You would think that the internet, in all its vastness, would be a more comfortable space for fat-bottomed girls to knock around in. I’ve been reminded multiple times this week that this is not always the case.
Just one example: someone out there thought it would be helpful to write a non-satirical article entitled, “Is Trump Making You Fat?” and someone else was like “Hell yeah, let’s post it. RESIST!!” While there may be correlation between my weight gain and the rise of our first cheddar president, the same correlation exists alongside several things, including the frequency of unflattering snapchats sent to people I respect by my preschooler. It tickles me and my lovehandles pink that of all the possible ways the federal government could be negatively impacting the populace, people are worried about girth- better deported or uninsured than fat, right?
I like to imagine this being said by a skinny soul, clutching a locket with a picture of Michelle Obama’s arms in it, like “won’t someone think of the backsides??” Really though, with one third of adults in the US labeled as obese, there has never been a better time to address our lack of adipositivity. They are just cells. They are not going to reach out and infect you; this is not the movie Space Amoeba. (Though that would be cool. Get on it, science!)
Fatphobia, on the other hand, is dangerous and real. It is based on the premise that fat is so inherently, inexcusably bad that if you have some, it’s considered a public service to warn you about the obesity, diabetes, and heart disease you must be unaware of, presumably due to the difficulty of hearing over the deafening sound of your own lipids.
Any intervention, be it an eating disorder, harmful steroids, or high-risk surgery will yield greater social rewards than maintaining healthy practices that don’t slim you down. I know fatphobia exists, and yet I’m continually baffled it does. This is the same country where congress once determined pizza was a vegetable. Our national independence is celebrated with the sizzle of meat fat, there are more places in your neighborhood to buy cookies than kale, and you can’t watch your favorite sporting event without seeing celebrities on TV crediting sugary drinks for their fitness, happiness, and so on. We could not be more in love with fatty shit, yet casually continue treating fat people like shit.
The most insistent people will tell you it is for science and health reasons. Aside from the obvious concern-trolling, these arguments generally don’t address the growing body of evidence that suggests chronically ill obese persons have better health outcomes than thin people with the same illnesses. It also fails to acknowledge the reality that obesity is practically irreversible, obese folks may have a higher incidence of disease because diseases can cause obesity, and that there is no disease that cannot also afflict lean populations.
Being thin, even if it were possible for the majority of people, is not a reliable cure for disease. For folks truly concerned with the health and well-being of Wide America, please acknowledge the way fat-shaming contributes to vicious cycles of isolation, depression, discrimination in healthcare settings, and more that can begin to make sedentary lifestyles feel like the safest available option.
Most people understand it’s not okay to poke fun at people for their disabilities, but how frequently do we throw that out the window if the person using a mobility aid is fat? Even fathletes who are able to demonstrate the same fitness as thinner folks do not get the same acceptance, credibility, and autonomy in regards to their own health. When’s the last time you felt it was anything less than complete asshattery to offer unsolicited health advice to your skinny friends – the ones who think whipped cream and sprinkles belong on coffee and that midnight is the best time for crunchwraps? Chances are, even if you’ve dared to trample that sacrosanct social boundary, it was out of concern for their weight before anything else.
“We’ve voted against Medicare For All and removed the fiber from your salad. You’re welcome!”
The consequences of telling people to address their health problems by getting on a scale are potentially fatal: My mother was diagnosed with Cushing’s disease/aggressive pituitary adenoma after years of blaming fat for her symptoms and treating them by running on a treadmill. Had she been given the same benefit of the doubt frequently reserved for lean men, she might have caught the tumors in time to have them removed entirely. She also could have died from delay; others already have.
While it may seem easy to dismiss such experiences as rare, those who have had them will tell you the diagnosis is more of a rarity than the disease. I know I once muddled through life as a thin-enough vegan unable to figure out why I felt so terrible – was my homemade oat flour rancid? Was I getting enough b12? Oh God, maybe the neighborhood doTerra Shaman Lady was right and I need more Fennel- until I finally gained enough weight to see a doctor who ordered a hormone panel and caught my thyroid disease, then a stretched-out heart hole I’ve had since birth. I hope she would have done that even if I didn’t have a physically demanding job to make my weight seem undeserved, but I can’t be sure.
I wonder how many Bob Harper’s of the world died from their heart attacks because they considered cardiac arrest a risk only assumed by fat people and didn’t take their symptoms seriously. Isn’t it funny how genetics can take the blame for a thin man’s heart attack, but not waist circumference? The choice seems clear: Continue reinforcing the status quo of fat-shaming and increased incidence of obesity, or shake things up. Things besides your go-to protein powder, which may or may not be powdered toenail clippings; I can’t say which.
“We’re going to stay in your room and lick hand weights for calories until you can fit under the door and into Lululemon, because nothing else has worked”
One thing I would like to recommend (other than reading and signal-boosting body positive voices) is to take a free test (or five) from Project Implicit. The trouble with bias in all forms, no matter which phenotype it targets, is that it’s not always immediately obvious, not even to those who experience it. I was amazed to complete the tests and discover the group I harbored the most prejudice against was actually fat people.
I spent so much of my life resisting media messages about my body even before I was defined as “obese,” so it floored me to see how much I had internalized despite such efforts. Now, when I watch sports commercials, I interrupt those well-worn neural pathways by comparing representations of fat women to portrayals of thin women or fat men. I think about the ways body shame is used to sell products that aren’t actually nutritious, or the ways even beneficial products and services are sold as magical talismans against fat instead of quality products for people who may be interested in them with no regard for body type.
I don’t take stout abdominal structure as an invitation to say anything I wouldn’t say to a thin person, and I constantly remind myself that blood sugar, cholesterol, and hormones are not measured in pounds. It seems to be working.
Ask yourself regularly whether you make room for every body in the same spaces you are able to occupy without tension. Removing the stress and stigma associated with breaking the mold of arbitrary western beauty standards will make fitness more accessible to people who want it, and there isn’t anything owed us by the people who don’t. Whether you’ve got chubby thigh-ceps or twiggy chicken legs, in the wise words of Lindy West, “Loving yourself is not antithetical to health, it is intrinsic to health. You can’t take good care of a thing you hate.”