Before I start, let me make it very clear that I do not think it’s a good thing to be seriously overweight. No one in her right mind would purposefully gain weight she didn’t need. (Except for actors for roles and people like Donna Simpson, the 600-lb. woman who wants to get to 1,000—and you could certainly argue that she’s not in her right mind.)
But I’m sick of people (who are usually not overweight) characterizing fat people as weak, disgusting, even immoral. Prejudice against fat people is stronger than ever, what with all the emphasis on being fit and healthy (it is commonly assumed that fat people can’t possibly be healthy) and, of course, thin.
Then there all the statistics that inform us that 60% of America’s population is overweight (not obese, just overweight, which could mean that they’re packing an extra five or ten pounds) and that over 30% is morbidly obese (which makes it sound as if they’re the size of elephants). When people read those statistics, they shake their heads in disapproval and condemnation.
No one ever feels sorry for fat people. Their weight is always their fault, never mind that they gain weight easily, have a slow metabolism, a different body type, are on medication that causes weight gain or are restricted in their activity by a disability. They’ve “let themselves go” and that simply will not be forgiven.
I admire people like Kirstie Alley (above) and Kathleen Turner, who refuse to let their weight gain send them scurrying into the shadows in shame or embarrassment. (I’ve read that Turner’s weight gain was originally the result of the prednisone she took for her rheumatoid arthritis. Alley states that hers is the result of eating too much.) They are both beautiful, talented people and they shouldn’t have to apologize for being fat.
And then there’s the word “fat.” When I was a fat little kid, my mom used to say that I was “pleasingly plump.” There are lot of euphemisms designed to spare fat people’s feelings: chubby (for children), plus-size, large, big-boned, curvy, being a person of size, weight-challenged, full-figured, voluptuous, built for comfort—I’ve heard them all. I especially like it when people say, “But you have such a pretty face!”
I don’t like being fat. I try to control my eating, but one bad day can set me back for two weeks. I put on five pounds each year for the past two years when I broke my foot (yes, twice in a row) and was rendered immobile. I haven’t been able to get those ten pounds off and I hate myself for it, because I was once lighter and I don’t understand why I can’t get back there again. I admit that I don’t get as much exercise as I should, but I don’t see why I should have to put myself through the tortures of hell in order to lose enough weight to call myself slim again. (Yes, I used to be slim, although I never ever thought so. Now I’d love to be as “fat” as I was even thirty pounds ago.)
So what is the alternative? Could it be that I could actually accept myself the way I am? Or could I take it a step further and learn to embrace my fat?
That’s the goal of the National Association to Advance Fat Acceptance (NAAFA). Started in 1969, NAAFA’s goal is to promote the idea that being fat does not automatically mean that you are stupid, lazy, smelly, slow, lacking in willpower or self-control, socially inept, a burden on society or unattractive. (Even thin people can have any or all of those attributes.) It does mean that you will be discriminated against. Fat people are less likely to get hired or promoted, to receive adequate health care (everything is blamed on their being fat, and many doctors refuse to help them unless they lose weight), to receive the same level of service as a slim person and, of course, to find clothing that fits and is attractive.
People of average or lower-than-average weight can’t begin to fathom what it’s like to be fat in our society. Instead of being understanding, let alone accepting, they attempt to shame and lecture fat people into losing weight. What they do end up doing is creating an environment that is so judgmental and punishing, very few fat people are able to escape feelings of self-loathing. That only makes matters worse. And when a fat person does indicate that he would like to lose weight, he is expected to “just do it.”
These are the same people who think that depressed people should just “get over it” and that poor people should just work harder. It’s never that simple. There are a slew of physiological, psychological, sociological, economic and environmental issues that affect a person’s ability to lose weight.
It’s almost easier to lose the weight than it is to stop feeling bad about yourself once you’ve been branded as a “fattie.” It’s not at all unusual for a formerly fat person to continue to think that she’s fat. That’s one reason why it’s so hard to keep the weight off: she believes society’s assessment of her so much she’s uncomfortable trying to become something different.
It takes a lot of courage to buck the system and ignore all the messages that try to tell you that you’re inferior. But the only way to find happiness is to tell all the critics to go to hell. Embrace yourself the way you are. You deserve it.