Fat is Not The Apocalypse
Fat is not the apocalypse, nor one of the four horsemen, nor even a harbringer of any form of social doom.It is just fat.
I’ve been incubating this post for a while.
When I started this blog, I had the idea that it was going to be a personal development blog, and that I would research principles and qualities I wanted to develop in myself, try them out, and share what I’ve learned about making them stick, in the hopes of helping others in their journeys.
Naturally, losing weight was waaaaaay high up on the list of things to learn how to do, do well, and smugly congratulate myself on right here in this space.I planned to experiment with different diets, see which ones worked, blog about it, and turn myself into a superhuman superskinny fabulous person.
I envisioned graphs and charts and measuring progress. I even bought these things called ketostix that you pee on to see if your body is converting fat into energy.It basically tells you if you are starving yourself effectively enough to be robbing your fat stores instead of poaching from your muscles.Cool, yes?
Err, maybe not.
I may still do that.I totally reserve the right to do that.In fact, I bet you that if I did that, the traffic to this blog would soar, especially if I kept posting pictures of my fat ass, which always remains fat even when I am very thin.
In the five weeks between starting this blog and this very minute, I met and started actively flirting with Fat Acceptance.
Actually, Fat Acceptance and I are getting reacquainted. We met ten years ago in a workshop at a feminist collective. Two very large women explained Fat Acceptance, talked about their realities, showed us fat-positive images and magazines, and invited everyone in the room to share their feelings about fat acceptance.We did a round where everyone shared; tears were shed about feeling fat.
And then the FA women kicked our not-fat-enough asses. ‘Feeling fat’ is not the same as being fat.Fat is when you can’t get through the turnstiles at Shoppers Drug Mart.Fat is when strangers stop and stare or even worse insult you in public.Fat is when you lose the privilege of ‘feeling fat’.Fat Acceptance starts when you challenge the way the word ‘fat’ is used synonymously with ‘unattractive’ or basically any unappealing social quality (stinky, poor, lazy, unhealthy and on and on it goes).
So that was my introduction to Fat Acceptance.I got bitch-slapped (metaphorically) and told that I wasn’t fat enough and that I wasn’t getting it.Both things were true. Still, I got the seed of it: fat hatred is yet another form of discrimination. We humans are way too fucking creative when it comes to oppressing others. As a species, we really need to get a new hobby.
That was my pretty cursory understanding of Fat Acceptance. Kate Harding’s excellent blog, Shapely Prose, has a page that handily sums up Fat Acceptance in these ten cogent, bitchy and brilliant points:
1. Weight itself is not a health problem, except in the most extreme cases (i.e., being underweight or so fat you’re immobilized). In fact, fat people live longer than thin people and are more likely to survive cardiac events, and some studies have shown that fat can protect against “infections, cancer, lung disease, heart disease, osteoporosis, anemia, high blood pressure, rheumatoid arthritis and type 2 diabetes.” Yeah, you read that right: even the goddamned diabetes. Now, I’m not saying we should all go out and get fat for our health (which we wouldn’t be able to do anyway, because no one knows how to make a naturally thin person fat any more than they know how to make a naturally fat person thin; see point 4), but I’m definitely saying obesity research is turning up surprising information all the time — much of which goes ignored by the media — and people who give a damn about critical thinking would be foolish to accept the party line on fat. Just because you’ve heard over and over and over that fat! kills! doesn’t mean it’s true. It just means that people in this culture really love saying it.
2. Poor nutrition and a sedentary lifestyle do cause health problems, in people of all sizes. This is why it’s so fucking crucial to separate the concept of “obesity” from “eating crap and not exercising.” The two are simply not synonymous — not even close — and it’s not only incredibly offensive but dangerous for thin people to keep pretending that they are. There are thin people who eat crap and don’t exercise — and are thus putting their health at risk — and there are fat people who treat their bodies very well but remain fat. Really truly.
3. What’s more, those groups do not represent anomalies; no one has proven that fat people generally eat more or exercise less than thin people. Period. And believe me, they’ve tried. (Gina Kolata’s new book, Rethinking Thin, is an outstanding source for more on that point.)
4. Diets don’t work. No, really, not even if you don’t call them diets. If you want to tell me about how YOUR diet totally worked, do me a favor and wait until you’ve kept all the weight off for five years. Not one year, not four years, five years. And if you’ve kept it off for that long, congratulations. You’re literally a freak of nature.
5. Given that diets don’t work in the long-term for the vast, vast majority of people, even if obesity in and of itself were a health crisis, how the fuck would you propose we solve it?
6. Most fat people have already dieted repeatedly. And sadly, it’s likely that the dieting will cause them more health problems than the fat.
7. Human beings deserve to be treated with dignity and respect. Fat people are human beings.
8. Even fat people who are unhealthy still deserve dignity and respect. Still human beings. See how that works?
9. In any case, shaming teh fatties for being “unhealthy” doesn’t fucking help. If shame made people thin, there wouldn’t be a fat person in this country, trust me. I wish I could remember who said this, ’cause it’s one of my favorite quotes of all time: “You cannot hate people for their own good.”
10. If you scratch an article on the obesity! crisis! you will almost always find a press release from a company that’s developing a weight loss drug — or from a “research group” that’s funded by such companies.
This list gives me a sargasm. It is just that gooooood.
From this list, and from daily life, it seems to me that most people in my little world – or maybe the larger North American world – do not realize that one can be prejudiced against fat people, or even that such prejudice could be a problem.Most people think of fat as a medical condition rather than acknowledge that it is a social basis for discrimination.Fat jokes are ok; because you’re choosing to be fat, right?
Do you know anyone who can eat legions of crap, whole villages of processed food and the villagers themselves, all day, every day, and not gain weight?Someone who is just biologically programmed to be ridiculously thin?
Yeah, me too.In our family, we tend to marry those guys.It is just so fucking unfair.
So…since we all know skinny people who are unhealthy, who eat crap and do not gain weight, is it such a stretch to think that other people might be biologically programmed to be fat? Or is it a stretch to believe that even though a person is fat, they might also be healthy?
Or…dare I say it, that even if fat people are not healthy, that failing to be healthy is not a moral failing?That my health or the health of anyone else – skinny or fat – is kind of not even a little bit of your fucking business?
This line of thinking reminds me of Susan Sontag’s book “Illness as a Metaphor”.She wrote it after being diagnosed with cancer, when it suddenly became apparent to her that there was some sort of weird cultural group-think that implies that you bring illness on yourself.That illness can be battled with the power of positive thinking (Sontag chose chemo, instead).That illness happens to other (inferior) people and that you are somehow superior because it hasn’t (yet) smote you.That illness or poor health is a moral failing.
The medicalization of our cultural discussion of fat – as Kate Harding calls it The! Obesity! Crisis! – is an extreme version of this kind of thinking.Fat is an illness, and illness is a moral failing.If you are fat, you have failed.You could do better.You could diet and be thin, even if only temporarily, because 95% of people who lose weight gain it back within five years.But dammit, you could do it.You could be more socially acceptable and then none of us would have to worry or do anything about or combat fat prejudice.It is your fault you’re fat.Could you just get thin already?
Back to our unhealthy skinny friends – well they kind of show the problem with the thin = healthy equation, don’t they?Umm, so maybe the fat = unhealthy equation might also be problematic?Maybe?
I humbly suggest that many fat people are eating well, exercising, thinking happy-unicorn thoughts and, despite the ‘extra’ weight they are carrying around, their blood sugar isn’t spiking and that their arteries are not plotting an early heart attack.
I am not necessarily one of ‘those’ people, one of the irreproachable fat folk, but I don’t think it is rare.I do know that I don’t eat much differently than most people I know, and that most of the people I know are not fat.
My point is this: fat might not be a choice.And even if it was a choice, fat is not a moral failing.And even it was a moral failing, fat is not a legitimate basis for social discrimination. And we should all just fucking stop it.
Fat jokes are oppressing people. Seriously.It is causing pain. It forces people to live with self-loathing.It is letting people think it is ok not to hire a fat person (I am not even kidding; this really happens).It reinforces the idea that fat equals unattractive, unworthy, untouchable.
And it is not just the fat jokes.It is the ‘for your health’ stuff.Every time you say “but fat is unhealthy” or cite Type II Diabetes statistics or the dismal health risks of fat, I want you to do that while looking in the mirror.Do you eat as healthily as physically possible?Are you a paragon of health?Are your eating and exercise habits beyond reproach?Are you absolutely, completely, totally positive that you don’t possess even a shred of bigotry?Are you totally sure that you’re not saying these things just to feel superior to the fatties?
If the answers to all of these questions is yes, then I can tell you two things with absolute authority:
- You are an advanced life form who knows better than to contribute to the marginalization of others; and if this true, you also know how to
- keep your mouth shut, and actively ally yourself to the cause of the underdog – in this case, here, the fat dog.
Be nice to fat people.
That’s my point, pretty much.I certainly don’t think you have to go out and date or marry fatties if that’s not your thing.I do think you need to help society break down the fat = any socially unattractive quality equation, starting with yourself and the way you use the word ‘fat’.
One way to do this is just to treat fat as a simple adjective.Let fat refer to lots of adipose tissue, and nothing else.Not lazy, not ugly, not unworthy, and so on and so on.Use it without prejudice, when you’re using it literally.And stop using it perjoratively.
And try, like the brilliant Miz Kate advises in her list above, not to believe the hype.Read the obesity crisis studies critically.Look for who sponsored the research – a drug company?A weight loss company?Read them against the other research that suggests that there are genetic weight set-points, that height and weight are genetically determined, that dieting is not a sustainable solution to permanent weight loss, that dieting can actually cause weight GAIN…and then draw your own educated, complex, nuanced conclusions.
Then, please, please, please stop equating thin with healthy and fat with unhealthy.We all know there is so much more to the story than that.
Finally, love yourself.Accept yourself, thin or fat and accept others, thin or fat.And then let’s get on with living happily, thinly, fatly ever after.
And oh yes, as you might have guessed, this is not The End.See you next Fat Friday.