Monday, February 9, 2009

Weight, Honesty and Obesity in the USA

This post was prompted by a blog post my friend Sara wrote on MySpace, which was in itself inspired by this post from Kate Harding over on Since weight, health, diet are all of interest to me, I wanted to share this and get your thoughts.

I'll start with an excerpt from Kate Harding:

I was once standing on the street talking to a business contact I hoped to impress, when a homeless man came up and asked us for change. The man I hoped to impress said he didn't have any, and the homeless guy spat, "Oh, fine, you just keep talking to the fat girl, then!" Which meant the business contact spent the next five minutes sputtering about how that guy was crazy and I shouldn't think anything of it, while my face flamed and I stammered, "It's ... OK, really, it's ... please ... it's fine." So much for the awesome professional image I was hoping to project.

I may not be as big as some of my friends and family members, and I may not be the size most people mentally associate with the word obese, but I am bloody well fat, and I have been most of the time since college. The homeless man might have been crazy, but he wasn't wrong. The friends who kept insisting "You're not fat!" were the ones out of touch with the truth.

But then the truth was never really the point. Thin women don't tell their fat friends "You're not fat" because they're confused about the dictionary definition of the word, or their eyes are broken, or they were raised on planets where size 24 is the average for women. They don't say it because it's the truth. They say it because fat does not mean just fat in this culture. It can also mean any or all of the following:

  • Ugly
  • Unhealthy
  • Smelly
  • Lazy
  • Ignorant
  • Undisciplined
  • Unlovable
  • Burdensome
  • Embarrassing
  • Unfashionable
  • Mean
  • Angry
  • Socially inept
  • Just plain icky

So when they say "You're not fat," what they really mean is "You're not a dozen nasty things I associate with the word fat." The size of your body is not what's in question; a tape measure or a mirror could solve that dispute. What's in question is your goodness, your lovability, your intelligence, your kindness, your attractiveness. And your friends, not surprisingly, are inclined to believe you get high marks in all those categories. Ergo, you couldn't possibly be fat.

Such great stuff! Here's my friend Sara's response:
In a world so obsessed with appearance, it is any wonder that FAT has become an f-word in it's own right?

Everywhere, we are bombarded by images that tell us that being stick thin is desirable and necessary. That you are somehow unhealthy if your rib cage isn't visible. Or, heaven forbid, your thighs touch.

For millenia, it wasn't the uber skinny that was desirable. It's a survival of the fittest thing. Men wanted women that look like they could have sex...and children...and not break under the weight. Just looking at art, the women most often painted didn't have flat stomachs or chicken legs-they are round, curvy, soft. A woman should have curves. Other cultures accept that. And seem to enjoy it. A recent case in point, who else heard that Guy Ritchie said Madonna was like "cuddling a piece of gristle?" Raise your hand if that sounds sexy to you!

Marilyn Monroe

It is incomprehensible that the more society idolizes skeletal skinniness, the fatter it gets.
Americans in particular. It is so sad that so many are obese. Or at least on a BMI scale. Which means results will vary WILDLY person to person. For example, after my little fall I gained 30 pounds. Thirty! And while I felt larger than I had before, no one would have called me obese. But for my height not only was I obese, I was morbidly obese.

Walking with a cane for six months does not bode well for your belly. After some serious calorie cutting, as much exercise as I could actually handle, and I've lost those thirty pounds. But when I tell people I work with (no offense) that I have another 50lbs to lose to even be within 10 lbs. of my ideal BMI (and even that is still considered overweight), and they reply with the patented "You're not fat, you don't need to lose any more weight," I want to scream a little. I'm not skinny. I don't pretend to be. I've become almost comfortable with my belleh and my boobs only get in the way *cough* most of the time. But, to me, it's fairly obvious that I'm overweight. Why hide it behind niceties?

And, by the by, is it any surprise that America tops the obesity list? I went to *insert fast food restaurant* the other week and ordered a medium. Yeah, the drink they sent back was 32oz minimum. Remember when McDonalds had supersize? When they stopped carrying it, they didn't really. The supersize now masquerades as a large, the large as a medium and the medium as a small. Honestly. The portion-size is RIDICULOUS. In all my calorie counting, it's the thing I've come to realize the most. I can still pretty much eat all the same things. I just eat the actual recommended serving size. Instead of what my eyes tell my stomach is a serving size.
Yes, it is nice to hear "you're not fat." But it is quickly becoming the most used phrase in the English language. Second only to "I'm sorry" and meant just as often.
This all reminds me of a conversation I used to have with my ex ALL THE TIME when I was fat and weighed closer to what was double my normal weight. The extra weight made me feel horrible, I had back pain constantly and I'm only telling you this to help you understand that what bothered me about the weight wasn't just how I looked in the mirror. It was how it affected me in a BAD way every second of the day.

This upset me, naturally, and I would grumble about being fat. He'd freak out and say, "no, no, no, you just have curves." I couldn't believe someone would be so adamantly blind and stupid about a problem that was so obviously bothering and harming me, but apparently this kind of thing is much more widespread than just my ex!

I've gotten my body to a point where I am a healthy/normal on the BMI scale and I may be a bit squishier than I'd prefer but I know that I'm healthy and happy and I look goood, so I tend to chalk up whatever issues I have remaining to the fact that I see very few normal ladies represented in most images, assuming that my measuring stick for "normal" was skewed long ago.

It took a long time to get here, mentally and physically and I've found that the honesty of friends and my lover about my body were some of the most powerful helps to my weight loss and exercise revolution of the past several years.

I can't help but thinking who are we really helping with all this false nicety? Has "fat" really becoming "the other F-word?"


Related posts:
Eat and Be Satisfied
How to Get a Hot Ass in 8 Minutes a Day
Yoga Is Miraculous

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kcmeesha said...

I have no problem with anyone calling me fat,it's a fact of life. I am against the movement to "love yourself as you are" because it's just justifies being lazy and doing nothing. There is nothing wrong with curves but if you propel yourself on a scooter or don't fit into airline seat, you are too fat no matter if you convince yourself that you are beautiful.So since at this time I am too lazy to work out and own a mirror and a scale I, you can call me fat since it's well deserved. And yes there are standards, not necessarily anorexic body types but average human size.

Nuke said...

Bias against people because of their (over)weight is one of the few prejudices left that anybody can indulge themselves in, even fat people.

"what bothered me about the weight wasn't just how I looked in the mirror. It was how it affected me in a BAD way every second of the day." exactly where I am, trying to stay positive and take small steps right now.

Jessica said...

Weight issues have been a stressful thing for many people including myself.
I am finally down to a comfortable weight, and I want to stay here. I also look forward to getting back into my daily Yoga Schedule so I can maximize my strength and flexibility.
One thing that still plagues me is how my 8 year old daughter and I wear the same size pants. She is 120lbs, and is the exact same height as me I am 135lbs. Now one might think after looking at the BMI chart that she is not obese, but according to my Doctor her weight has potential to become an issue.
We also found out her thyroid is enlarged and slightly overproductive but I don't want to put her on medicine if I can help it. There are so many side effects that can be worse than the problems they treat. For children and adults this can be devastating.

I guess my whole issue about obesity in the U.S. can be summed up in one phrase, "Why can't America seem to get to the root of this problem, so we can fix it?"

I would like to get a research team together to try out a couple projects based on my theory. Well, good luck to all.


Anonymous said...

What a great post. I do think that "fat" has come to mean more than just extra padding around the hips and thighs. It is becoming (has become?) a derogatory word. And the worst use of it is by us against ourselves. (When was the last time you said something like "Wow, I'm so curvy!" rather than "Ugh, I'm so fat!" Language is such a powerful thing.