Sunday, June 04, 2017

Fat Shaming and Conundrums: My Life as a Fat Person

Institutions have memories.  As long as the same people work somewhere, they will tell the stories of the past.

One we tell is the time a past college president got up in faculty meeting and told us our insurance premiums would go down if we weren't so fat.  He didn't actually say that, of course, but he handed out a flyer that showed how obesity made insurance premiums go up, and then compounded it with a few comments that should have gone unsaid.  Some faculty haven't forgiven him of that yet--fat ones and thin ones.  The thin ones were being told they were paying for the fatties, and the not-so-thin ones resented being called fat.

I found it funny that he would say such an artless and tactless thing.  It made him few friends.  I have been overweight most of my life, so as I told a colleague, "Fat people know they are fat, they don't have to be told they are."  Now, however, I am not so sure that is true.  If we fat people know it, we traditionally do not want to talk about it honestly.  Perhaps in the last ten years there has been more honesty about being overweight and how it should be seen.  Case in point:

Last week the NPR show This American Life, which I do enjoy, explored a different subject:  People (well, actually women) admitting to being fat.  Accepting it, embracing it, letting their friends use the word "fat" in describing them--or maybe not.  Not all the interviewees were that crazy about identifying fully with what the shape of their bodies demanded everyone else see, but they did see the value of having done it.

There were segments on one woman's fight with her boss over his writing against the obesity epidemic and one by a woman who had lost 110 pounds (with amphetamine help and later fat removal surgery, which sounded grotesque) and reflecting on her two lives as fat, old self and new, thin self.  Hers was sad and disturbing.  The third was the story of a very large African American woman feeling doubly "invisiblized" (I made that up).  Fat people are treated as invisible (not noticed, ignored, denied the perqs of the rest of the world) but they are the least invisible.

The final story was about how Oral Roberts didn't want any fat people to graduate from Oral Roberts University and insisted that heavy students lose weight so that when they go to graduation, they would look better walking across the stage.  That led to a harsh system that in some ways was well meaning (students did lose weight and live more healthily) but also led to rejection and shaming.

Having been overweight, to varying degrees, all my life (sometimes actually the correct weight, usually ten to twenty pounds too much; now more than that) I have strong feelings about fat shaming and fat acceptance.  But they won't necessarily be well liked here.

Obesity (which I define as 50 or more pounds overweight) does have causes.  Even if one's family heritage is all fat (and mine tends to be) you only gain weight one way:  eating more food than your body needs and uses up.   Fat people eat too much.  Yes, they do.  Sorry, but I've seen the way heavy people eat.  Big piles of food.  And I know I used to pack it away at times, too (I can't any more as I get closer to being a senior citizen).  And I also know that when I choose not to eat that way and exercise regularly, the weight does not increase.  It may not fall off, but it doesn't go up.  Not only do we fat people eat too much, we eat too much of the wrong thing. 

While there may be a few people who are 100 pounds overweight due to genetics, the vast majority of fat people are fat because they eat too much.  It's just not that hard to figure out. 

It is hard, however, to rectify.  Obese people do seem to have a brain regulatory problem with food--they can't tell as well when they are satisfied so they eat til they are full, and that is always going to mean more pounds.  I have seen this in myself.  Habits are difficult to break, but not impossible.

I gave up sweets four weeks ago.  After a while I stopped craving them, thinking about them, defaulting to them after dinner.  I also increased intake of vegetables and fruits and cut carbs (bread, potatoes) in half.  I have gone for long periods of time not eating sugar at other points in my life.   The pounds did not disappear but I felt better.  I also am walking more.   I plan to live this way until I die. I have no choice if I want to live well and avoid diabetes. 

I feel surrounded by overweight people everywhere I go, and I am overweight.  I have to wonder how a thin person feels.  Judgmentalism on their parts is easy for them, but I do not judge them for their judgmentalism.  I am judgmental about obesity and I am not that far away from it. 

We know that shaming people does not work.  At the same time, some realism wouldn't hurt. 

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