this is me. just back from a 13 mile run the other day.
would you say i’m “underweight”, “normal weight”, “overweight”, or “obese”?
moreover, why on earth would you care?
there’s been so much “concern” lately about those who’re overweight. from michelle obama’s concern that her kids were getting chubby, to howard stern’s invective of “concern” over gabourey sidibe’s obvious obesity.
seems whenever anyone is overweight, the general public now think they have a right to be “concerned”. for their health, of course.
but let’s be honest and call it what it is: it’s not concern – it’s repulsion. we’re repulsed by fat people. we’re repulsed because we believe that the physique of someone’s appearance is a reflection of their behaviour. behaviour we find repugnant, and ascribe morality judgements to: lazy, weak, slovenly. and therefore we feel free to discriminate, punish and openly mock.
think about that for a minute. when it comes to physique, we believe someone’s *appearance* reflects their behaviour. how fucked up is that? we would never ascribe morality judgements to someone’s eye colour, skin colour, or height. we would never ascribe morality judgements to someone who had a different number of legs/arms/toes.
i hear you saying already, “but weight is different! weight is something that can be controlled by behaviour!” and maybe sometimes that is true. maybe sometimes it is not. but do we make morality judgements about people who are underweight? do we express concern?
we do, in fact – but in a very different way. we may call them “sick” or “scary” out loud… but we glorify them in the media and express admiration in lots of other ways. we may call them “sick”, but we are *attracted* to them. we think of them as strong-willed, disciplined, in-control. we’re often secretly jealous of their habits. in fact, as a society we *encourage* the disordered eating of the underweight by giving them lots of money to act, model, or sing. our “concern” is often the equivalent of high praise.
and the way in which we express “concern” about the overweight doesn’t even correlate to other public health issues, like drugs, smoking, drinking. walking down the street we may see lots of people smoking cigarettes but we don’t think, “ugh, i bet they can’t even run to catch the bus”. we see people drinking themselves into oblivion in the pub, but we don’t think, “they should drink more water!” we see people addicted to heroin and we don’t think, “if only they had more willpower – they shouldn’t shoot up between meals.”
people we don’t know kill themselves in front of us every day on drink, drugs and tobacco. people who overuse drink, drugs and tobacco don’t get publically stigmatised in anywhere near the same way as the overweight, and yet we feel perfectly comfortable judging strangers we think are too heavy.
we don’t look at a fat person and see someone who may be poor or disabled. we look at a fat person and think, “if only they would *educate* themselves. if only they would eat less and move more. if only they had some willpower.” we look at a fat person and intuitively believe we know something about their values, their hygiene, their work ethic.
we look at a fat person and are repulsed.
which brings me back to the question: why do we care so much? why are we so “concerned”? why the knee-jerk condemnation? what the hell does it matter to you or me?
a person’s health is between themselves and their doctor, if they so choose. a person’s weight is their own business, not yours or mine. a person’s eating or exercise habits are something we are not privy to. and yet we judge.
i’ll tell you why we care so much, why all the “concern”.
1. it makes us feel better about ourselves. the same old reason we made fun of people back in the schoolyard as children – we get an ego boost by putting others down. it makes us feel superior, self-satisfied to think at least *we* are not fat. if someone else is lazy, weak, or slovenly, then we, by comparison are energetic, strong and disciplined. feels good, don’t it?
2. it’s so easy. the thoughts are already planted there, the stereotypes are have been around since forever – we don’t even have to think up new ones. every fat joke, every snide comment about weight, has always been right out in the open. it’s no longer acceptable to say bigoted things about people of other races, but a fat joke has always been a guaranteed laugh. hear or see enough of that, and eventually it starts to sink in.
3. cloaking our “concern” under the rubric of “health” gives it a veneer of validity. of *course* we just want people to live long lives and be healthy. what’s so wrong with that? (never mind the skinny people living on cigarettes, diet coke and cocaine.) so we come up with platitudes like “eat food, not too much, mostly plants” and reassure ourselves that it’s not that hard to be healthy, and healthy people are not overweight. cool, that lets us go back to #1.
4. it’s easier than thinking about and finding solutions to the root causes. trying to think about what it might be like to live in a neighbourhood without a supermarket is so hard. trying to think about what it might be like to be unable to exercise because you’re working two jobs and taking care of children is so hard. trying to think about how to change the industrial food industry which injects high fructose corn syrup into everything because the u.s. subsidises farmers for excess production of corn is so hard. trying to think about how to fix the economy so that one-in-five children don’t experience hunger growing up is so hard. trying to think about how to change the infrastructures of cities and suburbs which make it difficult to walk/bike places is so hard. trying to figure out how to reduce the prevalance of childhood asthma is so hard. trying to change the societal structures which make us more sedentary and less active is so hard.
in other words, we continue to be “concerned” about overweight people because it is easy, a cheap ego boost, and intellectually lazy to do so.
so when you looked at my pictures above, which category did you put me in?
the answer? i’m 5′ 3″, and i weigh 137 lbs. (62 kilos, 9 stone 11 lbs). that gives me a bmi of 24.3. put 3 more pounds on me, and i’m officially “overweight” at a bmi of 25.
not that it’s any of your goddamned business, of course. why, are you “concerned” about my health?