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Fat fat fat fat fat fat fat. Does that word make you uncomfortable? If you are like, oh, 95% of women and probably something like 80% of men, I'm going to guess YES IT DOES. WHY?
For pretty much all of my life I've been described as "fat", "heavy", "chunky", "pudgy", "chubby", "plump" (well not really, that word is just fun to say), a "big girl", an "amazon", and loads and loads of other things. They're not all entirely negative (For instance, Amazon to me says powerful. Or a book seller.), but they're not exactly positive either. All it takes is one comment that wasn't thought through or was taken out of context and the hurting begins.
It seems like lately fat is everywhere.
Today my sister sent me this article from Health Day because she thought the headline was pretty funny. But it says that the bigger people are, the faster they lose brain tissue. I don't know what the point of the article is really, except to put another scary spin on how awful your life will be if you are fat with your increased chances for type 2 diabetes, heart disease, cancer, and now dementia.
PETA, in their infinite wisdom, put up this incredibly offensive ad in Florida. Read the article. It says what I want to say. Then they took that ad down and put up this one, which is just even more infuriating and smug. I never did like PETA anyway.
The thing is, and even the Healthy Day article says it, 66% of adult Americans are overweight or obese. 2 out of 3. Think about that for a minute, because this other article from Newsweek (a really really good one) has something to say about that. The labels of lazy, undisciplined, lacking willpower, and disgusting are used (as quotes, the author isn't saying that) to describe the overweight nominee for surgeon general (and I don't know about you, but 4 out of my 5 doctors are overweight), and past presidents, and others. What is the DEAL with this? Why the negativity and hatred? In general people aren't allowed to bash others on the basis of age or race or sex or sexual orientation or a slew of other defining attributes, but fat is still okay to hate. Is it really, as the Newsweek article points out, that:
Fatness has always been seen as a slight on the American character. Ours is a nation that values hard work and discipline, and it's hard for us to accept that weight could be not just a struggle of will, even when the bulk of the research—and often our own personal experience—shows that the factors leading to weight gain are much more than just simple gluttony. "There's this general perception that weight can be controlled if you have enough willpower, that it's just about calories in and calories out," says Dr. Glen Gaesser, professor of exercise and wellness at Arizona State University and author of BigFat Lies: The Truth About Your Weight and Your Health, and that perception leads the nonfat to believe that the overweight are not just unhealthy, but weak and lazy. Even though research suggests that there is a genetic propensity for obesity, and even though some obese people are technically healthier than their skinnier counterparts, the perception remains "[that] it's a failure to control ourselves. It violates everything we have learned about self control from a very young age," says Gaesser.
It goes on to say:
So why don't we have more compassion for people struggling to lose the first 50, 60, or 100? Some of it has to do with the psychological phenomenon known as the fundamental attribution error, a basic belief that whatever problems befall us personally are the result of difficult circumstances, while the same problems in other people are the result of their bad choices. Miss a goal at work? It's because the vendor was unreliable, and because your manager isn't giving you enough support, and because the power outage last week cut into premium sales time. That jerk next to you? He blew his quota because he's a bad planner, and because he spent too much time taking personal calls.
I think that sums things up really nicely. When you see a person who is overweight are you reminded of your own shortcomings (or large-comings) and feel so guilty and ashamed that you can't even be civil? Is it a form self-hatred to lash out at those who share the traits you like least about yourself? Is it really about losing control? We are a society filled with control freaks.
I was a little late to this party, but there was a picture of a woman in Glamour that has caused quite a stir. Go look at the picture. Shoo! Go go! Okay, I'm glad your back. Isn't she gorgeous? Well with all the hoopla going on about this photo you would think that she's a goddess sent down to earth from heaven. Women are celebrating in the streets, aside from a few haters. This woman is technically a plus sized model (at a size 12, puh-lease), and she's beautiful. She looks healthy instead of emaciated. She has some flesh on her bones instead of just bones. She looks, well, normal. (Although there is no way in hell that anyone could ever call her fat for having a stomach "roll" when she sits down.) People are really REALLY riled up over this, the comments get pretty catty. Why?
Because people aren't comfortable with their bodies. I read somewhere (An old Susan Powter book maybe? Don't laugh!) that a woman who is 120 lbs and feels fat and a woman who is 220 lbs and feels fat are feeling the same things. It doesn't matter if you are "technically" obese or overweight or underweight or normal. If you feel like your body is too big (or too small) you are going to feel it just as passionately if you need (or want) to lose 10 lbs or 100. You'll feel like things are out of control and you'll be frustrated and going through the same emotions at any weight, no matter what weight, if you are not comfortable.
Bodies are tough to deal with. We are stuck with them, good or bad, because they are us. There is such a disconnect there. You can get out of a bad marriage or a bad job. You can really control external factors. But it takes a lot of work to change bodies and minds and habits and ideas. And the notion of being IN CONTROL vs OUT OF CONTROL seems to be an all or nothing prospect. Either we have everything totally in check (diet diet diet, abstain abstain abstain) or we're going crazy (binge eat, binge drink, where is my cocaine again?), and the only way to really find the middle of the road is to get to the dreaded "lifestyle change".
Boy is that rough, right? I myself have been going through a major lifestyle change over the last few months, and it is HARD. It is the hardest thing to do. If dieting or lifestyle adjusting or reducing or whatever you want to call it was just a matter of science, things would be EASY. But it isn't, is it? There are so many psychological factors tied up in self esteem and self confidence and body image and weight, like fear and insecurity and shame and guilt and anger and sadness and loneliness and a whole host of similar words that make your stomach drop. Stress, hormones, comfort any way you can get it (drugs, alcohol, food, sex) will all screw with your head. I'm not saying that this makes you fat, but it sure can't help the brain chemicals and body functions that are involved in the process. And don't even get me started on the genetic components. The odds are not good if you have overweight parents.
I was very angry earlier this week, and it was all tied to body image. And I was ready to sit down with a gallon of mint chocolate chip ice cream and eat my feelings. Instead I went to the gym and channeled some rage. This is maybe the 8th time in 3 months that I've been in that place and have replaced eating with another activity. And I am proud of myself for that because it is all part of the "LIFESTYLE CHANGE" that everyone talks about like it's just a matter of replacing a burger with a grilled chicken breast and skipping right along like nothing has changed.
It all changes. It all can change. And we don't have to hate people who have a body that is different from what is "average" or "normal". ("Skinny bitch" and "Fat cow" really aren't helping anybody.) Why do other people think it is okay to be mean to somebody, anybody, who is different from them (or not even different from them, but different from what is "acceptable") for any reason? This attitude has to change. The majority of Americans are fat anyway, so let's stop hating ourselves so that we can stop hating others. I know, it sounds so zen. But seriously if we don't stir up a little compassion now, how will there be any compassion for anyone later?
PS For those who like to hide behind the excuse that you are "concerned about the health risks of being overweight" I am calling bullshit right now. Being unhealthy is not something you can judge at a glance. Some people are overweight and workout every day and eat healthy foods and genetically things look good. They have none of the risk factors that are often associated with carrying extra pounds. Some people are thin and don't take care of themselves, but their bodies process fat better so they look healthy on the outside. And only a person (at any weight) and their doctor will know if they are overweight and unhealthy or overweight and perfectly healthy. So, before you start whining about health care and taxes and taking care of people who could "do something about it" remember that there are lots of people out there who are bigger than you and also healthier than you. There are lots of things your tax dollars go to. Quit being so callous.
8/27/09 I had to edit this post - last night I wasn't so on the ball with the proof reading and I had listed 66% as being 1 in 3. CRINGE! Nice going Heather!