Thursday, October 28, 2010

Fat - the last "acceptable" prejudice?

The interwebs are all abuzz about a recent blog on the Marie Claire magazine website. Go read it before continuing - it will help you understand just WHY there has been such an uproar.

There have been many VERY good counter blogs, including ones at Fatshionista, The Polymath Chronicals, and Blogger Body Calendar.

There have also been bloggers who've written, essentially, "it's not okay to make fat people feel bad, BUT being fat is a bad thing". I don't think the latter group of bloggers truly GET IT.  In these sorts of blogs I've read lines like "obesity is a death sentence". (Hint: LIVING is a death sentence, as death is the natural conclusion to life.) People have blamed fat on everything from asthma to strokes. According to the Mayo Clinic website, obesity is a risk factor for stroke. However, so are things like a family history of strokes, being in your mid-50s or older, smoking or exposure to secondhand smoke, heart defects or infections, and using birth control pills or hormone therapies that include estrogen. The Mayo Clinic site lists factors beyond obesity for asthma such as being a smoker, being exposed to secondhand smoke, having a mother who smoked while pregnant, and having a blood relative with the disease. So yes, obesity is on the list for these and other conditions. But it is by no means necessarily THE CAUSE.

Fat has become the last "acceptable" prejudice. I've no doubt in my mind if one substituted a race or religion or sexual orientation in the place of the word "fat", Marie Claire would NOT have okay'ed that blog to be published online.

I have pretty intimate knowledge of how it feels to be FAT. I have also been, at my anorexic thinnest, practically skeletal. So I know, without any doubts, that thin and fat people ARE treated differently in a myriad of ways.

I know what it's like to diet healthfully (portion control, making healthy food choices). I know what it's like to do fad diets. I know what it's like to use diet pills. At one point in my life I lived, or should I say "existed", on a handful of crackers a day! I know what it's like to exercise for 2 to 4 hours daily. To the people who say fat people have no self control, I offer up all the people who've subsisted on the grapefruit diet, the vinegar diet, and so on. Of all the people on the planet, those who've dieted - seriously dieted - have more self-control and willpower than anyone else I can think of, frankly.

My sister-in-law wrote a blog about all of this hubbub, too. She asks "Obesity: are we too accepting?" The content is well-written and comes from her heart, but I've got to admit, as much as I'm okay with myself "as-is" these days, the title set my teeth on edge as memories of the "acceptance" I've experienced in my life washed over me.

I remember walking down main street as a teenager and a pickup truck with a few boys drove by. They stuck their heads out the window to oink and moo at me.
I remember many of the times I was told - by family, by people I knew, and by strangers - that I had such a pretty face, and I'd be pretty if only I lost weight.
I remember asking people to accept that disparaging talk about size was not a topic that was okay with me, only to have them recount a story about a disgusting fat person daring to eat in public, in a restaurant, where people would have to witness this fat person eating. Eeew.
I've felt the sting of having to look for clothing in a department store whose plus size section was a couple of racks hidden in a corner, lest the thin people see us fatties shopping.
I still remember being in a maternity store who proudly claimed having "plus sizes" available, learning that their definition of plus size meant a very small selection of barely 1x items. (I was so frustrated I loudly proclaimed as I left the store "apparently fat people don't have sex and make babies!".)
I know what it's like to walk into places like Victoria's Secret and have the clerks look at you as if you were crazy to enter their domain. Of course, Vicki's "Secret" is that she doesn't make clothes for fatties.
I know what it's like for a child to point and say "Mommy, why is she so fat", and hear the mother respond with something like "because she eats too much".

On the other side of the coin, I remember the beginnings of my anorexia, when I honestly just skipped lunch so I could pocket the lunch money. I lost a few pounds for skipping meals, and I got praised for my "hard work to lose that fat". Upon finally getting praise instead of criticism, I started skipping breakfast. Then I started skipping dinner. I got down to a size 11/12, which would STILL be considered borderline overweight for my height of 5'11". I remember how it felt to go into a store and not have to ask where they'd hidden the bigger sizes. Where I'd been either invisible or the target of cruelty when I was fat, my newer, thinner, starved and sick self was suddenly a person of worth.

So, no, I DON'T think we're too accepting of obesity. Some airlines want to charge me for a second seat, even though I can still fit my fat ass into their tiny seats. I can still be discriminated against when looking for work based on my size. I can still go into a doctor's office with a medical complaint such as a sore elbow, and come away with (yet another) admonition to lose weight. Kids still deal with bullying, teasing and shunning if they are fat. Many of them consider suicide, because (news flash) diets don't work. (I certainly considered suicide as a fat kid, because the teasing felt so relentless and the prospect of losing weight seemed so hopeless.)

People need to understand something very important. Fat does NOT necessarily equal unhealthy or inactive. Fat definitely does NOT equal unworthy or unacceptable. I know what it's like to CRAVE seeing people on television and in movies and in magazines that represent the real America I live in. I crave an honest media where people come in all shapes and sizes and races and religions and so on and so on. I long for a day when a size 2 actress doesn't get called fat because she's become a size 4, for heaven's sake! (And while we're on the subject, what the hell is up with size 0? Are we telling those women that strive for a size 0 that they are striving to be invisible?)

Are we promoting or okay-ing obesity if we show on television and in magazines the actual variety of humanity? Is it better to have ribcage and hip-bone showing models on the covers of magazines that our girls will see and try to attain in spite of their genetics or their health? Does having a fat person on a magazine cover or a television show mean that chubby little kids everywhere will start to scarf down whole pizzas? Maybe, just maybe, showing a variety of shapes and sizes on television and in movies and in magazines won't "encourage" obesity or anorexia or any sort of disordered thinking at all. MAYBE if we had a slice of real, attainable, average people in the media, more young people would grow up realizing that we come in all shapes and sizes and colors and THAT IS NORMAL AND OKAY.

There are people who are very thin and can't gain weight despite their best efforts. There are fat people who can't lose weight. And, GASP, there are fat and thin and in-between people who like themselves JUST THE WAY THEY ARE, too.

The author of the blog that started it all has stated that she's a recovered anorexic, and that certainly does help understand why she personally has such an aversion to fat people. (It doesn't excuse her cruel words, of course, but does offer some insight.) My hope is that she will get into therapy, as she very obviously has a lot of disordered thinking in terms of bodies and health.

Sadly, however, that doesn't explain the overt exclusion and bigotry towards fat people in the "real world".

Clearly, the blog resonated with a lot of people. The last time I checked, her blog had around 1,950 comments, and I'm sure the number will grow. So perhaps good has come from this whole debacle. Perhaps people will evaluate their own thoughts, acknowledge their own prejudices, educate themselves, and act kindly towards others regardless of size.

Are you prejudiced against people of size? If so, what will you do to improve yourself and address your personal bigotries?


  1. As another person of size, I can say that I don't discriminate against others with alternative OR similar characteristics. But even back to my youth I have seen examples of people treating other people badly for a great multitude of reasons, including looks and weight. With various admitted exceptions, I respond to personality more than appearance. And yet, I can understand why a person would be less than satisfied with their own predicament when their weight is an issue. I find myself with less dexterity and my balance is definitely effected by the weight, and there are limitations that are fairly inconvenient (breaking a cheap bed that you discover is only rated at 250 or 275 lbs when you're 300, seeing a really neat motor bike/moped that's only rated at 250 lbs or so... and so on). But judgment of one's self should never morph into judgment of others. Just as those with special eating needs (diabetics, vegetarians, etc), those of significant weight and/or size that do not have health issues need only justify to themselves for whatever special needs have to be accommodated.

    And there is a widespread belief that 'fat' people are not active; I'm a security supervisor and in and out of my job probably get more exercise than many thin people do. And yet I'm still around 300 lbs.

    Good or bad... that's my commentary on the subject. :)

  2. This is so true!

    I have been thin(!) due to illness, but most of my life I have been everything from "plump" to phat/fat. I've tried every diet, every pill, you name it. Everything works for a while, but I know that the only thing that will really work is healthy eating habits and exercise as a lifestyle!

    I once had a doctor (who was grossly overweight himself) tell me that being fat doesn't mean being unhealthy. I truly believe this!


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