Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Reader Reaction: The Stigma of Being Fat

After my post The Stigma of Being Fat published, I had a conversation with a long time friend. She had so much to say about my post that I suggested that instead of commenting, that she should email me and I would post her comments in their own post. I think her perspective is important and not isolated. And the discussion surrounding the stigma and discrimination of obesity is one that I think we need to have as a nation. So I'll start here.

Speaking as someone who was an obese child and is now an obese adult I say that I really hope no one wants us to accept being fat as viable way of life. It sucks on so many levels. That said, I have never had a bully express their concern for my health or quality of life. They tell me and other obese individuals, in no uncertain terms that we are not as good as they are. We are less than. We are not lovable. We don't perform as well in the work place, we are simply not worthy of the space we inhabit. When I am bullied in my life it makes me feel so low, so hopeless and desperate that I feel the need to drug myself to escape the pain. My drug of choice?? Pizza, Cake, Cookies...all manner of highly processed, sugar and fat and chemical laden yummies that I'm told through advertisements will alleviate my worst pains and make me happy. So the stigma against fat people MUST GO. It's un-Christian, inhumane and mostly it is unhelpful.

I hope you don't mind if I reveal something personal from both our lives, COB. When we were roommates in college you were the most loving and supportive friend I've probably ever had. You encouraged me to love myself and care for myself. And what happened? World! Hear me now! I began a journey in which I lost 75 pounds. I began to exercise. I kept it off for several years. I felt great. I was the happiest I have ever been in my life before or since. Unfortunately I wasn't able to sustain it over the long haul due to some very deeply-seated issues and bad habits and blah blah blah. That's not the point. Obviously anecdotes do not count as research except in our own lives. My research leads me to believe that the only way out of this miserable fat life is up. I must love and accept myself before I can heal and be healthy.

Let me preface my next statement by saying that I do not blame anyone but myself. I make my own choices. But that doesn't mean there aren't a whole host of contributors and challenges to my personal goals. My drug of choice is everywhere! Restaurants, advertisements, pushers in the form of coworkers, friends and family, it’s virtually inescapable. To be fair, drug addicts don’t have to contend with the constant barrage of images of their drug. It’s not sold literally on every single corner or in drive-thrus (or is it?). And there are people everywhere telling me I don’t deserve even my own love because of my obesity and in low moments I believe them and turn to my ever-present and reasonably priced drugs. How can I possibly lose weight and lead a healthy life in such an environment?! Even having a best friend on a whole food crusade has not alleviated my problems.

Yes I joined a CSA, I’m eating more veggies than ever before. But I truly struggle at the grocery store or the restaurant to make the choices I know are better for me. On the one hand I’m disgusted by microwaveable low-fat, low-carb “health” meals…but I still buy them sometimes when I’m at a loss. Why on earth am I telling you all of this? Because I truly believe it matters. I am living proof of our country’s failure when it comes to food and diet. I am the end result of everything the whole-food movement is trying to combat. I wish my parents had tried harder to get me to eat healthily. They openly admit they gave up trying to make me eat vegetables at around 4. I vividly remember our fridge was full of real Coca Cola, Oscar Meyer Bologna, Lays potato chips and Ruffles and Doritos. Then in the late 80s there was a shift…to Diet Coke, Lite Bologna, Miracle Whip, Baked Chips. We stopped having Tyson Microwaveable dinners and started having Lean Cuisine and Healthy Choice. And we all gained weight.

Most of America, I believe, is living in a delusional state where they don’t believe or accept that they are eating unhealthily. That they are contributing to their children’s obesity. They DO need a wakeup call. That is my opinion. But even being awakened, as I feel I have been, is only the first step, not the answer because we will struggle between knowing what we should eat: whole foods, and wanting so badly to eat the foods we grew up with, the foods we’ve been conditioned and programmed to eat for the last 30 years. We will stand in the supermarket trying to decide between the bagged organic baby greens and the low-fat, low-calorie, low-sodium can of soup. And in frustration we’ll say “F*** it!” and grab a burger instead.

What we need is a revolution! We need, as a society, to create an entirely new environment of understanding and support. We need to reject, as a whole, these nonfood options. We need to demand real food. It should be everywhere. It should be the cultural habit to eat healthfully and wholly. If it’s everywhere, if it’s the norm, not only would today’s children have it easier when they become adults, but those of us fighting our bad habits and compulsions would surely have an easier time making decisions if the options were fewer and healthier in nature. If my choices were between Kale, Chard and Collard Greens it would be much easier to choose the healthy option than when my choices are fast food, packaged food and salad. But maybe I’m the one who’s delusional because this all seems way too much to ask of our head-in-the-ground society.


  1. Hear, hear! Thank you for posting. I agree: we need a cultural revolution. Thanks to COB for your part in working towards this kind of transformative change! Support of farmers markets, whole foods, real foods and related movements may seem small, but it's things like them that can eventually reach a tipping point and promote broader cultural transformation. It probably needs strategic and international interventions by coordinated parties, but every little bit in this direction helps.

    This was wonderful. Thanks for posting!

  2. Ditto. It is one thing to say that obesity is not ok and another to say that a person is less than human because they are obese. Another issue I have struggled with is that even obese people need to eat healthy meals daily. I hate getting looked at because I chose a piece of meat instead of a salad with fat free dressing for every meal! We still need to eat, even though we are over weight, we just need to eat the right foods and the right amounts.

  3. Thanks for your thoughts Anonymous. Actually meat is quite healthful and promotes fat burning. So really anyone who would judge you for eating meat is another victim of the poor nutrition education we have received at the hand of science.

    But that isn't really the point. Each person out there has their own story, and strangers aren't privy to any of it. Judgement isn't right no matter what you are eating!

  4. That was a really poignant and profound comment from your friend. I totally agree with everything your bestie had to say about the plight of living as an obese person. I'm not obese, but I'm definitely overweight in proportion to my height. I've changed a lot as I'm approaching my 30th bday this Nov. I want to be heathier now and for my future family. However, this messed up food culture our society has makes it hard to buy healthy. It's because the over processed crap they call food is so much more affordable on the average American budget. If the price of processed foods were changed to match the actual cost to produce it, more people would choose fresh produce to eat. Simply because it's more cost effective. For many people, especially in this recession, the bottom line is price.

    The only thing I somewhat disagree with is saying all food science is bad. I am a scientist who works at company that supplies an essential nutrient product to the food industry. There is NO WAY possible to feed the world's population and the future growth of it without the help of science. You cannot grow crops the old-fashioned way and get enough yield to feed 1 billion people let alone the nearly 7 billion of our world's population. Yes our food system, especially in the US, needs a major overhaul, but you can't eliminate science in the process.

    On a side note, whenever I see COB, it makes me want to call you "close of business". Lol