Obesity is growing among children in the United States. Recent studies find that one-in-three children or adolescents are overweight, and among those, 15 percent are obese. Stephanie Klein – a popular blogger who chronicles her life on the Internet – was one of them.
You'd never know that Stephanie Klein was a fat kid. But the 32-year old mother with a shapely body and a mane of curly red hair was an obese teen. In school, boys called her Moose. Klein says her weight made her life miserable. "I allowed my weight to color all of my experiences, everything from going to the synagogue on a holy day to all of the great times I should have been having, like diving off the high board for the first time and having my weight color the experience in a negative way and how much it impacted my joy as a child."
On this day Klein is at a shopping mall in Rockville, Maryland. She stops at Torrid, a fashionable clothing store for heavy or "plus-size" women, to publicize her new book. She says Moose is a deeply personal, often-painful memoir of a summer at "fat camp" for overweight kids just like her. "Children were sent [there] by their parents to work out, to do slimnastics class, run, exercise and very limited [food] portions. Every piece of food and calorie was counted by someone else."
Klein says it was at fat camp she first learned to be herself. "You got the opportunity to be the [soccer] forward and the star of the game, and it did boost your self confidence and [make you] realize that you can make goals for yourself and reach them." Plus she says, she had a lot of fun. "For the first time ever, I was getting boyfriends."
At fat camp, Klein gained self-confidence, and lost weight. She began writing diaries as a kid, excerpts of which she includes in Moose. Several years ago she began to chronicle her daily life in what has become one of the most popular blogs on the Internet.
While she knows her fat days are over, Klein says she cannot let go of the overweight girl inside her. "My emotions will always feel like Moose, but my intellect is smart enough to tell me that is not who I am anymore."
She says it doesn't really matter what size she ends up being. "As an adult you do have the insight of saying who I was and who they told me I was, isn't necessarily who I was and it certainly not who I have to be anymore."
That's the lesson from five summers at fat camp and the advice Klein freely dispenses as she signs books for eager fans. She says she is determined not to repeat her parents' mistakes with her children. "Kids do not need to hear from their parents that they have a weight problem. They know. Emphasize your children's strengths and talents and let them know that they can be extraordinary people."
Klein suggests that parents focus on fairness over calories. "When my daughter wants tons more sweets, it is not going to be, 'You are going to be fat if you eat that, it is, 'Hey we all have [only] one!'"
Klein promotes a healthy lifestyle and a positive outlook on life. "Be proud of who you are because one day you are going to look back at this time in your life and you are going to be frustrated if you let your weight be a deterrent to anything you want to do or achieve in life."
She knows from experience that adopting this mindset can be really hard. "I know it can be challenging, but it will make you a better person, that is for sure."
That message resonates with Kylie Gilliams, a 21-year old college student looking for her summer wardrobe at Torrid, where Klein is signing books. Gilliams shops here because the store has clothes that flatter her curvy body. "I got some nice stuff, some really nice stuff."
Wearing a broad smile, Gilliams leaves Torrid with a new dress, capri jeans, a halter-top and a bathing suit. She also picks up some summer reading – a signed copy of Stephanie Klein's new book, Moose: A Memoir of Fat Camp.