I recently received an e-mail from a woman who wrote:
“I followed your blog on MySpace for a long time and I loved it. But I don’t understand what you have against people losing weight. I don’t understand the crusade you’re on. Why do you want the whole world to be fat like you? Is it because you don’t want to die alone?”
I thought it was time to make clear my position on a few things.
First of all, I don’t want the whole world to be fat like me. I don’t care what size any person’s body is, or what the scale says they weigh, or what shape their body takes. And I don’t have a particular hatred of skinny people, either. I happen to be one of those rare sorts who can see beauty in every body, from the graceful and willowy to the huggably juicy.
What I would like to see, however, is people abandoning the idea of gauging their health, beauty and self-worth by the weight of their bodies.
I think our national obsession with the scale is one of the most destructive forces against the health and happiness of girls and women, and increasingly, of men.
People seem to want to lose weight for three reasons: to be healthier, to be more attractive, or to impress and intimidate their peers.
Excessive fat can be a health hazard – if you’re hugely obese. It can increase the likelihood that you’ll get diabetes, suffer certain types of hernias, and wreak havoc on your knees.
But most people I see buying diet foods and diet books and counting calories and signing up to get daily weight loss tips by e-mail are not anywhere near being so fat that they should be worrying about those things. The fat they’re carrying is simply not a threat.
Not a threat YET, many people think. I watch my weight so I won’t ever get to be that fat!
The problem with dieting and weight-watching as a preventative measure against obesity is that it usually makes us fatter. It’s been spoken about ad nauseum, but it bears mentioning again – yo-yo diets make you fatter. Your body doesn’t like the deprivation. It gets confused. It wants to store up fat for what it thinks is the oncoming famine.
Furthermore, counting calories, sticking to a prescribed eating plan and denying your body what it’s intuitively telling you it needs are sure-fire ways to bring on an eating disorder.
Besides, all this dieting and preoccupation with weight turns us into airheads. What kind of person might you be if you didn’t think about food all the time, or your weight, or the exact position your fat takes on your body, and how you might shift it, or get rid of it? What might you contribute to the world? How much more might you relax? What personal passions might you discover? How much more time and consideration might you give to your loved ones? What might you achieve? My god, might you even discover…complete happiness?
But what about heart disease?, many people are quick to say. I don’t want to be fat because I don’t want to drop dead of a heart attack!
Too many people are using the looming Heart Attack as a reason to watch the pounds. In fact, the image of a sweating obese person in ill-fitting clothes dropping dead of a heart attack has become a cliché. But science has already proven that the kind of internal fat that causes heart attacks, strokes, etc. is an equal opportunity threat, appearing in fat and thin people alike. The fat that women in particular knock themselves out to get rid of – the fat on their asses, hips, thighs – has been proven to be completely harmless.
People are so terrified of getting fat. They’re afraid that if they stop watching every morsel they put in their mouths, they’ll balloon to 400 pounds overnight.
I honestly believe that as a collective society, if everyone just relaxed and shunned the weight loss obsession, and ate a nutritious variety of foods, and engaged in regular physical activity, some people might gain some weight, and some people might lose some weight – but we’d all be much healthier. Finally, we’d be focused on the right things. Finally, we’d be thinking with our minds instead of our love handles.
I need to address the fitness issue by itself. People love being physically fit. And that’s terrific! Physical strength, stamina, agility, and flexibility contribute to longevity, a sharper mind, better sleep…the list of benefits is lengthy.
But there are some people who don’t think physical fitness has been achieved until their body looks a certain way and weighs a certain weight.
And the misconception that only a body that’s sleek and slim and muscular – classically “athletic” – can possibly be “fit” discourages a lot of fat people from getting active, if they aren’t already. They see fitness as an intimidating uphill climb. It will take me yeeeeears to lose that much weight, to look like that.
This is indeed sad, because one doesn’t have to achieve a certain prescribed body weight or appearance to BE fit. And there are plenty of living examples out there, athletes who in everyday life might be looked upon as “fat slobs”, who are powerhouses on the softball field, in the gym, on the track, on their bikes. Don’t believe me? Read about it. Start with “Fit AND Fat” by Sally Edwards.
Doesn’t make sense to you? Think about it. Imagine a woman who’s 5’7” and weighs 200 pounds. She’s got thick thighs, thick upper arms, and a bit of a belly. Her cholesterol, blood pressure, blood sugar, all lab results from the doctor are stellar. You wish you had her lab work-up. And she’s a triathlete. And she’s the star of her regional softball team.
According to government height/weight charts, she should lose about 70 pounds.
She could walk into the office of a physician she’s never seen before and he’d take one look at her figure and say, “First things first – you should lose some weight.”
You might look at her standing in line at the post office and think, “God, I hope I never look like her. I want to be healthy.”
What more does this woman have to do? And why???
When all the health excuses are shot to hell, you’re left with a longing to be attractive, and to make your friends wish they were hot like you.
How many of us are honest about the real reasons we watch the scale like hawks?
The idea that thin = attractive is deeply rooted in our society, but it’s a prison cell we strolled into ourselves, smiling. And the key to bust us out is right in our pockets.
But we don’t use it.
People are afraid to break with twisted tradition. Nobody wants to throw off the self-imposed chains and take the risk that many people will consider them “ugly” for not towing the thin-is-beauty line.
And by the way, this is not me saying that everyone should be “fat like me”. This is me saying that people need to accept the natural shape their bodies take when they live in a relaxed, healthy way. Eating nutritiously, not obsessively. No calorie-counting. No strict, prescribed diets. Some people are genetically predisposed to have rounder hips than others. Some people were born to be thick and solid; others will be slim and fairy-like, like their grandmothers. And it’s ALL GOOD.
You know, the Nazis told the world there was only one right way to look, too. We reflect now on Nazi propaganda and see it for what it was – extremist insanity.
And while your quiet early morning bathroom is a far cry from any death camp, and stepping upon your scale can’t remotely compare with the disgusting inhumanity of a Jewish child’s footsteps toddling forcibly into a gas chamber — is there any part of you that recognizes the insanity of sacrificing so much of your happiness to live up to a prescribed beauty standard? A standard which is perpetuated by greedy corporate entities with billions to lose if you suddenly stop praying to the gods of weight loss? Do you recognize the insanity of the example you’re showing your children? They’re being robbed of the purity of their selves, and instead of carefree dreaming and wondering and loving, they’re worrying – Mommy, do I look fat in this?
And as for peer pressure, here’s what I don’t understand. Those people who will giggle at you like snotty high school it-girls, or tsk-tsk-tsk and ignorantly pity you for daring to being different, like misguided hicks – why do their opinions matter so much?
I can’t speak for everyone, but personally, I don’t think the regard of a bunch of non-thinking followers is worth much.
So no, I don’t have anything against losing weight, when it happens naturally as a byproduct of eating well and getting active.
And no, I don’t want everyone to be fat like me. I want everyone to be whatever they’re going to be, when they stop letting the scale tell them what they’re worth in this world.
And frankly, my disappointed e-mail friend, no – I don’t think I’d like to die alone. But hopefully that won’t happen for a very long time. And when it does, I hope I’ll be surrounded by people whose love I’ve earned. And when the light fades from my vision and my consciousness withdraws into death, I promise you, as I take that one last look around at the people who mattered most, I won’t give a millisecond’s thought to whose tummy was the flattest.