I’m sure that by now a lot of people have seen Paul Campos’s article “Our Imaginary Fear of Fat” in The New York Times. I read it, but then I made the mistake of reading the comments.
Not the comments on the article itself: I know better than that. But a number of my friends and online acquaintances, all of whom I consider to be reasonably body positive, have posted it on blogs, Tumblrs, and Facebook feeds. What I didn’t realize, but maybe should have, is that comment spaces there are no safer or more fat-friendly than are comment spaces on the Internet at large (pun intended).
They’re also no more accurate. In fact, a lot of them seem to be projecting concerns about “oh, noez! teh fatz!” that aren’t inherently related to fat or BMI (since the article in question actually discusses results related to BMI rather than body fat) at all — and that definitely aren’t true for me. It would not serve my emotional health to wade into all those online spaces to address the projections, but I would like to do that here.
Projection 1: All fat people “do it to themselves” — i.e., “make themselves fat” due to massive calorie intake and far too little exercise.
Yes, there are lots of people (of various sizes) who eat a lot of calories and/or who exercise very little. But this is not an inherent feature of being fat. There are plenty of us who remain in the “overweight” and “obese” BMI categories regardless of caloric intake and exercise habits. (Seriously. When I was exercising compulsively and eating far too few calories — and having fewer calories recommended to me — I was still “overweight.”) But in addition to the fact that genetics plays a significant role in body weight, there is also the fact that it is seriously not cool to make sweeping generalizations about how bigger people eat and/or exercise without actually knowing how the significant majority of fat people eat and/or exercise.
And I’m not suggesting that I know how the vast majority of larger people — or any people — live their lives. However, when other people try to use my body size as evidence of how so many people live their lives, that is grossly uninformed and also anger-making.
Projection #2: Muscular people are “skewing” the BMI statistics, which is what’s creating the idea that fat is not an instant death sentence.
Or, you know, there’s the possibility that muscular people are and have always been a regular part of those heavier BMI categories. Until we use actual indicators of health to measure health and actual indicators of physical fitness to measure physical fitness, we will not know.
Projection #3: That overweight and obese people only have decreased mortality because they get “so frigging much” medical treatment and interventions “for their fatness.”
Which fails to note, as Melissa McEwan and Marilyn Wann recently did, that there’s significant evidence of weight bias leading to fat people getting condescending, dismissive, inadequate, or even harmful health care.
When I say “condescending,” I’m talking about things like former doctors: telling me to lose weight with each office visit, no matter what I was there for, often spending more time on that than my actual complaint of, say, what turned out to be a broken foot (aka. the “I slipped on a vibrator” story).
And when I say “harmful,” I’m talking about things like the delay in my endo diagnosis, which exceeds even even the frighteningly long average diagnostic delay of 12 years. Which in no small part took so fucking long because doctor after doctor after nurse practitioner after doctor after naturopath after doctor gave advice, advice, advice, and more advice that often amounted to, “Sometimes these things will go away on their own once you lose weight.” (When they weren’t giving medical advice of the “suck it up and deal” nature. But that’s another topic for another time.) Certainly I can’t state a definite causal relationship between the diagnostic delay and the endo-related damage that has shown up in places like my sciatic nerve and pelvic floor — can’t state a causal relationship because no one bothered to consider it before — I am relatively certain that this measure of care harmed rather than helped.
So now I’m a clinically obese person with chronic hip and low back pain. To quote the eloquent Taylor Swift, I am “never, ever, ever, ever” leaving my current health care provider because I do not want to risk setting off another chain of “Just lose weight!” initial visits.
Projection #4: Living in an overweight or obese body is a “quality of life issue.”
You know, there are a lot of things related to my body that affect my quality of life. I have mentioned the endo-induced pelvic pain and the encompassing medical douchebaggery; that affects my quality of life.
Not being able to find appropriate clothing to comfortably participate in activities that help provide me with joy, physical health and fitness, and stress reduction: It’s maybe not the most profound thing ever, but that affects my quality of life.
When people assume that my body size makes me incompetent to witness and interpret my own life experience — as a lot of the Facebook and Tumblr and blog comments have done — that affects my quality of life.
But those are quality of life issues that stem from other people’s projections; none are actually inherent to my body.
In the future, Internet, I would appreciate it if you would kindly keep your douchebaggery to yourself.