Posted by: Tina M | 2 February , 2010

A necessary discussion about fat

I don’t think I’ve done very much writing about my strong personal beliefs around health and fatness- but it’s time that I lay it all out (at least the basics).

My first look into the Fat Acceptance movement

The other day I had to attend an RFP meeting for a grant dealing with “the prevention of childhood obesity.” Though their strategies of increasing access to healthier foods and improving the environment of youth so that they have recreational spaces to exercise and play is one that I stand behind fully- I still believe that if it’s motivated out of the belief that fatness needs to be eliminated then nothing good can come of it.

It’s a complicated issue, and the bottom line for me is that campaigns to rid the world of fat equate with a plan to eliminate me. If you think that I’m oversimplifying the issue- then think about the oversimplification that happens when the weight of our bodies is equated with our health, our self control, our mental health, and our worth as human beings?

Fatness does not necessarily indicate a lack of health.

Studies have shown contradictions to the belief that fatness is a visible mark of diabetes, heart disease, and lethargy. I have known many fat people throughout my life that are active, disease free, and happy. In most of these cases the largest problems arise from the gradual self-deprecation that seeps into us from the constant messages about how we’re unattractive or going to die soon.

There’s also the obvious contradiction that pro-football players would be considered morbidly obese because of their high BMI (or Body Mass Index).  Why someone thought you could tally up someone’s lifetime by figuring out the mass of your body (she’s got a lot of mass- you know, all those internal organs and muscles!) I’ll never understand.

This oversimplified version of medical truth has prevented accessible healthcare to fat people for as long as I’ve been alive. It does grow increasingly worst as time goes by and fat becomes a bigger enemy than drugs and sex combined.  If you are fat and you go to the doctor, 9 times out of 10 they will focus exclusively on your weight, judging you, and ignoring your reasons for visiting in the first place. I have had so many arguments since developing this fat positive outlook on life with every doctor I’ve been to.

Whether it was my primary care physician (I went in for ankle pain and depression) making sure to repeat multiple times the need for a healthier diet and exercise (although she never asked me about my diet or exercise. . . )

or my Psychiatrist who told me that she was choosing one anti-depressant over another because it wouldn’t be as likely to make  me gain more weight (since she’s sure I don’t want that!)

The consistent harassment of fat people from their medical providers has a profound impact on their overall health and happiness.

Then there’s the overall hatred of fat in our society. Most fat people will not:

have a gym or recreational space that feels safe and comfortable for larger bodies

Be able to take public transportation without worrying about crowded spaces and seats too small

See positive images of people with bodies like theirs in the media

Be able to find attractive clothing to fit their body

And that’s just the beginning.

The idea that we can control the size and shape of our bodies is not necessarily a healthy one. There is a realistic scope for what your body can look like or achieve. Most people aren’t happy with their set weight though and strive to lose significant amounts. Their body has to burn more fuel than it takes in in order to lose the weight and then it has to maintain that low sustenance or else it will return to the original size. (this is where yo-yo dieting comes in, which is actually more detrimental to your health than remaining your natural size)

This idea of body modification has created a diet industry that costs billions a year. Just think about all the time and energy spent working your body to try to be what you want it to be, punishing it when it fails you, trying to trick it into being something that it’s not. And throughout this process we get more and more unhealthy.

I believe that we need to improve access to healthy foods. I believe that our actions should be motivated out of love for our bodies and our understanding that healthy foods will produce healthy bodies. They will probably come in all shapes and sizes- but they will be happy and healthy.

I want us to think more critically about what it means to be healthy, to take more time to look into someone’s circumstances and really try to help them take better care of themselves, as defined by them.


Responses

  1. Amen, Sister! I have always been large, & I will always be large. I hope, by eating better foods, watching my portions, that I can lose the 25 pounds I gained last year. I have no plans to lose more than that, although it may happen as I continue to ride my recumbent bike & stretch.
    I do not believe that being the “ideal weight” & having a certain body mass will mean that I am healthy, or happy. It will mean that I am sick, either mentally or physically. God did not intend for everyone to be the same size. If God wanted us all to be the same, He would not have left so much in our “baking” that can change, get mixed up, & make us “different”.
    Why do so many thin people die young? Runners dropping dead in the middle of their runs, “health” gurus falling into poor health- and the medical community thought they were in good shape…….?
    Yes, I agree that we need to make healthy fresh fruitys, vegetables, etc. affordable and available to EVERYONE- not just the rich- so that all families can make the better choices & still feed their families enough to fill them up.

  2. I think the challenge when you’re talking about kids is that they have developed really poor habits very early on and some anti-obesity related programs aim to target this. I created a program for girls in New York City called Free to Be Me and I teach girls how to eat and move their bodies in healthy ways while teaching media literacy and the effects media has on how they view themselves. But many of the girls in my program get their daily sustenance from the local bodega or corner store and many of their parents/guardians eat the same way. So I take them to local farmer’s markets, show them how to make healthy choices at the grocery store and we workout together by doing activities they enjoy like hula hooping, jumping rope and dancing.

    I personally hate reading all of the research beceause it doesn’t really make a difference to me, all I care about is not getting diabetes so that I don’t have to have my legs amputated like some of my family members. And I teach girls how to be healthy in mind, body and spirit, that’s it. Some of my girls are obsessed with their weight and some of them aren’t, but the point I teach is that they are loved and okay as they are right now and I want them to live healthy lives.


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