Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Does Being Fat Make you a Bad Person?

***I apologize in advance for rambling on (and on and on) in this post. I've been thinking about what to write for a few days now, and I can't seem to put my thoughts into a cohesive essay.***

This weekend I was subject to some written abuse by a member of my husband's family. It was unprovoked and shocking. Apparently, this person hasn't liked me for a long time and all it took was a meme I posted on my Facebook page to set her off. It seems that most of her animosity for me comes from the fact that I'm fat. Her attack was peppered with the word- "FAT." Sure, she had some other things to say, but none bothered me more than this because I can't deny it.

I'm no stranger to ridicule stemming from my appearance. I was never skinny, even as a child, and people can be cruel. The names have run the gamut from "Shamu" to "Fat Ass" to "Wide Load." Most of the time the taunts came from pre-adolescent boys when I was a kid. I haven't had to deal with name calling in years. No, for the last 15 years the abuse has been internal. I hated myself. Looking in the mirror was difficult. I've married into a family full of thin women- I am by far the heaviest one at our gatherings. I've been the biggest in the bridal party for several weddings. It's both motivating and discouraging. I want to be one of the thin, fit ones. I will continue to work to get there. But for every pound I lose, there are still 20 more to go. Clothes shopping is a terrible chore. Nothing fits, and if it does, it almost never looks good. Almost every time I leave the store on the verge of tears. If, miraculously, I leave the store with something I'm happy with I will definitely change my mind once I get home and see what it "really" looks like. Also, am I the only one that looks in the mirror before I leave the house thinking I look pretty decent only to see photos later that prove I looked like a fat mess?! This is a cruel, cruel phenomenon.

I originally wanted to make a "word cloud" of all the derogatory names for fat people for the top of this post (unfortunately, I couldn't get the site to load) so I took to google to add to my arsenal. I found an old blog post called "Should we be mean to fat people? You bet." In it the author argues that negative reinforcement can only help. He equates the taunting of obese people to the anti-smoking campaigns that have become so popular in the past few years.
There are good arguments for being mean to fat people. Like smoking and riding a motorcycle without a helmet, obesity is a choice that drives up health costs for all of us. And there’s an even better argument: Because it works. In 1950, roughly half the population smoked. It’s now fallen below 20%. Why? Because of a panoply of mean-spirited anti-smoking measures, from taxation to advertising to social stigmatization to good old fashioned scolding. Humans are social creatures. We can’t help it. We care what others think. Make something uncool enough and we will stop doing it. Currently 2/3 of adult Americans are overweight and 1/3 are obese. If we are mean to fat people as we are to smokers, could we get that down below 20% as we have smoking?
Maybe I'm naive since I'm not a smoker, but I don't see those anti-smoking campaigns as mean. Blunt- yes, but not mean. I also believe that smoking is more of a choice than obesity. I agree that 99% of the time, obesity is the result of decades of poor choices- the choice to eat fast food instead of whole fruits and vegetables, to sleep in instead of exercising, to watch TV with a bowl of buttered popcorn instead of jogging to the local farmer's market for some fresh grapes. I disagree with the author's assumption that people are happy being fat and need a reality check. As if informing someone that they are obese and it isn't healthy will be shocking. They will say "You know- it never occurred to me to try and change. By golly- you're a genius!" And the "meanie" will be credited with changing someone's life since, after all, he was doing it out of love. Because, apparently, fat people need to be ridiculed for the benefit of all.

No, most of the people I know who are overweight aren't happy about it. They aren't sitting down at night planning how to get in the most calories and the least exercise the next day. They aren't walking into the plus size department in glee at all the fabulous frocks they get to wear! Nope, they are more likely standing in front of a mirror crying because nothing fits right and they aren't quite sure when it happened. Most of them are trying to do something about it. How does he know the person he's nagging about being overweight hasn't already lost 50lbs and is working on the rest?

I don't think negative reinforcement is the way to go.

I think this comment on the post says it better than I could:

BeaAugust 25, 2011 at 4:30 am :
You pick on overweight people because they are an easy target, and most people NEED to pick on someone. Makes them feel superior and satisfies some inner need to dominate someone. Overweight people are already ashamed, even if they are part of some small percent that have trouble being thin. Your society has already shamed them. They know you think they are lower than drug addicts, robbers, and some killers. In fact, you’d rather be seen hanging out with a notorious killer than with somebody fat, wouldn’t you? Overweight people probably won’t fight back. Most of them are mild, polite, empathetic, always worrying about hurting someone else because they’ve been hurt so much they know what it feels like. I don’t care where you got your statistics about what percent of people cannot help being fatter than the rest. Doctors are frequently wrong about many things. Some thin people barely eat, and are really fat people in disguise. Other thin people eat like horses and never gain an ounce. I know some of those. One in particular always criticizes people who are even slightly plump, without being grateful for her own rapid metabolism from birth.
You don’t need to start being mean to fat people. It’s not a new idea. Instead, when you see a fat person out and about, you should stop and be extra kind to them, because their coming out of the house today, into a cruel society, probably took more courage and guts than you expend in several years. Instead of hatefulness, try kindness and support. They already know they are overweight and that you find them abhorrent. Perhaps, though, they are too polite to tell you just how repugnant they find your ugly spirit.
To Bea- I love you. :-)

I'm certain the person who was calling me out this weekend wasn't doing it out of love. She knew exactly what to say to hurt me and said it over and over. After being upset about it for a little while I realized something important: being fat does not make me bad. As much as she would like to believe it and as often as I tell myself how horrible and gross I am- it doesn't make it true. If being overweight is the only thing I have to apologize for- than I would say I'm a good person. I'm smart, caring, nice and loving. I would never launch a personal attack on something because I disagree with something they say. I will do anything for my friends and family. I don't aim to hurt people, if I do it's entirely accidental and I will apologize and feel guilt.
I will lose this weight and she will have nothing to say that can hurt me.

Thanks for reading!

PS- I have decided to moderate all comments since I don't know who reads this blog and I don't want anyone posting inflammatory statements.

PPS- I decided to link this post for Project 10 this week. Please visit Stephanie's Mommy Brain for more information on Project 10!


  1. I couldnt agree more with this. I feel the same way about thinking I look ok before I leave the house but pictures proving that wrong. I have been overweight my whole life. As a kid I had mostly a poor diet but for the past 11yrs I drink tons of water a daily (1 or 2x a year I may have juice or soda) for the most part I eat healthy. Out of all of my friends fat or skinny I am the healthiest eater yet im still overweight. My down fall are carbs and sweets. I could pick a salad over a burger very easily but its hard to pass up a piece of cake or bread. I eat mostly whole wheat carbs but that hasnt made a difference. Its funny because just because im fat people think im lazy, meanwhile I workout more than my skinny friends do and I eat better then them (their diet consists of fried fattening foods). I cant wait to just lose the weight. Also a comment about the being mean to fat people to encourage them to be skinny... that definitely wouldn't work with me. When I get discouraged whether its by what someone says or just be me being negative to myself, it does nothing except make me want to go buy a pint of ice cream and eat it.

    1. I'm the same way- for some reason, whenever I'm frustrated about my weight- all I want to do is start snacking. When I see some results- it motivates me to keep eating healthy. It's a cruel irony.

  2. Keri, I'm home from blogher and catching up on everybody's blogs. I am horrified to read that someone wrote derogatory things to you. That is despicable, and you should not have been subjected to that. I know I don't know you in person, but I can tell from online (and from my husband telling me how you were in HS) that you are a wonderful person. I hope you know that. No matter what your weight is, you're a fabulous person. I'm sorry you had to deal with such hate.

    In terms of weight loss, I completely fell off the wagon since I was away for a week. And now we have houseguests for a few days and it's going to be a slew of eating out. It's hard to get back into it, but I'm determined to get back on track. You have my support and I hope we can motivate each other :)

  3. I completely agree with Megan. I'm sorry that you were personally attacked. My guess is even after you lose the weight the person will find something to be critical about. Sounds like she has her own issues to deal with.

    I've never met someone that didn't know she was overweight. Ridicule never motivates change. Compassion and understanding (NOT enabling) helps people change.

    Keep going. Don't let vicious people sidetrack you from reaching your goal of a healthy lifestyle!

  4. I'm just catching up now, and although I was there for this happening in "real time," it still really upsets me. Keep going, don't give up, and just know that you are WONDERFUL!