Before I even started to write this post, I wanted to find a good image to accompany it, so off I went to istockphoto.com. I entered the search string “beautiful fat woman.” 1 result! “Fat woman” yielded many more. Lots of photos of women dieting, overweight women surrounded by food, overweight women next to slimmer women, etc. Clearly, istockphoto.com isn’t hip to this fat acceptance thing. The “comedy” photos are all fat women surrounded by food or otherwise mock/stigmatize fat women (large woman with tiny guy, woman on scale, angry fat woman next to smiling skinny woman, etc). The others all seem to concern dieting. The “positive” images largely seemed to indicate that the woman in the photo has lost weight. I found one that I thought was actually pretty neutral/positive, and it’s the one I’ve used here.
I guess there’s a couple of things going on: what exactly is fat acceptance supposed to entail? If it means that we want people to start being more sympathetic towards larger men and women, I’m all for that. Dismissing overweight people as disgusting isn’t constructive (and it sure the hell isn’t mature). They’re not ugly, they’re not worthless. Shit like “you’d be so pretty if you were thinner” helps and motivates no one. I can assure you, getting on someone’s case about how unhealthy they are (especially when no doctor has actually found any sort of evidence that they are currently experiencing any acute health problems as a result of their weight) does nothing but make a person who is already about as low as they thought they could be get even lower. I speak from experience. I’m willing to make a very anecdotal guess that 98% of overweight people are depressed, whether the depression stems from obesity or other problems, depression, as we now all know (right?), is a serious health problem. You can’t “snap out of” depression. If you can snap out of it, you’re not depressed – you’re in a bad mood. Someone who hasn’t experienced depression can’t understand this. Someone who can’t understand the crushing pain of seeing yourself outgrow your clothes, outgrow your shoes, outgrow your ability to shop in normal stores, and outgrow your ability to remain anonymous in a crowd because now you’re a big huge moving target for ridicule… they can’t understand this, and they won’t. They’ll offer well-intentioned but ultimately useless “advice” and “tips” that are supposed to shame you into action. As was very eloquently put recently, fat people already feel plenty of shame. Heaping on more shame isn’t going to fix anything. The motivation to stop being fat needs to come from within… and then what if you do change your diet and exercise and it does nothing? What if you work out five times a week and eat 1450 calories a day and you still don’t lose that much weight?
The easier and happier solution to these problems is that people need to learn how to be okay with carrying a few extra pounds, not having washboard abs (who the hell has the time to work on this all week long?), and understanding that, like you, fat people can’t stand the sight of themselves. Maybe some people even need to learn that being fat isn’t even that horrible a thing. There’s a increased risk for health problems – it’s not a guarantee. That’s not giving carte blanche to go eat an entire cake, and that goes for anyone. EVERYONE needs to eat a healthy diet and get a lot of exercise. There are plenty of slim people who have terrible diets and don’t get enough exercise and are doing just fine, and I’m sure there are plenty of overweight people who are also doing just fine on the same plan. I’m sure that there are many who aren’t doing okay. I don’t know who any of these people are beyond virtually-anonymous blog post responders – I paint with broad strokes here for good reason: everyone’s different.
Look – you need to go to the gym. You means everyone. Even me. Human beings are built for vigorous activity. Honestly, for as much as I do hate to exercise (I always have), I can’t deny how much less anxiety and stress that I have compared to a couple of months ago. I’ve still got plenty of those, but it’s so much better to have a release. I like that I’m not getting as winded going up the stairs. I like that I’ve taken off a few pounds (although I don’t like that I almost lost my wedding ring last week because it slipped off – my sausage-y fingers are becoming less sausage-y and more cocktail-wiener-y). When my muscles aren’t sore and my joints aren’t stiff, I feel great! Eating a lot of fresh veggies and whole grains makes me feel clean inside and out, too – when I do eat something greasy or fried, I can tell. I feel completely different, and I realized that basically, my stomach really likes seeing grapefruit, arugula, flaxseed meal, wild Pacific salmon, oranges, sprouted wheat bread, avocados, and so many different greens! This is basically awesome, said my gut florae, after it received its daily shipment of nonfat Greek yogurt. Doing this will make anyone feel better! Exercise and healthy diet are good things, good things proven by REPUTABLE SCIENCE.
Fat acceptance shouldn’t be about saying that it’s rad to have serious health problems any more than it’s rad to say that it’s fine to have unprotected sex with multiple anonymous partners. For me, fat acceptance is about saying “I see you as a human being, not as a fat person.” It’s about being a good friend, it’s about knowing what’s going to help and what’s going to hurt. Deciding to lose weight is a choice that can only be made by the individual – it’s like anything in that if you want to do something and you set out to do it, you may indeed accomplish your goal. There’s being encouraging and there’s wasting your time. If you know someone who habitually makes cracks about overweight people (or are that person), please stop it. There are people far more deserving of your scorn, like child molesters. Don’t assume “you’re so fat because you’re just a lazy sloooob!” Don’t assume anything.
Over the years I’ve had plenty of people with very good intentions try to encourage me to lose weight with the effect of making me feel absolutely horrible about myself. What it took was me getting fed up with that, realizing that I wasn’t happy and in a position to do something about it, and finally got past the inertia that kept me from doing anything sooner. I don’t want to be a size 2, or even a size 6. I’ll be delighted when I get to 14 because that means shopping in a store that doesn’t cater to plus-sized women only. I’m the same as you, sub-size-14-woman, in that I can bear a child and have breasts and a period. I may be more/less intelligent than you, different-colored, richer/poorer, but I’m a human being and I want to be treated like a human being. Don’t assume that I’m an out-of-control slob – that’s not how I got to be where I am/where I was. You don’t know anything about me and I don’t know anything about you.
On the flip side, don’t assume that everyone’s out to turn you into something that you’re not, and don’t discount the concerns of people who love and care about you. If you’re avoiding the doctor because you know that you’re not going to like what you hear, think about how much less you’re going to like hearing something worse than “you really need to step up the diet and exercise.” There’s no excuse for not eating well and there’s no excuse for avoiding a good cardiopulmonary workout, even if you just go out and walk for 10 minutes three or four times a day, take the stairs, park at the back of the parking lot, whatever. There’s no reason why you can’t do some sort of activity other than not wanting to do so. If you have the use of all four of your limbs, use them. Use them well and take care of them because they’re the only ones you get for free.
All in all, I’m still not sure how I feel. I don’t think anyone deserves to be chastized for their appearance any more than I believe women need to look a certain way to be viewed as attractive or valuable. I also don’t believe that being morbidly obese doesn’t increase your risk for health problems like diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, etc. You need to be honest with yourself and realize that some people are concerned for good reasons, not just because there are some worthless turds out there who can’t value people for who they are, only how they look. Not everyone’s out to get you for your appearance (and seriously: would you want to work at a place or know people who will think less of you because of your weight and not because of the person you are?)