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Thursday, January 24, 2013

We already know we're fat, thank you very much
Posted by Jill | 8:19 PM
As fat people go, I'm a pretty fortunate one. I've been married to the same guy for almost thirty years, I have a good job where I'm respected, and I'm blessed with good genes. I've never been one of those people who can't eat in a restaurant without someone coming up to them and saying, "You know, you really shouldn't eat that, dear."

That said, I don't think I've eaten a single morsel in the last forty-five years that I haven't obsessed about or put a value judgment on myself for eating. It isn't that I haven't tried to get over this dysfunctional relationship with my own body and learn to live in it, because I have. Goddess knows, I have. And now that I can be called legitimately fat, I look at photographs of myself as what I remember as a fat teenager, and think, "Girl, are you out of your fucking mind?" I look at that girl in a miniskirt and cute legs and I just want to shake her until I knock some sense into her.

What most of the weight scolds don't seem to realize is that fat people come in many different types. Sure, there are those who think nothing of eating an entire box of doughnuts, or have three McDonald's sausage, egg and cheese biscuits and four hash browns for breakfast. But there are also those of us who have oatmeal with dried cranberries, almonds and cinnamon, sweetened with stevia. There are fat people who LOVE brussels sprouts. I happen to be one of them. There are fat people who when faced with a menu at an outdoor cafe on a nice summer day will eat the Greek salad with the grilled chicken instead of the cheeseburger BECAUSE THAT'S WHAT THEY WANT TO EAT.

It's no mystery that Caucasian women in our society loathe their own bodies in a way we don't see in other cultures. No matter how thin a woman is, no matter how pretty, no matter what her body shape, you can rest assured that every year after Christmas, she'll be heating up some vile frozen 8-ounce food-emulating substance from a diet company for lunch and then trolling the office for chocolate by two-thirty. Sometimes I wonder what these women think about me -- someone who stubbornly refuses to go on another diet; someone still, after twenty-some-odd years of value judgments about food, learning how to know what it is I really want when I want to eat something.

It doesn't hurt that I'm blessed with good genes. My mother would still be alive today if she hadn't taken up smoking again after having lung cancer surgery TWENTY YEARS AGO (average five-year survival for lung cancer is only 15%). My father is eighty-seven and still kicking, having endured eight months of chemotherapy for lymphoma without breaking a sweat (though his knees are giving him trouble these days). Neither one of these people was a skinny Minnie.

We hear a lot about obesity these days, and no one seems to know what to do about it. New York City Mayor Bloomberg thinks curbing sales of soda will do it, except that I don't drink soda, other than a very occasional diet soda after largely kicking that habit a year ago. "Medical ethicist" Daniel Callahan now has an idea that gee whiz, no one has EVER tried before. [/snark] Callahan's idea is that if we just make fat people ashamed enough, they'll lose weight:

Daniel Callahan, a senior research scholar and president emeritus of The Hastings Center, put out a new paper this week calling for a renewed emphasis on social pressure against heavy people -- what some may call fat-shaming -- including public posters that would pose questions like this:

“If you are overweight or obese, are you pleased with the way that you look?”

Callahan outlined a strategy that applauds efforts to boost education, promote public health awareness of obesity and curb marketing of unhealthy foods to children. But, he added, those plans could do with a dose of shame if there’s any hope of repairing a nation where more than a third of adults and 17 percent of kids are obese.

“Safe and slow incrementalism that strives never to stigmatize obesity has not and cannot do the necessary work,” wrote Callahan in a Hastings Center Report from the nonprofit bioethics think tank.

Fat-shaming. Yeah, that's the ticket. Because fat kids who are teased by other kids aren't ashamed enough. Because fat adults who endure discrimination in the workplace, who have to ask for seat belt extenders on airplanes because they have hips wider than fourteen inches, who can't find well-made clothes that fit properly, who don't dare set foot in a gym because they don't want to be confronted by people who never had to worry about what they eat looking at them as if they were decomposing right in front of them need just a little more SHAME. Because if we can just make them hate themselves a little bit more, fat people will wake up and realize that they are fat.

Let me tell you something, Mr. Callahan: We know we're fat. Believe me, we know. This country is full of people who won't go to a gym, won't go to a movie, won't go out for a walk, order their groceries online -- because they don't want to deal with how people in this country treat fat people. Fat people have plenty of shame already, not because they want to, but because we live in a country in which every other form of bigotry is being conquered except this one.

I'll tell you something else, Mr. Callahan: We don't need "education" about obesity and about food. We know about food. We know all about food. We know about food because we can't just eat something, we have to think about it every single time we eat anything, every single fucking day: What can I eat for breakfast? What can I have when I start to fade out around 2:00 PM that will be satisfying and still tasty? Is it OK to put a little bit of wheat berry salad in with my greens or is that too much carbs. Do I dare go out to dinner with friends tonight after I had a sandwich for lunch instead of a salad? Let me see if there's a menu online so I can decide in advance what I can eat. I ate a cookie today. What a fat, terrible person I am. What about vacation? Can I go on vacation? What will I do about food? If I have a big breakfast can I still eat something if I'm hungry in the middle of the day or do I have to wait until dinner? Will they have grilled fish? I had bacon this morning AND butter on my toast so I can't have anything but fish and vegetables for dinner. Ooh, they have that cake I like. Can I have this? I'll hate myself if I have it. Oh my God, I had three pina coladas at the pool bar today. Nothing but dry toast for me tomorrow. Oh, this place is supposed to have really good onion rings. Can I get onion rings? No, they'll make me fat. Can we share an order? No, then we'll all get fat. But I ate the salad and I still want onion rings. Let me get a bag of chips instead. Shit. I ate the chips and I still want onion rings. Look, a frozen yogurt stand. Frozen yogurt is healthy, right? Am I allowed to have that? Shit. I shouldn't have had that yogurt. Now all I can have for dinner is a sliced tomato and a piece of cheese.

This is how we think, Dr. Callahan. What is in the previous paragraph is what goes through EVERY AMERICAN WOMAN'S HEAD EVERY SINGLE DAY. Not just the fat women, but all of us. Because in America, you're either fat, you used to be fat, or you are terrified of becoming fat.

So let's foster and nurture this climate, shall we? Let's not even LOOK at anything else that might be causing obesity...like endocrine disruptor chemicals in our foods and food packaging. Let's not talk about the stress of living in a country where if you don't work 80 hours a week you have to fear for your job -- and the effect that constant stress has on weight. Let's not talk about people like me who leave the house at 7 AM and get home at 7 PM, end up working at least part of the weekend and DON'T want to spend what little time they have after working, grocery shopping (oh, right -- we shouldn't buy food because we're fat), housework, paying the bills, doing the taxes, and taking the car into the shop, running on a treadmill or lifting heavy things in a room full of size zeroes.

In not even considering these other factors, and how they act in concert with other lifestyle factors, Callahan loses all credibility. What's pathetic is that there are people who will listen to him.

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Blogger Nan said...
Promoting fat shaming? OMFG. Words fail me.

Blogger Elayne said...
Wonderful essay, Jill. Melissa McEwan, in speaking of the same article, basically calls it bullying, and giving other people permission to bully. Disgusting.

I always thought you were pretty much normal weight and *I* was the fat one... but yeah, I look at photos of myself from those days and go "what was I THINKING?"

Blogger Mithras61 said...
Thank you. The only thing I would add is that it affects men as well as women in our society.

Blogger The New York Crank said...
Great post, Jill. Yes, obesity is a serious health problem, but as you point out, diet isn't the only cause, and shaming is the least effective antidote, if not counterproductive.

Let's hope Dr.Callahan is shamed by your post. He ought to be, the fathead.

Very crankily yours,
The New York Crank

Blogger lifeartist said...
My goodness Miss Jill I think you have lived my life or read my mind! I don't think feeling guilty about putting ANY food in my mouth is a way to live. I am so tired of obsessing about food. I have other things on my agenda so that obsession was jettisoned years ago. I have accepted myself as I am and live my life to the fullest. Oh, and I function quite well, fat.

Anonymous Anonymous said...
Let's also not mention that sleep deprivation causes weight gain, and pretty much everybody in North America is sleep-deprived all the time.

Blogger Jill said...
Oh, man ain't that the truth. I think I have gotten one good night's sleep in the last year and that was the night I slept 10 hours after spending the day in December going through thousands of photographs and feeling like I was throwing away my mother's life. Most nights I get only about 5-6 hours and I need 7-1/2. So I drink too much coffee and eat almonds to try to keep my energy up without consuming sugar.