single Chapter 2 ever written and b) at the beginning of this very chapter she says I wonder if I could stop [eating my weight in junk food every day] if I started to get fat. It probibly wouldn’t be easy. Even without the hypocrisy, it’s really insulting to assume that the reason Norman isn’t breaking out of his unhealthy patterns is because he just can’t be assed, rather than because it’s damn hard.
And you know, I don’t object to this line being in the book in and of itself. If it had been presented as an example of dumb shit people say a lot that’s well-intentioned but gives incredibly damaging messages, it would have been great. Maybe it would have educated some of the people who say the dumb shit so that kids who are bullied about their weight wouldn’t have it reinforced by adults quite so much. But it’s implied that Claudia was right to say it, and that makes me extremely angry.
Hot on the heels of that piece of bullshit, we get an even worse one that actually makes my brain BSOD for a moment. Norman tells Claudia that he has a friend at school and a pen pal and Claudia doesn’t believe him. You aren’t prepared to believe that ONE person likes this kid for who he is?! Fuck you, Claudia. Fuck you. And again, this isn’t portrayed as a bad thing. This book is actually saying that it is totally reasonable to assume that if a fat person says they have friends, they must be lying. FUCK YOU, SUZANNE WEYN.
Claudia has to eat her words when Norman’s supposedly imaginary friend calls the house and asks to speak to him. Norman totally calls Claudia out for the blatantly disbelieving face I imagine she was wearing, and I cheer.
Norman conveniently carries his notebook with him to the phone (I will not make a Romy and Michele joke. I will not) and conveniently drops the letter he’s written to his pen pal. It turns out he won’t send a picture to her because he’s afraid she’ll be like the little turds at his school who think fat kids are subhuman. He’s also created a fantasy life where he’s super-tough and beats up bullies who pick on “this kid at school. He’s a totally amazing kid, just slightly heavy.” And you guys, I DID THAT. Only in my head, but I did it. For years and years. I’ve since learned that it’s apparently not that uncommon and on the whole pretty healthy. It’s not good to pretend to be something you’re not in order to make people like you, but there’s nothing wrong with Norman having this world where he’s who he wants to be if that’s a way he can feel good about himself. It doesn’t solve anything, but it does make the interim more bearable, and the fantasies in and of themselves don’t hurt anybody. The fact that he’s lying to Brittany (who I keep picturing as Brittany the Chipette thanks to jadore_histoire) is bad - even if she doesn't find out or just get sick of hearing about how awesome "Norman" is (that letter looks REALLY braggy to somebody who isn't in the know), he's still duping her. But it’s the lying that's doing that, not the fantasies themselves.