What My Body is Not

Doug 5

Photo by Doug Spearman

I get so many messages about what a fat body is, I thought I’d talk about some of the things that my body isn’t:

My Body is Not Embarrassing

Being fat (or being called fat) is no more embarrassing to me than being (or being called) brunette.  These are just physical descriptors. It’s not that “fat” is bad in and of itself, the problem is that people attach all kinds of stereotypes to the descriptor.  If someone is to be embarrassed, it’s the person who wants to mistreat a group of people based on how they look.

Often when fat people get fat-shamed or fat-bullied we get embarrassed.  Let’s put the embarrassment where it belongs.  It’s not embarrassing to be fat, and it shouldn’t be embarrassing to be fat-shamed.  It’s embarrassing to be a fat-bigot and it’s embarrassing to be a fat-shamer.

My Body is Not a Crisis

Fat people are subjected to experimental medicine without our consent, fat kids are subjected to completely untested “anti-obesity” experiments  Fat people are given stomach amputations that massively increase our mortality rate and have incredibly serious side effects. We are told that all of this is necessary because being fat is just so unhealthy that we need to try to be thin by any means and if it kills us well, at least we’ll leave a thinner corpse.  This is ridiculous.  Fat people have and will continue to exist, our bodies are not crises that call for the suspension of scientific method, evidence based medicine, and all logical thought.

It doesn’t matter how much a doctor (or someone who watches Dr. Oz and thinks they are a doctor) believes that being thinner will improve my life, because that doctor does not know how to make me thin.  There is not a single study where more than a tiny percentage of people successfully maintained weight loss and there is no study that shows that those people are healthier than they would have been without weight loss. Even if someone believes that a fat body is a medical diagnosis (and I don’t think it is) weight loss as an intervention simply does not meet the criteria of evidence-based medicine, since evidence-based medicine requires that we have some reason to believe that a “treatment” will be successful.

People who have bad knees would be helped tremendously if they could fly, since that would take the pressure right off their knees.  No matter how much a doctor believes that to be true, she cannot recommend that they go home, jump off their roof and flap their arms really hard because “it hardly ever works, but think of the benefits if it did!”  Luckily there is good evidence that, for those interested in improving their odds for health (which is never guaranteed, is not entirely within our control and is not an obligation or barometer of worthiness) behaviors  have a much better chance than attempting to achieve a specific height/weight ratio.

My Body is Not Immortal

Having seen the state of the research around “obesity” and mortality, I am painfully aware that If I die because an alien ship drops a futuristic piano on my head, it will be marked down as a death due to “complications of obesity.”  Everyone is going to die, but if you die in a fat body someone – likely someone who should know better, often someone in a position of authority – is going to blame it on your fat.

The threat of death due to fat is used to sell fat people products from diets to stomach amputations. If I were one of those piano-dropping aliens and I listened to the conversations around weight loss and health, I would think that thin people must be immortal.  In fact, thin people get all the same diseases that fat people do, and people of all sizes get sick, and people of all sizes die (and there should be no shame or blame in that.). There’s even something called the “obesity paradox” which is the name given to explain that in certain chronic diseases including cardiovascular disease, Type 2 Diabetes, and chronic renal disease, being fat is associated with better survival than in “normal weight” individuals.  Of course it’s only a “paradox” if you didn’t fuck up your conclusions in the first place, but that’s a topic for another blog.

Still we are told that we should see our fat bodies as large, soft death traps (like the doctor who was quoted by a reporter saying that he’s worried that Kelly Clarkson “won’t live to see her daughter grow up” when, by his own calculations she’s likely to live until almost 80,) and that the key to health is to feed our bodies less than they need to survive in the hopes that they will eat themselves and become smaller.  What they never discuss is the fact that they can’t control for the effects that constant shame and stigma have on fat people (like being the subject of a war waged on us by the government based on how we look.)  The brilliant Deb Burgard wrote an amazing piece that speaks about other aspects of this.  We don’t know how to make fat people thinner, but we do know how to stop shaming and stigmatizing them so let’s give that the old college try and see what happens.

Fat people’s bodies are no less valuable and amazing than any other bodies, and we absolutely should not have to climb over a mountain of stigma, shame, oppression, and bullying just to be forced to fight for the ability to actually like ourselves, but that’s the world we live in now. For me, the solution to this isn’t to change fat people, it’s to change society, until then it helps me to remember that the world is messed up, but we are fine.

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Published in: on July 14, 2015 at 10:07 am  Comments (21)  

21 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. You have really pretty hair – I like how that picture makes it seem like part of the dance you’re doing. Do you ever (deliberately) use your hair as a visual prop when you dance?

  2. I’ve been a fair range of sizes in my life and strangely enough, most of the time, I’ve felt healthy and stronger when I’ve been bigger. I always feel like crap when I diet so I assume my healthy weight is bigger than the so-called “ideal” BMI. I’ve since decided I’ll never diet again unless it’s to cut out a particular food should I have a problem with it. It really is ridiculous how they assume fat is unhealthy or leading to death. I’ve seen many fat people / relatives live to a ripe old age. People just like to blame death on something tangible and what they think is controllable because it gives them a sense of safety that they won’t have to suffer it one day, lol.

    • Kathy, I felt the same way. I felt healthier and stronger at higher weights. When I tried to explain this to doctors, they looked at me as if I had told them that I was trying to fly.

  3. Just an evil thought:

    Assuming:
    -diet/exercise does extend life span and/or prevent injury & illness
    -weight is successfully kept off the remainder of one’s life

    What will we do with the plethora of centenarians and super-centenarians we will have around?

    Social security will go bankrupt at record pace because funds won’t come in fast enough to pay out to beneficiaries. In 2013 there were 2.8 workers paying in for each beneficiary. What if that flips to become 2.8 beneficiaries for every worker? Think payroll taxes are high now….

    Medicare will bust with all the extensive medical care many who are very elderly will require. The body breaks down as it ages, no matter how well it is cared for. Fixing it is expensive.

    Pensions will run out long before the beneficiary passes on. Very few folks after 100 have the stamina to hold down full-time employment. Most likely they will need skills training/updating. Or are we good with turning them out into the streets?

    And surely society won’t want taxes hiked to pay for all this.

    Is this what we’re aiming for?

    Gee, obviously the better idea is to teach folks how to fly.

    • http://www.nytimes.com/2008/02/05/health/05iht-obese.1.9748884.html?_r=0

      You aren’t the first to have this evil thought!😉

      • I love that study so much. Common sense is often wrong.

        The elderly are extraordinarily expensive to care for. I’ve had two grandparents go through nursing homes and specialized care, and the bills that rack up are insane.

        • Yes, my last living grandma (died 2 yrs ago) kept on living longer than everyone expected. She was 92.5 when she finally went, but she lived a 3.75 yrs in the place where she and granddad were living, by herself, then she had to go to another home that had more care, and 6 months after that she went to a nursing home. The 2nd last place cost $5000/month and was basically help with showers, laundry service, and meals. She had really bad Alzheimer’s and needed more care. That place would’ve made her bankrupt quickly, then what?

          The nursing home was about $1400/month plus subsidized, and offered meals, laundry, help with shower, they’d set up a room for your family to come have Christmas lunch or supper with you, a doctor on site, salon for hair and nails (she got a perm every other week), movie night, bingos, church service in the building (but she never went). Most nursing homes though, have a 2 yr + waiting line. The one that is the best in the city (or maybe the province) is currently being expanded from 1 flr to 4 flrs and a huge building (I work across the street from the expansion), and is high demand as it also doubles as a hospice. It is the Father Lacombe Home.

  4. I agree wholeheartedly with this post, but I have trouble applying it in practice.

    I keep thinking of a friend who recently lost weight but regained a few pounds (was not even overweight to start with) and kept saying “I’m fat.” It was driving me insane, because she’s not fat by any definition of the word. What’s the best way to react to something like this? “Fat isn’t a bad thing, but you’re not fat”?

    Even when I try to transfer this to eye color or hair color, I keep thinking about an argument I had with a roommate of mine in college. She said something about my “brown eyes,” and I said, “Actually, they’re hazel.” She looked at them and said, “Nope, they are poop brown like mine.” I said, “Your eyes are BEAUTIFUL brown, they are not POOP brown, you are being ridiculous, and my eyes are still hazel. When I cry, they look very green.” You get the idea.

    By debating this with her, I wasn’t putting any value on hazel vs. brown, I just didn’t personally identify with the characteristic of brown eyes. But I feel like if it had been another characteristic, it would have been perceived as putting a value on it. This is where I struggle with the word “fat.” In fact, I think I may even say that I have “hazel fat.” It’s not clearly “green” or “brown”, it’s “hazel” .. my BMI is 28.7 and I shop in the plus size section 50% of the time (size 14), but due to my height and hourglass shape (presumably), most people wouldn’t call me fat and I have not experienced any real fat discrimination. I struggle with whether or not to call myself “fat” not because it’s embarrassing or negative but because I’m not sure if it correctly describes me. If pressed, I’d say “clinically overweight” as it has a hard-and-fast definition, even though I’m also aware that BMI is pretty bogus. No matter HOW I describe myself, I’m not putting a “value judgment” on the word “fat.” And when I wanted to tell my friend “you’re not fat,” I also wasn’t saying it as a negative word, but with a BMI of 20, she is just.. not fat.

    TL;DR version, is there a way to say that people are “fat” or “not fat” without putting a value judgment on it..?? Or am I just thinking about this too much..?😀

    • “Clinically overweight” assumes that there is a correct weight to be. As for whether or not you are “fat,” well, that depends a lot on where you are. In Detroit, you might not be considered fat, but in Los Angeles, you would be.

      It’s really subjective, so my vote is to use it if you feel comfortable using it to describe yourself.

      As for your friend, why not ask her what her definition of “fat” is? She might think anything over a sample size is fat. Is she involved in modeling? Perhaps she believes it has more to do with shape than with BMI, anyway.

      • I say “clinically overweight” because according to my medical records, my BMI is in the overweight range, and BMI has a specific definition and number range and in this sense is not subjective in that sense. Yes, I know BMI is a load of bunk and constantly tell people as much, but I use the term partially to be subversive. As mentioned previously, people for whatever reason don’t perceive me as “fat.” But I’m “clinically overweight.” If I’m constipated and haven’t taken a dump recently, I’m “obese.” I know these terms are seen as pathologizing fatness, but if I’m not perceived by others as fat, am I still pathologizing fatness by using these terms for myself? What if Dwayne Johnson started referring to himself as obese to show how ridiculous BMI is. Would that be pathologizing fatness, or would it be subversive? I’m still not sure, so this question isn’t entirely rhetorical!

        I really like your idea of asking my friend her definition of “fat,” which I will do if she says this again. I suspect that she simply means fat in relation to her own body weight, or she’s “feeling” fat. But either way, I think that’s the best way to point out what might be wrong with what she’s saying.

    • Kinda sounds like my dad. He tore his toenail while cutting it, and his blame was that he’s fat. After mowing the lawn, he said he was “huffing and puffing”. Isn’t any athlete after running or their event?

      This his blame game for any mishap, but thin people also tear their nails off and “huff and puff”.

  5. And please make chairs we can sit in without being in pain, feeling like we’re going to fall, or getting *way* too friendly with the person sitting next to us.

    • Yeah, I wish!

    • Oh my god, YES. This. I carry most of my weight in my hips and thighs, and so many chairs are uncomfortable for me. Especially in restaurants, for some unfathomable reason. Haven’t they got it figured out that non-dieters will eat more and thus spend more than the poor souls who spend their lives counting calories/points/carbs/food characteristic of the day? Back in my Weight Watchers days, just getting an entree meant hoarding points all week and skipping the yummy side dishes, forget about a drink or dessert. Now if I want strawberry lemonade to drink or bread pudding for dessert, I get one. As long as I don’t have sugary things at every meal I feel fine, and isn’t eating out supposed to be a treat?

      • YES!

      • [gasp!]

        NOT the strawberry lemonade!! Next it’ll be anarchy in the streets, I’m telling you! :p

        • Made with real sugar and crushed strawberries, not Splenda and sugar-free strawberry flavored syrup, even! It’s madness!

          Delicious fruity madness!

  6. “It’s embarrassing to be a fat-bigot and it’s embarrassing to be a fat-shamer.”

    Yes! This is exactly what I thought this week when I stumbled on a fat hate page that was referring a ton of traffic to my blog this week. I made the mistake and read some of the comments looking for where my blog was posted. It was apparent how full of self-loathing these trolls were, referring to themselves with a term meaning excrement (how self-loathing can you get?!). I’d almost feel sorry for them if they weren’t so vile. They are embarrassed for themselves and project it all outward. Happy people with good self-esteem don’t need to spend time tearing down others. They just don’t.

    • Well said!

  7. Reblogged this on Dangerous Curves NW and commented:
    “It doesn’t matter how much a doctor (or someone who watches Dr. Oz and thinks they are a doctor) believes that being thinner will improve my life, because that doctor does not know how to make me thin. There is not a single study where more than a tiny percentage of people successfully maintained weight loss and there is no study that shows that those people are healthier than they would have been without weight loss. Even if someone believes that a fat body is a medical diagnosis (and I don’t think it is) weight loss as an intervention simply does not meet the criteria of evidence-based medicine, since evidence-based medicine requires that we have some reason to believe that a “treatment” will be successful.

    People who have bad knees would be helped tremendously if they could fly, since that would take the pressure right off their knees. No matter how much a doctor believes that to be true, she cannot recommend that they go home, jump off their roof and flap their arms really hard because “it hardly ever works, but think of the benefits if it did!””

  8. Really insightful blog piece. I’m thankful for ppl like yourself who are further along in a journey of self acceptance- you’re making my journey much easier.


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