Almost two years ago now, I developed a severe GI condition practically overnight (don’t worry it was all complex, you’re not going to wake up with it tomorrow or anything). Within a few short months I lost 30 lbs — it was one of the scariest experiences of my life. Until people started telling me how amazing I looked; I was pale, waxy, and clearly ill, but I was a size 4! Priorities! Seeing my otherwise intelligent and reasonable friends lose all rationality when it came to waist size – “You’re so lucky!” “I’m so sick” “I wish I was that sick” – was scarier than knowing that a simple caprese sandwich could reduce me to a pile of anxiety ridden exhaustion (graphic experiences omitted for your benefit – nobody needs that visual). It was like drowning while everyone on shore yelled out, “your hair looks pretty when it’s wet!”
Without a second thought I would gladly be a size 14 again if it meant eating what I want without being violently ill. Because there’s nothing wrong with being a size 14. But there is something wrong with me not being able to have a muffin for breakfast. Or cake on my birthday (it doesn’t even count if you don’t have cake, technically I’m still 26) . Or even whole-wheat-local-organic-low-calorie-artichoke-and-sun-dried-tomato-on-feta-pizza, because it doesn’t matter how healthy something is, if it’s not eggs and yams, I don’t get to play.
But this isn’t about me, or the fact that I haven’t had a birthday cake since Taft was president. This is about the warped ideas people seem to have about what it means to be fat or skinny. And I don’t even like to use those words, because what is fat? Everyone has fat. Fat is healthy – if you have no body fat, you need to take care of that or you’ll end up like Rob Lowe in the Parks and Rec episode with the flu (if you haven’t seen Parks and Rec, what’s wrong with you).
Being overweight or obese is what I guess people refer to when they use the word “fat.” And It seems like people have gotten so self conscious that they feel the need to not only grapple with their own body issues, but fix everyone else’s, lest they get infected with extra pounds by “fat” people. If you’re intent on saving the mascots of America’s obesity rates from diabetes, then at least do it without trying to destroy another person’s dignity and sense of self-worth. Assuming you still feel it’s your responsibility to poke your nose into everyone else’s business in the hopes of saving the world, in which case I’d be happy to provide you with a list of current genocides that may warrant your attention more.
In Georgia, there was recently a big to-do over Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta’s Strong4Life campaign, aka Let’s Put Fat Kids on Billboards and Hate on Them (they also ran TV ads!). Now, to be fair, Georgia does have the second highest obesity rate in the country. But black and white photos of obese children with slogans like “it’s hard to be a little girl if you’re not” and “fat kids become fat adults” with a giant red “WARNING” label may not be the way to go. Because this isn’t just about big meals or people who can’t stop shoveling food into their mouth, though I’m sure caricatures are just as great for tearing down self esteem as seeing yourself in a giant photo full of shame and impending doom. And as we all know, trampling on a person’s self esteem is the best way to get them to change!
The problems that get overlooked are a weak nutritional education (at least we’re not teaching the food pyramid anymore, though we stopped so recently that effects won’t be fully felt for years) and the amount of Americans living in food deserts. Just think about that term – food desert. There are so many people living in neighborhoods with no available fresh produce or unprocessed food that we had to come up with a label for it. It’s legal for fast food chains to target children and put addictive substances in food, even though cigarette companies can’t advertise anymore (somewhere Don Draper is weeping – j/k he’s smoking a cigarette and looking quizzically handsome).
Processed food with high fat content and low nutritional value is cheaper than buying fresh food to cook, though I recently saw a study that said they were about equal (I wasn’t quite convinced). That still doesn’t give working class Americans the time and energy needed for cooking (not to mention going out of your way to get groceries if you live in a food desert), and having a fully equipped kitchen isn’t cheap either. It’s actually more difficult for people in certain areas to eat well than it is to kill themselves on an unhealthy diet, but it’s clearly Fatty McObeserton’s fault for over indulging; let’s take out some ads so s/he can hang a head in shame and go find a salad.
Maybe before we go off and try to combat fatness with a torch and pitchfork, calling obese people diseased (obesity = medical condition) and saying we’re just concerned about their potential for diabetes, we can stop for a second and think. We can ponder the social and economic circumstances surrounding people who we’re so ready to berate and condescend to educate about what we know their problem really is (that they were unaware they were overweight, clearly). We can also take a step back and think about what is driving this immense concern, because frankly, I think it’s fear. We live in a country of unrealistic extremes – on the one hand we do have a problem with obesity rates, and on the other, we’re the number one retailer of warped body image (thank you, media!). Of course, whether someone is obese or bulimic, they can take comfort in their special connection: malnutrition. Sharing is caring — and thus world peace is reached!