by Kathryn Gehred
If you listen to NPR, or watch the news, you’ve probably heard of the Obesity Epidemic currently plaguing the United States. You know the news stories, the ones where they surreptitiously film fat people walking down the street and play ominous music, but it’s OK because they never show the people’s faces.
“Four out of 10 people in Holmes County are obese. And you see it all around — large kids lumbering to get on the school bus, patients spilling over their seats in the doctor’s waiting room.”
And here is a quote from Jack Shonkoff, MD, the Director of Harvard University’s Center on the Developing Child, from HBO’s 4-part documentary The Weight of the Nation:
“What makes me frustrated, bordering on angry, is that this is preventable. It’s not, this is not one of those unfortunate acts of nature that we just have to accept as reality. This is not the product of a tsunami.” –Jack Shonkoff, MD.
Our first lady even has something to say. Here’s a quote from Michelle Obama at the launch of Lets Move!, her anti-obesity campaign.
“The physical and emotional health of an entire generation and the economic health and security of our nation is at stake.”
Phew, that sounds pretty bad, right? And those are some respectable sources.
That was just the First Lady of the United States, though. Here’s the two cents of some random guy with an email account.
“Surely you don’t consider yourself a suitable example for this community’s young people, girls in particular. Obesity is one of the worst choices a person can make and one of the most dangerous habits to maintain. I leave you this note hoping that you’ll reconsider your responsibility as a local public personality to present and promote a healthy lifestyle.”
That gem of wisdom was sent via email to CBS WKBT News. The woman addressed, news anchor Jennifer Livingston, decided to respond publicly to what she called bullying.
America’s fight against obesity has framed itself in terms of health and economics. Obesity is linked with diabetes, heart disease, and other health problems that cost the government trillions of dollars. This is why the government suddenly cares what size you are.
But if all of this is so serious and well meaning, why does the tone feel so similar to Cosmo’s tips for a great bikini body, or those badly animated sidebar ads that shout “this one trick will shed belly fat!”?
The language of the “War on Obesity” and the ramblings on a pro-anorexia website share a message. Fat is bad, thin is good. NPR might be pretending to care about our health, but it didn’t stop that reporter from getting grossed out by those “lumbering” kids.
We need to stop pretending that caring about the health of fat people and deep cultural stigmas attached to obesity can be separated. Telling someone that they are an “epidemic” and a “problem” that needs to be solved inspires weight loss about as effectively as shouting “THAR SHE BLOWS” at someone from the window of a moving car.
Let’s look at this from the perspective of a fat person. On the one side, you have people who don’t find you attractive bullying you because they are sociopaths. On the other side, you have people who claim to want to get you healthy saying that with a few simple lifestyle changes you can be less of a drain on society. The fashion industry won’t carry clothes in your size because they don’t want people like you to be associated with them. People half your size are being obliterated on TV for “letting themselves go”. Some dude on the internet thinks that you’re lucky to get raped.
You sort of end up with two options from all this: you either hate yourself (which is not a condition that really promotes weight loss, let me tell you) or you just tell everyone to go to hell.
And thus I introduce you to the fat positivity movement.
There are a number of bloggers, activists, and organizations who are currently trying to fight back in the war on obesity.
They argue, in a variety of ways, that getting fat people to lose weight is not the issue. The real goal is to change the way our culture looks at food, beauty, fashion, and health. Maybe this will lead to people losing weight, maybe it won’t. The point is that the problem is complex.
Being fat does not necessarily mean that someone is unhealthy, and we need to stop assuming that it does. Sometimes the process of losing all that weight is worse for the body than just keeping the weight on.
The “fat = bad”, “thin = good” mentality is so deeply ingrained in our culture that fighting against it seems almost impossible. However, a number of health care professionals and fat activists are doing just that.
I am not an expert on fat acceptance, fat positivity, and health at every size. Everything that I’d like to say has already been said by other people, and much more eloquently than I could ever have put it. I’m going to link you to some other blogs which might serve you better.
Feeling unattractive? Want some positive affirmation about the way you look? Check out these body positive blogs.
That’s all well and good, you might be thinking, but do you have anything that goes a bit deeper than whether or not I’m attractive?
But I’m getting ahead of myself. You might be reeling at the thought that fat could possibly be good in any way shape or form. If at any point you just thought BUT THESE PEOPLE ARE UNHEALTHY! Her poor joints! Please go here.
You mad? You want more activism?
This all seems pretty white and straight to me you may justifiably be concluding. BOOM!
And just for giggles, one of my favorite youtube videos of all time:
I hope you enjoy these blogs and they lead you to further exploration of the movement on your own.