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:
- Plus-sized women: It’s our turn for fine fashion via Dances With Fat
- Fatties R Us: Washington obesity rate nearly doubles via Shakesville
- Can Plastic Make Us Fat? at Elephant Journal
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.
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.