We have a problem with obesity.
But it’s not the problem most people are talking about.
How many skinny people are told that they are ugly, unwanted, unhealthy, lazy, disgusting, and have no willpower? How many skinny people are unable to find people who look like them in the media, worshiped for being beautiful and sexy? How many skinny people have to face regular degradation and jokes about their body shape from people around them?
How alive and vibrant would you feel if nearly every single message and image from the culture you were born and raised in told you: “you are not beautiful,” “you are lazy,” “you’re doing it wrong”?
Body shape doesn’t matter any more than skin color or hair color or height or sexual orientation for who you are. Except unlike those other things, it’s culturally acceptable to attack people based on weight because it’s “unhealthy”.
Pretending that it’s not about how we look, it’s really about health, is a convenient lie that’s only caught on in the last century so we don’t feel bad about pursuing this Grecian athletic ideal that’s unrealistic for most humans. The idea that being fat used to be idealized is another lie, though denigration was more balanced. Fat was a sign of health because most people were in a state of semi-starvation for most of their lives (this is still true for most of the people of the world). And you know what? Being fat is more healthy.
Studies have been done that correlate the negative emotions of being constantly denigrated and being told that one is unhealthy and unattractive is the contributing factor to symptoms of being unhealthy and without energy (because of statements such as that). It has nothing to do with the person’s actual physical weight. Fat or skinny, happiness with your body was the biggest indicator of health problems normally attributed to weight. Although when just weight is considered, you have a catastrophically higher mortality rate if you are skinny than being too fat. (Although, neither body size is as deadly as people who are skinny that used to be fat.) Being fat isn’t just a good survival tactic to make it through a lean hunter-gatherer winter, it also helps your body survive when it’s ravaged by disease and illness, from cancer to the flu.
We’re under this illusion (largely fabricated by diet industry) that because our weight fluctuates over the course of years, and can be intentionally altered for short durations by consistent starvation or gorging, that it is somehow less intrinsic to ourselves than height or skin color. But it’s simply not true. Check your favorite diet and weight study. If it “proves” that a particular weight loss method works, you’ll find that the study did not last longer than two years. Chances are, it only lasted six months. That’s because most of these studies have an agenda to prove. Willpower is not what keeps them going longer than 24 months, it’s reality.
There were some studies done in the 40’s and 50’s around weight loss and weight gain. They found that it didn’t matter. Whether the subjects were trying to put on weight (eating up to 6,000 calories per day, without any change in exercise) or lose the weight through diet and exercise, it didn’t stick. Their bodies returned to their starting weight, give or take 5 or 10 pounds, despite continuing with the program (and some of these programs were done with prison inmates, where movement and eating was controlled and they were under observation for the entire 5 year study) mostly between six months and two years, some taking up to five years.
There are two things that will change your weight over a long, sustained period:
Dramatic changes to your body (such as from illness or injury)
Then why has the obesity and overweight rates increased since 1990? Two big reasons. 1) the CDC changed the calculation in 1998, and in a single swoop doubling the number of obese and overweight Americans (and worse, their revision made it so the average woman is overweight). 2) We have a dramatically changing population pool. We have more old people than every before (and they tend to carry more weight) and we have a lot of immigration from ethnic groups that tend to be heavier.
It’s just as true as claiming that you can change your skin color by measured application of the sun. Some people have genetics that make this easier to do for less effort. Sure you can change your skin color, but how long are you going to keep that up, and for what benefit?
So, what is wrong with fat people?
Nothing. There’s nothing wrong with fat people, or skinny people, or any other people. The problem is that we think there’s a problem. So, let’s stop it with the pretension that it’s about health. Let’s stop denigrating other humans because of an illusion that they need to change to fit a Platonic ideal of the human form. Let’s start finding honest measurements of health and stop clouding it with these ideals. And maybe along the way, we can find the beauty in everyone.