There’s been a recent outburst of fat shaming lately. Fat shaming is basically the act of making someone feel like crap because of their size. It’s always, always been a problem, but what’s brought the added attention to it as of late is an opinion piece in Marie Claire magazine called “Should ‘Fatties’ Get a Room? (Even on TV?)”, by Maura Kelly. Kelly was basically responding to the TV show “Mike and Molly,” about an overweight couple who meet via Overeaters Anonymous. As Kelly says, “So anyway, yes, I think I’d be grossed out if I had to watch two characters with rolls and rolls of fat kissing each other … because I’d be grossed out if I had to watch them doing anything. To be brutally honest, even in real life, I find it aesthetically displeasing to watch a very, very fat person simply walk across a room — just like I’d find it distressing if I saw a very drunk person stumbling across a bar or a heroine [sic] addict slumping in a chair.”
Okay, so we’re comparing overweight people to drunks and heroin addicts? Classy. But it’s not like she’s the only one. If I had a gallon of gas for every time I saw a Facebook status this Halloween weekend that decried the “fat girls” who dressed in “slutty” costumes, I’d have enough gas to drive my car to a McDonald’s in Buenos Aires. Did these people ever stop and think, for two seconds, that there’s a lack of store-bought costumes for women that AREN’T “sexy” versions of something? Or maybe, just maybe, these “fat” women wearing these costumes aren’t ashamed of their bodies, no matter that society tells them they should be?! We always feel bad for people who are anorexic or bulimic, as we should, but we regard people who are overweight as disgusting. So people are expected to be somewhere in between, which is difficult. It requires constant monitoring, which some people just can’t do. Also, overeating (or binge eating) is a genuine eating disorder. Sure, there are people out there who simply don’t care about how they look, about their health, and about what they eat. Some of these people are thin and some are fat. But there are also people who just feel the need to compulsively eat, just like there are people who feel the need to compulsively NOT eat, or people who feel the need to purge. We never acknowledge that, though, because we’re too quick to shame them for “making a choice” to be fat.
For easy use, here’s a list of things to remember before you make a fat joke, or write that Facebook status about the fat girl in your sociology class.
1. It ain’t cheap to be healthy.
Why else would notoriously broke college kids gain that “freshman fifteen?” They can’t afford to eat healthy. I personally am broke, and while I like to cook and eat vegetables and try new things that are generally healthy, I’ve recently had to cut back a bit on my grocery spending, and so it’s mac and cheese, soup, Rice-a-Roni, spaghetti, grilled cheese, and pancakes for me. Would I rather be buying portabella mushrooms to make a light pasta dish, or Asian vegetables for veggie lo mein, or fresh broccoli to make broccoli in brown sauce? Yes. But making recipe-based foods is expensive in general, and even more expensive if they require fresh produce. I eat Lean Cuisines, but I get burnt out on them. Also, it costs money to work out. Not everyone can afford a gym membership. Sure, there are other ways to work out, but gyms are convenient and easy. Too bad not everyone has the privilege to be a member of one. Being healthy and eating healthy is a definite class issue. If people really cared about “fat people” assaulting their eyes, then maybe they should work to provide produce to poor people in some way (grow it and sell it cheap at a farmer’s market, or work at a soup kitchen and help promote healthy eating there), or maybe they should organize free exercise classes, or maybe they could have a few less-privileged friends over for a veggie-filled meal once a week. I realize that this would be asking a lot, but aren’t we asking just as much of some people to be eating healthy or exercising all the time when it’s just not an option, due to their finances? If the weight issue in this country bothers you, then perhaps you should turn your attention to the poverty issue as well, and that includes the healthcare issue.
2. Consider biology.
Some people are just hefty by nature. It runs in families. I, for one, will probably always be a big person. I’d probably be “big” in a general sense even if I lost weight. I’m tall and I’m substantially sized. I don’t eat great, but at least I actually like and eat vegetables and fruits. So many people I know do not. I was even a vegetarian for two years (senior year of high school and freshman year of college, into sophomore year), and even now I eat meat maybe 2 or 3 times a week, tops. I try to be conscientious about the things I put into my body (I could talk for hours about the dangers of eating meat, particularly meat that is mass-produced). I am, for the most part, a healthy person. My blood pressure is great; I don’t have cholesterol issues; I carry my weight fairly well, and I enjoy walking, lifting weights and playing certain sports when I can. But I’m still fat. I’ve learned to be proud of my body, or at least not self-conscious. I just wish that people would think about just how hard it is for some people to lose weight. Biology is quite a hurdle to jump. It’s not always because a person is lazy or just likes fattening foods that they’re hefty.
3. There may be underlying issues.
I firmly believe that weight isn’t solely a physical problem; it’s a mental problem. This is clear in cases of anorexia or bulimia, but not so clear for overweight people. Having a need to eat, or using food as a coping mechanism, is a legitimate problem for some people. My depression, during those periods that it has reared its ugly head, has resulted in a variety of physical side effects. In the past, it’s been comforting and distracting to cook or eat when I’m in a depressive funk. It takes my mind off of all those things that make me said or anxious. Sure, I know it’s bad and I feel guilty afterwards, but it feels good when I’m doing it.
Also, we have to remember that, while America’s obesity rate is high, so is the number of people with depression. Depression leads to a sedentary lifestyle, if only because it sometimes hurts to go outside. The last thing I want to do when I’m feeling depressed is go to the gym, to see a bunch of go-getters working out and looking better than me, and probably looking at me and judging. I know exercise can result in happy feelings and adrenaline, but that isn’t enough to get me motivated when I can’t even comprehend getting out of bed and going to class.
4. Our standards are too high.
I think that half the people who are being called “fat” aren’t even fat. They’re a healthy size. Let’s look at Kelly Clarkson and Jessica Simpson. Photos have circulated of them looking a little bit bigger than they have been in the past. But in either of those cases, were they ever really “obese?” No. A little bit of fat is healthy. Just because someone is bigger than you, bigger than your favorite celebrity, or bigger than what you find attractive, does not immediately make them fat.
5. Maybe these so-called “fat” people don’t care what you think.
Fat is part of my identity. I’ve always been bigger than other girls my age. I’ve stopped caring about how I look in that regard. I wouldn’t say I love it, but I’m mostly comfortable with how I look. I try to dress nicely, and walk confidently and be proud of what I have. If I did put a serious effort into losing weight (which is basically not even an option for me right now, or at least not something I feel like committing to), it would be for my health, and not because of my appearance (although the sartorial benefits of being thinner are tempting). If you find me gross to look at and can’t get past my “rolls of fat” to see my better qualities, then you might have some bigger issues you need to address. Who goes around caring that much about how OTHER PEOPLE look? Worry about yourself and be proud of your own looks and stop worrying about what’s in my cupboard and in my stomach, and whether or not I work out. If someone feels good enough about themselves to make a bold fashion choice (like, if I wanted to go out in a skirt that showed off my calves – and I have – or if a curvy girl wants to wear a sexy Halloween costume), why should anyone else feel the need to stomp all over that person’s pride and confidence? How does that make you a better person? Does it really make you feel better? I know some people use the, “I’m just worried about their health” excuse, but I’m sick of it. Shaming people for their weight isn’t going to do anything positive for their health; in fact, it might do the exact opposite for their mental health.
The moral of the story? If you want to call me fat, you better think twice before you open your fat mouth.