Obesity Objection

I have been reading a lot this week, but one realization in particular struck me: The fat fear mongering, I am kind of over it.

A few of the specific readings in question:

What I am “over” is the baseline assumption that obesity is of course bad.

Allow me to back up a moment to clarify. I am not suggesting that obesity is never an indicator of underlying poor health. There are a number of fat people who are unhealthy, just as there are a number of thin people who are unhealthy. But just as there are a number of healthy thin people, there are also a number of healthy fat people.

Because of this, assuming that “fat” or “obese” is synonymous with “unhealthy” creates a false equivalency, and that really doesn’t help anyone.

For example, in “Can Plastic Make Us Fat?”, the author notes that in rat studies (just for right now, let’s pretend rats are people), “[e]xposure to a low dose of bisphenol A (BPA) while in the womb and while nursing may increase the risk of obesity and a suite of metabolic problems,” (emphasis mine). Metabolic problems definitely count as health conditions. However, as someone who’s had hyperthyroid issues in the past, metabolic problems do not always equal fat. Emphasizing the weight issue (e.g., “fat” is mentioned in the piece’s title, only weight concerns are mentioned in the first quoted paragraph, weight issues are mentioned more often overall than metabolic issues) implies that we should be concerned about BPA and other endocrine disruptors because OMG FAT.

OMG, no.

In terms of the plus-sized fashion article, there’s the quotation, “two out of three Americans are overweight or obese and in need of a good workout.” As Ragen and the commenters at Dances With Fat deconstructed, the big problem with the assumptions here is the implication that people who are overweight or obese don’t exercise. Because, you know, if they did, they wouldn’t be overweight or obese. Again, while I am sure there are fat people who do not exercise (just as I am sure there are thin people who do not exercise), equating “overweight or obese” with “in need of a good workout” dismisses the fat people who do engage in “a good workout” on a regular basis, rendering them invisible. And given that one of those people is me, yeah, I take that personally.

There’s also the quotation from Robin Givhan, saying, “How big is too big? The average person knows the difference between voluptuous and obese,” which is inherently negative and alienating. It suggests that “voluptuous” and “obese” are two non-overlapping categories and that voluptuous is desirable while obese is “too big.” As an obese person who also happens to be made of awesome, this false dichotomy makes no sense to me.

So, moving on.

In “Fatties R Us,” Jeff Levi, executive director of an advocacy group called Trust for America’s Health, is quoted as saying, “we can’t afford to ignore the impact obesity has on our health and corresponding health care spending.” Yes, it’s important to note public health issues, both from a health perspective and from a spending perspective, but it’s also important to realize that obesity is not always the root cause of ‘obesity-related’ health issues. The article’s author goes on to say, “Continuing an ongoing trend, obesity continued to afflict minorities and poor people at higher rates.”

Here’s the thing: Food deserts are real; I work in one. The majority of families in my school’s attendance boundaries do not have nearby access to anything like a grocery store, unless you count gas stations or Denny’s as something like a grocery store. There are also a fair number of families who do not have reliable car transportation to get them to anything like a grocery store. Many of them also live in neighborhoods that aren’t really conducive to outdoor activity and play, either because of vehicle traffic or because of local crime rates. If we’re going to talk about “How Obesity Threatens America’s Future” (a linked article inside “Fatties R Us”), we need to do it with the knowledge that a lot of factors that contribute to this “threat” are under societal rather than individual control.

And yes, I think we also need to do it with the understanding that some fat people are going to make healthy choices and will be fat anyway. That is not inherent poor health, nor is it anything to fear.

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I'm here. I like stuff. Some other stuff, I like less.

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6 comments on “Obesity Objection
  1. I completely agree with your statement – that : “If we’re going to talk about “How Obesity Threatens America’s Future” (a linked article inside “Fatties R Us”), we need to do it with the knowledge that a lot of factors that contribute to this “threat” are under societal rather than individual control.”

    However I am on the other side of the fence on the majority of points made here. Obesity IS an epidemic. It IS a problem. It’s not healthy to carry excess weight. Not only does it drive up health care costs, but it influences a lot of other aspects of life from architecture to fashion to the over-consumption of all the government subsidized GMO-ridden, crops that overpopulate our country.

    I am opposed to consoling obesity. I understand it is out of (a very small majority of) people’s control. I have done a lot of reading on the subject and being “genetically” obese is rare and that many people with a “fat” gene can overcome it with the right food *such as myself. I am a predestined fatty who stays trim with effort. And I don’t lament fast food, sugar and wheat. I enjoy the energy I get from being fit.

    There are so many sociological implications with a nation that is 65% overweight or obese. We are posing health risks, driving health care cost and – perpetuating that the consumption of food available at a gas station is OK. Should [what is on those shelves even exist? No.

    I know there is not a black and white here, there is a lot of gray area. But I do have a knee-jerk reaction when I hear anyone defend obesity. It’s like saying smoking is OK. Is it?

    • Tori says:

      Wow. Thanks for deciding that my body IS a problem.

      • Please don’t take it as a personal affront, as it was in no way intended as such. I was coming from the perspective of looking at society as a whole. I sincerely apologize if it came across as a slap. Your photo lead me to believe your body to be quite fit and strong. Nowhere near obese.

    • Tori says:

      Yes, I’m more than “near” obese and, per BMI, quite a bit into the category. I am also fit and strong.

      It’s precisely the viewing of these as mutually exclusive categories that I see as a problem.

      Certainly, I’d like to see an increase in healthy behaviors from people — but all people. I think it’s more than a little prejudicial to assume a person’s health or lifestyle based on their weight or appearance.

      In some areas, food deserts are a real problem — but one that affects thin people as much as it does fat people. Similarly, in some areas, lack of safe exercise options is a problem — but again, one that harms people of all sizes and weights. Same goes for environments not conducive to walking/biking/public transportation, access to solid preventative physical and mental health care. (The only thing I might add to that is that fat people sometimes also have to deal with “lose weight” as the prescribed treatment for everything from endometriosis to allergies to broken feet.)

      If we as a society remedied all these things, would we have fewer obese people? Very likely, but we would also likely have fewer unhealthy thin folk as well. And I very much expect that even if every person took full advantage of this new “easier to be healthy” world, we would still have some people who are healthy, fit, and obese.

  2. Chris says:

    I wonder, when those well-meaning folks say that anyone with a higher than normal weight is “in need of a good workout,” how often and long do they intend for me to exercise? At 320 pounds, I lift weights 2 hours a day and throw for 2 hours a day, six days a week, preparing for a shot put competition. If I trained much more I’m not entirely sure where I would fit in eating (“ah, but you heavy folks eat all the time, don’t you?” I hear the voices of concern saying!) sleeping and working. I really appreciate the work that you do on this blog. It is one of the few that I always find empowering and reassuring.

  3. […] received a fair number of troll comments in response to this post. (I’m explicitly not referring to any comments that were published there but rather the ones […]

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