Obesity: What & Why

Links checked and updated last on: 6/27/2011

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It always seems that no matter what a proponent of size or fat acceptance may post on their own blog, there are always those who feel the need and/or RIGHT to argue against a fat person loving themselves and bucking the media-craze fear-mongering in regards to the Obesity Crisis.

Anytime that I try to address some of the issues that are brought up it seems that I always forget to touch upon or address each of the particular arguments.  I wanted to try and get ONE post out which addresses or at least touches upon all of the arguments that get tossed out by those concerned or “concerned” with the health and existence of fat people; particularly with fat people who accept and love themselves as they are.

This is a long post; one which I hope will show where I’m coming from and where I would like to see the dialogue lead.

Obesity: What it is

Obese vs. Overweight

    • Aside from the reality that there are SEVERAL BMI cutoff schemes in the world; it is generally viewed that Overweight and Obese are both categories from the ever-changing BMI (Body-Mass Index) calculators and are used to indicate a person’s relative position on the spectrum of weight from “Underweight” to “Obese”.
  • Underweight = <18.5
  • Normal weight = 18.5-24.9
  • Overweight = 25-29.9
  • Obesity = BMI of 30 or greater
  • So when people reference the “War on Obesity” they are indicating that they are fighting a category of weight.  Obesity is not a person.  It is a CATEGORY of a weight-range spectrum.

BMI:

  • Aribitrary measurement relating height to weight.  Does NOT measure fat.  It measures only your weight divided by you height in meters squared.
  • Limits for each of the categories have changed, so using it as a definitive measure of ANYTHING is laughable; akin to declaring that dividing your arm length by your nose size tells you how well you can smell.
  • No one really understands what a particular range of a BMI actually LOOKS like.
  • *Edited to Add* Also, the assumption is that BMI measures fat and that FAT is bad.  However, as Sandy points out in the comments, “FAT is not bad – adipose tissue is actually surprisingly benign.”

Overeating:

  • The simple belief that people are at-fault (and to be blamed) for their fat is hinged on the idea that you BECOME fat by overeating.
  • Yet, evidence points to the simple truth that fat or thin, most people eat roughly the SAME amount of food regardless of size.
  • Anecdotal evidence or media portrayals of what an overweight or obese individual eats does not a proof-in-concept make.  So, saying you’ve seen your fat aunt “pack it away” doesn’t PROVE that this is WHY she is fat or that this is a behavior that she exhibits EVERY DAY or that by extrapolation if SHE does it, so does EVERY fat person.

Sloth:

  • The general perception, especially from those looking for a fight, is that being overweight or obese is directly related to the amount of exercise a person lacks.  We all watch too much TV, and fat people must be fat from watching WAAAAY too much TV.
  • Contrary to the above cited belief, fat and thin people all spend the same amount of time engaged in physical activity; whose levels haven’t actually dropped drastically across the globe as proponents of the Obesity Epidemic would have you believe.  In fact, physical activity levels may have actually increased over the decades.
  • A person can be fat and fit JUST as easily as they could be thin and un-fit.  The assumption that a person’s size indicates fit or not does a disservice to EVERYONE by overly focusing exercise initiatives on the overweight while ignoring thinner folks who might not be getting physical activity; all based on the ASSUMPTION that you can know a person’s level of activity based on appearances alone.
  • Exercise CAN BE FUN.  You do not have to run like a gerbil in a wheel for physical activity to “count”.
  • Anecdotal evidence of overweight or obese individuals exercising or NOT exercising does not a proof-in-concept make.

Stupid or liars:

  • The perception is that the categories of obese and overweight are not understood by those who ARE overweight and/or obese; that if ONLY the message were loud enough, clear enough, filled with enough shameful guilt, maybe the fatties would “Get it” and see that they are fat.  In reality, we know.  Trust me.  Delusion does not somehow run rampant in those who are “overweight”.
  • Even if a person KNOWS their size and where they fit into the BMI standards, they can still be accused of being a stupid liar.

Diets:

  • Since fat is vilified as the “harbinger of doom” or “bringer of untimely death”; those found to be overweight or obese (which, as seen above, is NOT a true indication of their level of fatness) are told to diet.
  • This “prescription” is doled out again and again despite the fact that diets DO NOT WORK.  No, not even if you call it a “life-style change”.  No, not even if you call it “Eating in Moderation and increasing exercise.” Anything that focuses on increased physical activity and decreased calorie consumption is buying into the “Body as a Bunsen Burner” theory and IS STILL A DIET.  Any adult can feel free to join the dieting band-wagons but I urge you not to take it as personal failure when the wait does not remain off and returns with a few friends.
  • Your body is NOT a simple machine in which “Calories IN Calories OUT” works in a straight-line calculation.
  • NOTHING will work to permanently lower your body’s weight below your own body’s set weight-range.  Genetics take far more control of your body size than any amount of calorie restriction.
  • In fact, diets may ONLY work to do the complete OPPOSITE of what they are intended to do.  Evidence suggests that diets work to make sure you GAIN weight.
  • Studies show a correlation as well between improved health and non-dieters.
  • FAILING a diet is also not a demonstration of a “lack of willpower”.  I don’t care if you have “Worked Hard” to get the weight loss you might have now.  Chances are it won’t last and it won’t be because you don’t WANT it enough.
  • Calorie counting is NOT part of a normal and “healthy” relationship with food.
  • I personally feel that people of any size should consider a more relaxed and normalized relationship with food and physical activity; but learning to eat intuitively when all you’ve known all your life is DIET and NOT ON A DIET eating habits is difficult to say the least; far more difficult than it would be had dieting not occurred in the first place.  However, that DOESN’T mean that the moment you try to eat the way that your body wants that you will devour the world!
  • Saying you’re ON a diet does not make you somehow intrinsically better than someone who ISN’T altering their daily intake of vital nutrients.

WLS:

  • Since even some of the diet-pushers are starting to acknowledge that diets don’t work, Weight Loss Surgery is seeing more and more screen time of late as The Way to CURE Obesity!
  • Yet the risks of WLS are pushed under the carpets as it is “obvious” that having a BMI of 43 is FAR WORSE than the multitude of health troubles that patients experience post-surgery; from an inability to eat without throwing up to in increased risk of premature death.

Obesity: Why we Care

Obesity kills/Contributes to all manner of disease or Ill Health:

  • Even the best experiment, done with the most stringent test methods and following the most rigid adherence to proper scientific procedures, can never “Prove” anything; it can merely show correlations.  Yet proponents of “Obesity Kills” (ie. Pharmaceutical companies which fund a majority of these studies or those marketing expensive weight loss schemes) will use even the tiniest hint of a CORRELATION (a possible relationship) to claim that there is really a CAUSATION effect between obesity and the latest health issue to which the studies wish to link “fat”.
  • The arbitrary BMI categories of “Overweight” and “Obese” are actually linked with IMPROVED health benefits. “Fatness isn’t the only “paradoxical” association among favorable clinical outcomes.”
  • Fat people are not a New Invention.  Fat has been around forever so saying “There were no fat people ‘Before'” is completely silly.  Before what?  Before Industrialization?  Before the Renaissance?  Before Jesus???
  • Obesity is NOT a disease; it is a CATEGORY of weight ranges which have been arbitrarily decided upon.  You can not SOLVE a category.  You can not “FIX” a category; unless by “Fix” you mean “do away with the SYSTEM by which these categories exist”.

It’s an EPIDEMIC/CRISIS!:

Insurance Costs:

  • The health costs of overweight and obese patients are not somehow “magically lifted” if a person loses weight; no, not even if they get Weight Loss Surgery.

Unhealthy:

  • Poor nutrition (which is NOT THE SAME AS overeating) and sedentary lifestyles are not optimal for people of ANY size.  Declaring that only people who fall into the categories of Overweight and Obese need to worry about nutrition and physical activity is counterproductive.
  • Rather than focus on FAT as unhealthy, the focus should be turned to activities and behaviors that ALL people could benefit from.  Governments could work on providing safe parks or sidewalks for pedestrians or recreation instead of focusing on calorie consumption reduction weight-loss programs as the be-all, end all solution to “Obesity”.
  • Assuming the level of a person’s health based upon appearances is not only prejudiced but detrimental to those who are overweight or obese but also to those falling into the categories of “Normal” and “Underweight”.
  • Healthy” is not even a term that is universally defined; so to try and hold only two categories of people to a wobbly list of what “healthy” means is silly to say the least. So when someone claims to be “concerned” with someone else’s health, I call shenanigans.
  • Waiting until you have reached some size deemed as “Optimal” for your height is NOT a good excuse for avoiding doing things you like.  You don’t need to reach some ubiquitous level of “Healthy” (read: THIN) to dress as you want or to be who you are.
  • 10% of your body weight is an ever moving target.  Saying that losing “Just 10% of your current body weight will make you healthier” is a VERY TRICKY and nasty way to say that you will NEVER be good enough.

Prejudice:

  • Judging a person, before they even open their mouth, by ANY physical characteristic is wrong.  You know NOTHING about a person’s life, lifestyle, habits or health simply by looking at them.  NOTHING gives a person the right to make judgements about another person based on perceived ideas of their health based on size.
  • Size-ism is by NO MEANS the “Last Acceptable form of Prejudice”.  Yet I find that many of the “isms” do overlap: size-ism, sexism, racism, class-ism, able-ism, age-ism; none of them are mutually exclusive.  And yes, they are all still WRONG.
  • You have no more right to judge a person based on their size than you do to judge a person for the shape of their eyes or the tilt of their nose or the width of their feet.
  • Acting towards all people with common courtesy; treating ALL people with basic human respect is not a bad idea.
  • EVEN IF a person actually fits into every nasty stereotype you have ever heard about them, that STILL does NOT give you permission to judge or harass them.  No, it doesn’t.

Unattractive/Un-Sexy:

  • No one who declares that they feel you have NO RIGHT to judge their life by their body is trying to say that you MUST find a particular sized body attractive.  No one is saying you have to find any particular physical size (or shape or appearance) attractive and worthy of your sexual attentions; we are not all here on this planet solely as fodder for your sexual desires.  Rather, focus instead on treating everyone as human beings, regardless of your personal desire for a particular person as an object of your sexual appetite.
  • Attraction is subjective and attraction is NOT the same as basic human respect.
  • NO ONE, regardless of size or any other attributes, owes it to ANYONE ELSE to be pretty.

The Children!:

  • Studies have found that having children diet works to make them GAIN weight.
  • It has also been found that no identifiable dietary patterns during childhood or adolescence could explain their BMIs; meaning that fat children aren’t just donut-hording little monsters hoping to become the next fat Santa.
  • Forcing programs upon children that encourage dieting behaviors at younger and younger ages is NOT going to remove the non-existent Obesity Epidemic.

Dirty, Smelly, TAKING UP TOO MUCH SPACE:

  • Not all overweight or obese persons are dirty or smelly.  Not all “normal” or underweight persons are starved anorexics waiting to lecture you on their diets.  Making absolute statements just makes you look ignorant of the reality that we are ALL different.
  • Public transportation is not a pleasant experience for anyone.  But to insist that people are the ones who should change their BODIES rather than to insist on larger accommodations for a population which IS NOT actually getting larger (see “It’s an Epidemic” above) is asinine.
  • Similarly, forcing anyone over an equally arbitrary size of clothing to shop in “specialty shops” or on-line, as if that will SHAME a fat person into taking the drastic measures to fit into the current society trend of acceptable size and shape, is completely inane.  Also inane is charging $3 dollars extra for a larger size that amounts to a total of a few extra inches of material.
  • The size of your pants has NOTHING to do with your worth as a human being.
  • No one has the right to tell someone that they are taking up “too much space” in the world.  None one should ever feel that they are supposed to “disappear” from the planet in order to appease the world.

Self Acceptance:

  • “If fat people accept themselves for who and what they are, they might NEVER lose weight!”  And then what?  You might have to SEE a happy fat person once in a while?  You might have to recognize someone you don’t find attractive as a human being? You won’t be able to feel superior without a fatty to lord it over?  What?
  • Self acceptance is vital to people of any size; and it is NOT a right or privilege owed only to those fitting into the current media trends.
  • Finally, there is no straight path to self-acceptance either.  There ARE days when yes, you might WISH you were the size/shape/color/age/etc of the current ideal.  That doesn’t mean you hate yourself; just that you might imagine yourself as something else.  “Wishing for something doesn’t make it an IMPERATIVE.  Nor does it make it an objective good.”

This is all a lot to take in but perhaps just for my own understanding of things I needed to get it all down on “paper”.  What we believe is always shaped by our own life experiences and it is possible that some of what I’ve stated is tinted by my own levels of privilege in the world.

However, until we can get a dialogue going between those who follow the panic (whipped up by the media and those who stand to profit from our “concern”) and those of us who are trying to fight against the overlapping effects of “ism”s; then I feel that the myths of obesity and weight loss will CONTINUE to be perpetuated; to ALL of our detriment.

14 Comments

14 thoughts on “Obesity: What & Why

  1. this is such a well-written and organized set of arguments and information for anyone who is interested in dispelling the myths about body size, health & happiness. thanks!

    • Thank you Elizabeth! I really enjoy what you’re looking to do with your books as well and appreciate you dropping by here! 🙂

  2. You are welcome. It makes me happy to have so many different voices speaking up about the distorted views about body size & dieting that hurt all of us, skinny, faty & in-between…ps.you have me thinking about drawing a belly dancer for my next book! peace!

  3. thank you.. this is one of the most well written pieces I have ever read.
    If only everyone could embrace this way of thinking, there would be alot more happy people on the planet.

    • Thanks rowdygirl; I’d love to think so. Sara A I second the Bald Soprano’s idea about the Well Rounded Mama blog. Her information provides a lot of “what to say” bits for mothers to take to doctors visits that might help your friend feel a bit more at ease. At least for me I find that knowledge is confidence (or power) so having information at her fingertips might ease some mental anxiety!

  4. Body image is a subject so fraught with danger I rarely visit it, but your well thought out and researched post really made me think. There are times when I just love myself to bits and others when I want to shrink myself several sizes to fit my watermelon calves into a pair of killer zip up leather boots. I’ve done the two hour a day gym routine and the diet consisting of hamster pellets and half a stalk of celery and I’ve no desire to go back to that way of life. It’s just too short!

    • dufmanno I agree; life is far too short to waste every moment obsessing about the body we don’t have when we could be loving the one we do! 😀

  5. Thank you for this article. I have had weight issues since I reached adulthood and have felt every prejudice from neighbors, co-workers, prospective employers and even doctors.

    • Again, glad to help Erma. It is a sad truth that judgments come from all corners based on how people look. Anyone who thinks that “isms” are gone have never listened to the culture around them telling us always how to “fix” our bodies for all their plethora of supposed imperfections!

  6. Up until 2 years ago I was fit and healthy, holding down a strenous job and I thought I was fairly active. Yes I am obese, but it didn’t worry me, I didn’t eat a lot, I ate healthy and I was happy in my body.
    But then I got hit with an emergency triple by-pass and nearly died, all of a sudden my weight was a problem, it was the weight that caused the problem. I was made to feel like a criminal, the doctors refused to believe that I wasn’t lazy, wasn’t active and that I couldn’t possibly eat healthy. I had to go to dieticians, I could see they didn’t believe I ate healthy.
    Then a thyroid problem was discovered, but despite the goitres my thyroid was not affecting my weight, then diabetes came along. Again, the lectures that I had to lose weight. I showed them what I ate, I told them the walking I did and that I was not a couch potato. Because of the heart problem I am now limited to what exercise I can do and if people need to know I just tell them I have a thyroid problem, shuts em up.
    On my blog I have a picture that I drew of myself, definately curvy and very happy and thats how I want to see myself.

  7. I hate, hate, hate the BMI scale! I’ve had adult weights between 85 and 130 lbs and I can tell you when I was LESS fat I was LESS healthy.

    Thanks for debunking that completely arbitrary scale. I spent way too many years of my life trying to fit myself to a stupid chart.

  8. “No one has the right to tell someone that they are taking up “too much space” in the world. None one should ever feel that they are supposed to “disappear” from the planet in order to appease the world.”

    I spent 15 years in a “healthy” BMI range, as a malnourished, energy-drink guzzling, totally unhealthy girl/woman. Because I thought I was “taking up too much space.”

    Your blog is incredibly healing to me. I’ve never been “fat” in the world’s eyes, but have always been fat in my head. If I can be OKAY with being fat in my head, I think that will help a lot. So thank you. This blog isn’t only helpful to people who are “overweight” or “obese”.

    • Angie thanks so much for letting me know about this blog helping out folks outside of the realms of “currently fat” ^.^ Would that my words could heal the world 😀

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