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Do You Care About My Health, Or Just Think I’m Gross? Be Honest.

 

Hi. I’m fat. I’m what most people call an in-betweenie—I have a heavy build, I wear plus sizes, my stomach poofs out, I have folds of fat along my back, I have chubby arms and legs. I can still buy clothes off the rack at a lot of stores, though.

Don’t rush to tell me I’m not ‘that kind’ of fattie or you’re ‘not talking about [me]‘ when you’re going on about how much you worry for fat people, though. We all know that you’re thinking of me, that when you think of fat people, my double chin comes to mind, my wobbling upper arms, my thighs broad in my jeans, my big ass. I’m fat. It’s okay. You can say it. I don’t have a problem with it.

I have a lot of issues with my body, but my size isn’t really one of them. It is what it is. The reasons I’m fat are complicated and not really your business. And yeah, I am unhealthy, and the reasons for that aren’t your business either, although I know you want to rush to assume that I’m unhealthy because I’m fat.

I don’t have an obligation to be healthy, actually, and I don’t have an obligation to rush to assure you that I’m a ‘good fatty’ with great cholesterol and good scores on other health indicators allegedly related to weight. I don’t have an obligation to tell you that fat isn’t correlated with health because I shouldn’t have to justify the existence of fat people by informing you that you don’t understand how fat bodies work, and you’re not familiar with the latest studies on fatness, morbidity and mortality, health indicators, and social trends.

Because fat people have a right to exist, healthy or unhealthy, and this whole argument about health is a red herring. It suggests that if only fat people could prove that fat and health aren’t coupled, they’d be okay. Society is just concerned for us—worried that we’ll be felled too soon, taking our glorious minds into the ground with us to rot, all because we were fat and we refused to take personal responsibility for our fatness.

Here’s the thing, though: fat people have a right to exist, no matter what their health status is, and their health status is both not your business and not evidence to be used when determining whether they should be found wanting. Fatness is just a characteristic, one with which many people have a complex relationship because it’s socially loaded. Your judgement about fat has not been requested, nor is it required.


Let me tell you something about being fat: we know we’re fat, okay? We are in fact aware of the size noted in the tags of our clothes, we know how we occupy furniture. Sometimes we crack jokes about being fat because, well, sometimes being fat is funny. Sometimes being fat is fun. Sometimes we know people feel uncomfortable because we’re fat and we want to set them at ease. Sometimes we feel tremendous pressure to get people to treat us like human beings so we play the jolly fat person role to make ourselves into someone you have to engage with, rather than an object you can loathe.

And we spend our whole lives being told that everyone is worried for us. Don’t we know fat is unhealthy? Aren’t we worried about dying early? Have we talked to a doctor about our fat? Have we considered diet and exercise? How will you ever find a partner? You aren’t actually the first person to ask us any of these questions, and you probably won’t be the last. Because the thing is, when you’re fat, you know, your body seems to become part of the public commons, something for everyone to comment on. You are no longer yourself, an autonomous person who is allowed to drift through the world doing your own thing.

Here’s the thing: I think, between you and me, that you can drop the facade. You’re not worried about my health. If the health of strangers was a valid concern for you, you’d be more careful about where you blew your cigarette smoke. You wouldn’t have almost run down that skateboarder waiting to cross the curb. You’d help that poor woman struggling to load those heavy sacks of chicken scratch at the feed store. You’d cover your mouth when you cough to reduce the spread of infectious organisms.

This isn’t about my health as an individual, about your concerns for what society might lose if I drop dead. This is about the fact that you think I’m kind of gross. It’s okay. You can say it. You’re socialised to think that fat people are disgusting, to find my fat rolls hideous. You’re taught to cringe at the sight of my belly jiggling in a tight shirt, to believe that double chins are ugly and unpleasant to look at.

You’re taught that people like me are slow and stupid, that we don’t deserve to be treated like human beings. You’re taught that fat, on its own, is intrinsically, inherently bad. It takes a lot of work to overcome social conditioning, and often people try to dodge their conditioning by hiding it with something else. You want to tell me that you don’t care about my weight, you’re just ‘concerned.’

But you do care about my weight. My weight is the problem. I’m fat. That upsets you. The fact that I don’t care that I’m fat and don’t particularly care what you think about my fat upsets you even more. I’m breaking the rules. I’d say I’m sorry, but I’m not.

Be honest with yourself, if no one else: you’re bothered by fatness because it disgusts you, not because you’re worried for the health of your fellow humans. Now push yourself a little harder, please: why does fat disgust you?

S.E. Smith is a writer and editor who lives in Northern California. This post originally appeared on Smith’s personal website, This Ain’t Livin’, on October 18, 2013.

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12 replies »

  1. The truth is I’ve seen the end game of obesity and it isn’t pretty – diabetes, congestive heart failure, bones that fracture just under a patient’s weight. Granted, many of these patients are morbidly obese, but they are unhealthy and unable to live good, productive lives. I’m overweight and I know I should lose some pounds just for myself and my own health. Being fat isn’t okay if you want to be healthy especially as you get older.

  2. The ideas in this article were very well articulated, and having been fat myself, I completely concur that a disproportionate number of well-wishers – those who express concern about our weight – have a bias that they aren’t owning up to. That said, I can tell you that once I lost 40 pounds (believe me, it was no easy task), I was able to ditch my blood pressure medication, my cholesterol medication, my asthma medication, and my OTC antacids. All that medication and the extra doctor’s visits cost money – a lot of it. And not just my money, but other people’s too. Insurance companies exist to make a profit, and when more people are unhealthy, rates go up. The cost of healthcare has taken a huge toll on our economy and people are being priced out of access to some of the most basic services. So, I suppose, as a fat person, I could make the issue all about me and tell everyone else that it’s my problem, period. But the reality is that individuals do not exist in a vaccuum. We are a part of an interdependent society, and our chronic illnesses are becoming a substantial burden to the healthcare system. That’s handing people a reason to judge on a silver platter. As fat people, whether we’re gross is a matter of opinion. That we are expensive to support is a matter of fact, and we need to come to grips with that.

  3. I believe the theme of SE’s article articulated very clearly that, her business is her business and no one else’s. For all the busy bodies who believe they can control all aspects of our individual existence under the umbrella of the “public good”, many of us still consider what we do to be none of your D*** business.

  4. I believe that you are the owner of your body. You can do with it as you wish. I am a physician, I can give you advice as to what will make you more healthy, but you need to put this advice into practice yourself – or not.

    The Nanny State has already encroached on what we can do with our own bodies; laws on drug use, seat belt and helmet laws, the persecution of smokers, and now the war on fat people.

    I am a scuba diver, fly an experimental airplane and ride a scooter without a helmet. F you if you don’t like it. You can live YOUR life the way YOU want, but I am not going to live MY life the way YOU want!

  5. It’s your call, it’s your life, SE Smith.

    Some people scuba dive. Some people climb mountains. It’s all risky.

    Enjoy your time on this planet in the way you deem fit.

    Above us only sky, as Lennon said.

  6. If I look disparagingly at very fat people it’s because I think they selfishly over indulge and are just lazy. Just the same way I do not think highly of people who wear lots of flashy jewelry or furs or who are covered in tattoos or who never clean up there yards or fix their houses.

    Are fat poor people looked at worse than fat rich people – I bet they are, but I hold the same opinion either way – it’s just the impression that the world is all about them.

    As for societal consequences that cost us all for being fat – the evidence is everywhere. My wife works in a hospital where they’ve had to install over size toilets, larger beds, wider chairs, and special handling equipment. Nurses get more injuries trying to move them around. Not to mention diabetic costs as well.

    I know that our food marketing/production/subsidy system does not make reducing weight easy, or that once fat it’s easy to loose, hell I find it hard to loose the excess 10 pounds I carry even after working out 3x per week. I also understand that body chemistry is there to thwart easy success. However I can’t help but look in disgust at the morbidly obese – for which there are many.

    Where do you want us to go now that I’ve spoken my dirty little secret?

  7. I’m curious, S.E. Smith, as to why you were prompted to post your ruminations on this site. I’ve read little here to suggest any of the regular posters would care that you’re fat. Some may argue that you should pay more for insurance because of all the complications your weight will eventually cause. Others may advise you to lose the weight to improve your own quality of life. But I doubt anyone would point at the fatty and laugh like this is a middle-school playground.

  8. I can’t pretend to know the experiences you’ve had and the responses you’ve gotten due to societal understanding of normal weight. But I do know myself, and I know that only the worst of the worst would cause me to write as biting and acerbic a piece as this one. I’m genuinely sorry to you for whatever has come your way.

    I’m not fat. I may suffer from some light version of healthism instead (see here for more detail: https://thehealthcareblog.com/blog/2013/12/04/healthism-the-new-puritanism/).

    I know why I’m like that–so obsessed with my physical wellness. For beginners, it keeps me sane, relieves stress. The fixation on what I eat and how I move compensates for all of the periods of life where I feel like I don’t have control.

    And I have one less thing in my life to worry about when I deem it necessary to eat that pint of ice cream, chow down on filet mignon, or indulge in a cocktail when I feel like it. I’ve more than made up for it.

    I have friends and family who are overweight. I don’t find them gross. I have friends and family who aren’t overweight, some who are in faaar better shape than me. While I don’t ask that everyone keep a welllness check and balance as obsessively as me, I do find myself being pedantic to all of them from time to time–lecturing on the developing understanding of nutrition I myself have, emphasizing the importance of movement, of exercise, citing what’s worked for me to get a regular exercise and good diet routine, and what hasn’t.

    I’m sure everyone finds it annoying–including, now, you.

    I don’t tell my loved ones these things because I can’t bear to see fat rolls. And I’m not even telling those who have fat rolls already to get rid of them.

    I just want to share with them the little joy I get from focusing on my general wellness–how it’s helped me be a productive, functional individual, even when I’m at a low point. A run in the morning or in the evening. A game of tennis. A snack of almonds and blueberries. A good night’s rest. When all else seems frustrating or uncertain, I start from there. And I want them to have something like that, too. These habits and practices I preach about are certainly associated with the reduction and maintenance/regulation of weight (and they started out as a way for me to maintain control of this first a few years ago). But they’ve become much more than that for me now.

    So diminishing risk factors and taking advantage of health benefits alike, I preach health and wellness because in these tough times, I feel like everyone could use a center point. Is that so bad?

  9. I don’t think you’re gross. But I do think you’re wrong ..

    What you’re missing is that you’re putting your own life at risk

    You may be well educated enough to get the health issues involved , but the fact is that many of the people who die of obesity related health problems simply do not know the facts

  10. I’m a doctor and I come from a family of diabetics. I love to eat and come from a culture that loves to eat and believes that (America’s idea of ) being thin is a mark of being overly skinny and unhealthy. I am lectured on a daily basis about how I need to gain weight.

    I don’t throw stones. Either at my patients or generally in society. Mostly because I have come face to face with my own innumerable weaknesses and frailties. I am far from perfect and I know it. I don’t exercise regularly or aggressively enough, I love sweets, salts, and fried food. And I overeat. Any extra weight I haven’t gained is just from genetics. And the truth is that that doesn’t protect me either. Even at ~10lbs over ideal weight, I’m pre-diabetic as of my last check up and am actually dreading my next set of labs.

    That all being said, the bottom line isn’t about societal judgement. It’s about how you feel and how you want to live life. Exercise isn’t necessarily about losing weight, but about feeling healthy and active and being able to use your body well. Eating well can be about improving your longevity and overall feeling of wellness. The external evidence of weight may or may not be correlated to overall health, but the components that lead to it are worthy goals regardless of anyone else’s judgement.

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