Valerie Bertinelli remembers being fat shamed by her teacher in 5th grade


As we discussed yesterday, Valerie Bertinelli is on the cover of People. Valerie turned 60 on April 23. For anyone who doesn’t know, Valerie landed her breakout role of Barbara Cooper on One Day at a Time at the age of 15. It seemed that from that moment forward, all eyes were on her, scrutinizing her journey into adulthood and pinup and later a rock star’s girlfriend/wife. Only according to Valerie, that scrutiny started much earlier, and it was brutal. Valerie told People that when she was in 5th grade, her teacher fat-shamed her.

As Valerie Bertinelli approached her 60th birthday this April, she knew it was time for a change. But not one focused on her weight, something she had struggled with for decades. This time, she knew it was time to look inside.

“Gaining weight, losing weight, gaining weight, losing weight,” she tells PEOPLE. “I’d never dealt with the any of the emotions.”

It’s a topic the TV star and host of Valerie’s Home Cooking on the Food Network explores in this week’s PEOPLE, as she opens up about her search for self acceptance, one that comes from a new and kinder place.

“I was always trying to be better. Thinner. Nicer. Prettier,” she says.

“I remember my fifth grade teacher patted me on the belly and said, ‘You might want to keep an eye on that,’ ” she recalls. “That was the first time I became really aware of my body.”

“My mom had made me these green hot pants with a bib. I was wearing green tights and a turtleneck. I thought I was stylin,'” she adds with a laugh.

“Now I think: ‘how dare he?’ ” she says. “At that age we’re so full of joy and then to have someone slap you for nothing. For just standing there. Now I can be angry for that little girl. It feels like so much time wasted. I don’t want anyone else to waste any time.”

[From People]

“At that age we’re so full of joy and then to have someone slap you for nothing.” Did anyone else’s stomach just clench? I can remember exactly where I was standing and what I was wearing when a relative told me I’d better start learning how to suck in my stomach. I, too, was in fifth grade. I’d had kids draw me as a blimp and tease me about my weight prior, and it hurt, but somehow I was able to process their actions as just mean. But when an adult, an authority figure, said something, it became truth and I became truly flawed. At least I was just a kid in public school, poor Valerie had to face the analysis of the whole country, not to mention all the Hollywood people who constantly suggested she lose a few pounds or drop a dress size. Then, at age 20, she meets and marries Eddie Van Halen. Eddie wasn’t just some guitarist in a band, he was a Rock. God. Not only insanely talented, we found him so flipping hot. Everyone wanted Eddie and they were sure as hell going to rip whomever he was with apart.

The People article on Valerie has a lot more depth than I expected. Valerie told a tragic story about an older brother who died before she was born. Her parents hid this fact from her because they didn’t know how to process it. Plus, Valerie was so young when she had to deal with the destruction her on-air sister and real-life mentor, Mackenzie Phillips, was causing with her drug issues (and her own tragic family life). Not to mention Valerie’s own struggle with drugs (she used cocaine to stay thin). The more I read, the more impressed I am that Valerie is not only delving so far into these issues but willing to share them with us. I hope Valerie finds the peace and joy she’s looking for. She’s earned it.

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30 Responses to “Valerie Bertinelli remembers being fat shamed by her teacher in 5th grade”

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  1. Esmom says:

    Reading about what her teacher said and did and hearing Hecate’s similar experience makes my stomach hurt. People who toss these awful remarks out have no idea that they are setting up their targets for a lifetime of pain. Or maybe they do. I’m enraged. I also wish her — and everyone whose souls were crushed by callous and cruel comments — peace.

    • whatWHAT? says:

      I was older than Valerie the first time someone commented on my body. 14, and I had just gotten my period for the first time at the beginning of the summer, and overnight (it seemed) my boobs went to a Dcup and I was much curvier than I had been the last time my (male) cousin saw me. NOT heavier, just clearly more “womanly” because of puberty.

      and I can’t even remember what exactly it was he said, but it was along the lines of “someone’s put on some weight!”. I still remember how I felt, and that was more than 30 years ago.

      people suck.

    • Meg says:

      So many of us have these stories. How old are are you in the 5th grade? Even at that age this guy thought a young girl was there to look cute for him. Controlling and gross

  2. Miss Margo says:

    I remember I was I think 11 or 12 and a female doctor told me I had fat thighs and tapped them to make them jiggle. I had actually forgotten about that until I read this. Wow. What a d!CK. Took awhile but I am now finally kind to myself. Understand that I don’t have to fit into these beauty standards and that my body is beautiful. We just have to be nice to ourselves, because there’s no guarantee that others will be.

  3. Jerusha says:

    It was third grade and first thing we did every morning was stand and sing My Country Tis of Thee. One morning the teacher approached me, leaned over and told me to just mouth the words and don’t sing out loud. That was almost 70 years ago and I’ve never sung since, not even in the shower or car. I’ve always hated my voice.
    I was a high school librarian for forty years and my experience taught me to be very careful what I said to students, even in a joking way.

    • Laalaa says:

      Omg, I’m so sorry! I hope you start singing again, please! Singing is a great outlet, I’ve seen peoples’ lives change when they start to let their voices out. (I work as a choir director)
      If you need encouragement, here it is! 🙂

    • Ellen Olenska says:

      Jerusha…my dad was told something similar back in the 1930’s…he was told “ some people are meant to be listeners“ and told to go sit under the piano during school concerts. He later fought in WW2 and fortunately never once told his children just to be listeners…do go sing, even if only to the plants…don’t let one self aggrandizing person steal any part of you.

    • L says:

      Sing! I bet your voice is fine and if it’s out of tune, who cares???? It’s not something to be ashamed of. It’s like that quote, “the woods would be quiet if no bird sang but the one who sang best”. Henry van dyke.

      I remember in grade 5 my teacher – who was rotten to the core btw – snorted that I didn’t lose any weight doing a two day famine/charity thing. It annoyed me but it didn’t impact me, aside from the realisation that SHE had issues she tried to pass onto a bunch of children.

  4. NotSoSocialButterfly says:

    My goodness, her skin is amazing.

  5. Rachel says:

    I cant figure out why she is on a Food show. Shes not any kind of chef.

    • MsIam says:

      Uh, her show is called “Valerie’s Home Cooking”. She’s not pretending to be a chef, just showing recipes you can make without any special training. Not hard to understand really.

  6. Spicecake38 says:

    I was overweight from a very young age and was told at home and at school in no uncertain terms that I was too fat,I asked for ballet and gymnastics lessons,my grandmother said I was too big. I was placed on so many diets-weigh ins at the doctor (weekly)beginning at around age 5.
    I was an actual living joke at family reunions,like a side show,it was humiliating.
    Children drew pictures of me and had names for me-teachers new,nobody did a thing.
    As I entered my early teens the weight started to drop off naturally,but I’ve struggled with shame related to the number on the scale or the size tag sewn into my clothing.
    I will never not carry this around in some form,all I can do is teach my daughter to love herself exactly as she is.
    I hope this ridiculous treatment of women and girls ends.

    • Phat girl says:

      I was only seven when a judgmental woman who was helping my mom with children’s church made a comment about my belly. My mom (who had emotional issues of her own) was so embarrassed she said the doctor thought it might be a tumor so the woman would feel sorry for me instead of acting like she was a bad mom for apparently over feeding me. I’m 51 and I still tear up just thinking about the shame I felt at that moment. To this day I still can’t take a compliment because after that comment I became invisible. I only allowed myself to be judged when it was related to me being smart or talented or hard working, but never pretty. I’ve gotten past it by now but always think about what could have been had I any self esteem as a girl.

      • Spicecake38 says:

        I’m sorry that you endured that treatment,and I’m telling you sight un seen -YOU are beautiful,accept it even if it’s hard believe it ,because in truth we are all beautiful.

  7. LaUnicaAngelina says:

    I remember being in about 2nd or 3rd grade when our teacher gave us all a pinch body fat test. I don’t remember the number but mine was bigger than the other kids and felt embarrassed when the number was called out. I was a scrawny, active little girl but it still messed with me. You’re right about the impact it has when it comes from an adult.

    I’ve always liked Valerie. She is beautiful and has such warm, kind eyes. I’m so angry for her.

  8. manda says:

    I was like 6 or 7. It was the summer after first grade and my mom had bought me a bunch of summer outfits, including one that was like a tube top or something. I can’t really remember but it was too small and it also was belly-bearing, and my dad made a comment about my belly. I’m 43 and literally it was just last summer that I felt kind of ok showing my bare stomach. Thanks, dad! (I love my dad though. My whole family has body issues. It’s a family affair….)

  9. paddingtonjr says:

    Sadly, for many generations, it seems “fat-shaming” has been an accepted form of abuse. Growing up in the South, commenting on weight was seemingly encouraged, with perfect strangers feeling it appropriate to come up to me and say (starting when I still in grade school) “you have a beautiful face, you’d be real pretty if you lost a few pounds.” When buying a dress for a sorority formal, the saleswoman suggested taking diet pills so the dress would hang right. Luckily, society’s views seem to be changing and people are moving towards being healthy rather than weight.

    I have always liked Valerie and she and Eddie were my first celebrity couple crush. After reading her first autobiography and hearing stories about how difficult Eddie could be, as many talented geniuses are, I admire them for quietly divorcing and not making it messy while remaining friendly, even attending each other’s second weddings. I hope Valerie realizes how much of an inspiration she has been since “One Day at a Time” and has found happiness in her life.

  10. Turtledove says:

    I have a 10 year old daughter and I am not looking forward to navigating this aspect of life. But god forbid a relative, stranger or teacher ever body shame her in *any* way, they will live to regret it deeply. Your stories all break my heart. Prior to my breast reduction surgery, I was VERY busty. And I developed early. I was nearly 40 when I got the surgery so I have dealt with unwanted comments from the minute my boobs arrived in 4th grade. The comments changed depending on my age, but were never easy to deal with.

  11. Jaded says:

    I can relate – I was having some stomach problems when I was around 11 so my mum took me to the doctor. The first thing he said was “you should lose some weight”. Turns out I had some sort of pelvic inflammation that was causing the swollen belly. I hated that man from then on.

  12. Sumodo1 says:

    I am a Valerie Bertinelli stan. She was on TV at a time when most of us only had 4 channels and the only TV set was in the family room. Her life, her struggles, her career, her divorce–lots of parallels for many of us who are around her age. I’m happy for Valerie. Weight fluctuates, but happiness should be a constant.

  13. Doodle says:

    In the second grade, I was walking home from school. A neighbor from across the street yelled my name. As I turned to look at her, she shouted “You’re getting fat!” In that moment, my world changed. I became someone who felt shame about herself. And over the years, other people felt free to comment on my body, including my uncle, who called me “fat girl.”
    Surprisingly enough, when I look back on photos, I wasn’t fat. Just a sturdy little girl. But I believed what I heard from others.
    Just like Valerie, I have struggled with my weight. I’m 65 now, and am just so tired of it. I’m a great person with a kind and loving heart, but my one failure in life is that I’ve never attained that trim body.

    • Mara says:

      That’s a terrible story but so glad you are now confident and self-accepting

  14. GB says:

    When I was thirteen I stepped on the scale and my mom said, “126! You better watch it!” It was a totally normal weight for my height (5’4″). I went on a “diet” of a hardboiled egg a day and lost 30 pounds in a month. Everyone praised me, but my science teacher said, “Let’s see if you can keep it off,” which lead to years of starvation/binge cycles.

    Diet culture sucks.

  15. Egla says:

    Well, I always was a little, “ugly”, skinny child. My struggle was that my parents were tall and chubby especially my mother so people would comment “2 bulls birthed a mouse”. There was a lot of concern trolling about my health so 2-3 times a year my parents would had me checked by the family doctor. He was an old and nice man and he was the only adult who found me perfectly healthy and in no need to gain any weight. I was a very energetic, alert and smart child for my age and he noticed that. He would advice for my parents piece of mind to make me eat red meat and drink diluted wine for dinner…I was 6 when he first suggested it lol. We still laugh as a family at 39 and I still don’t drink wine.
    But I have been called ugly all my life especially as the rest of my immediate and extended family was and is tall and beautiful (models in the family). It stays with me as I am aware how I look and all my flaws,real and perceived, and makes me back off flirting when I am with other females as deep inside me I feel like guys will never go after me when they have “better” choices.
    My life has been ok. There have been people who have liked and loved me regardless but that litte thing at the back of my mind….

    • dreamchild says:

      @egla I’m going to guess that you are not at all ugly, you just internalized those comments and in a family of tall people you just compare yourself to them. I am sure you are beautiful and I bet there are plenty people who tell you so you just don’t hear them.

      My niece was a young (13) teenage brown curvy girl going to a private school with a bunch of skinny white girls. Apparently they teased her and called her fat. My son, her cousin, was visiting when she called herself fat. He looked at her incredulously and said you are not fat you’re thick and that’s how we like them in the dirty South! Changed her whole perspective. Unfortunately it took a boy to tell her that but I’ll take it. Also, most black girls in the south totally have no problem with their curves. Go figure.

  16. L says:

    Holy f. Reading thru the comments, you can really see how even one-off derogatory comments have left scars that last a lifetime.

    Makes you realise just how damaging emotional abuse is… 🙁 I wish everyone here remembers their value, power and beauty. And, don’t repeat this pattern to younger generations.

  17. gemcat says:

    I had to have this long..and serious, conversation with my ex partner when he mentioned our daughter’s prepubescent weight gain to me (luckily never to her).

    She had always been really skinny up to that point, and after that as well, but for a about a year or so she grew some curves and added on some weight before she shot off in height. I was so furious with him and in no uncertain terms said that he can never ever EVER comment on our daughter’s weight gain, loss, her boobs/curves or anything that has to do with her body without first at least taking some time to consider what those types of comments can lead to and/or first discussing it with another woman (if not with me).

    I got so mad, and he was all stunned and of course “had no idea why” 🙄

    • Jaded says:

      Your daughter sounds like me when I was her age – I was short and skinny for a long time, then around 12 years old I suddenly gained weight without the height. I also had a pelvic inflammation that caused a swollen abdomen. God knows what caused it, who knew in 1963, so our idiot family doctor just said “Oh, you’re just getting ready to start your period and by the way, you’re getting a little pudgy so lose some weight”. I was mortified. A year later I gained 4 inches in height over one summer and everything evened out but I’ll NEVER forget that comment. I was only 12 FFS…thank you for straightening out your ex before he could say anything damaging.