Guest Post: Thought Catalog Thoughts – FAT

My friend Wil wrote a wonderful piece on Facebook about this Thought Catalog article on the Fat Acceptance Movement. (You should probably read it before reading his response.) I didn’t want his amazing thoughts to stay locked up behind the wall of social media, so I asked him if I could share them with you here. As someone who’s struggled with weight my whole life, his support means a lot to me. 

I’m currently struggling with the fact that working from home means a lot less movement in my life. I’ve gained a bit of weight in the past year. I’ve lost muscle strength. I feel ashamed and embarrassed by my choices and completely feel that I’ve let myself, and my husband, down. I literally hate this stomach of mine and dream of slicing it off somehow. But am I still worthy of love and affection without mockery? Absolutely. A few bad choices when I was younger, and some odd circumstances now, doesn’t make that any less true. Am I doomed to be this way forever? That’s up to me, but I’m totally aware – and VERY informed – of all the things I can do to make being smaller stronger, a reality for me. I’m very careful with my diet and I’m figuring out how exercising fits back into my new work life. I need unsolicited advice from people telling me how I can be “skinnier” about as much as I need them to tell me that I’m “not fat” when I’m trying on clothes that don’t fit me. It’s not a surprise to me to find out that I’m fat and that’s suddenly why that dress won’t fit. I’m pretty sure this body is attached to me every single day.

My recent brush with death, thanks to a blood clot caused by trauma in my leg, had nothing to do with my weight, and it turns out that my blood pressure, cholesterol, and all those other health indicators that people use to shame fatties, don’t apply to me. My scores are consistently perfect and very pleasing to the many medical professionals I’ve been dealing with this entire year.

So fine, I won’t be able to run very far in a zombie apocalypse because my cardio is currently shit? I don’t really have much interest in living in zombie hell anyway.

Onto Wil’s points. I’ve bolded things that I really love / agree with.

So I’ve been waiting to weigh in on this issue because I wanted to make sure I had my ducks lined up first. As a personal trainer and health professional there are a lot of nuances in this article that are covered in very loose and generally poorly represented arguments. I’m not a fan of it feel like it could have been discussed not only more tactfully but also more intelligently. As a former self admitted “fat nazi” back when I had less experience in the industry and less compassion for others I might have been guilty of saying many of the same things in the same way. But I have more insight now, both into the lives of my clients past and present and friends who I think this article speaks to and ungraciously about. She did write a follow-up piece but it was really more of a supplement argument that sort of back pedals as a “sorry you’re offended” piece than following up with more information.

There are a few things that the author notes first which was nice because often you don’t get a sense of who the writer is especially when writing about personal health and here she includes a bit of her background and even her dress sizes. It should also be noted that she doesn’t ever really give an outline of what she considers fat. She states her size as a 6-10 fluctuating while the average size in the US is a 12-14. The average BMI (body mass index or the general percentage of fat in your body composition) in the states for a woman is about 26.5 and the healthy ideal is somewhere between 18-25%. Over 30% is considered obese in North America as a rule. To give you an idea in comparison of what is considered aesthetically healthy, the average model is 14-16.3 and the average female fitness competitor/model is about 15-17%. For men across the board a BMI of about 6-7% lower is about average.

Now on to the article. Probably the best way to tackle this is to go through each point she’s made (although there will be some crossover.) Keep in mind this is just my opinion as well, informed by my own research and experience and knowledge of the industries that relate back to health. That said, here we go:

1. “America is extremely accepting of fat.”

America is extremely misinformed about nutrition and as a result there is a systemic problem in the culture of food. Awareness of nutrition, consumerism and misrepresentation showcase food in a way that requires so much unlearning that there is no surprise that there is an epidemic of food/health related problems. But it is NOT accepting of fat. As the author notes, at every turn in America fat is a source of mockery, bullying and general intolerance. As she says an environment that is tolerant of unhealthy lifestyles but those that engage in those lifestyles but stay under the obese radar are not treated as others that don’t. I definitely agree though that the first step is cracking down across the board and providing real transparent nutritional information about the food and put a leash on the fast food lobbies. 

Also let’s undo the decision to make pizza a vegetable legally (that’s a real thing that happened).

2. “Body positivity” should include health.”

Absolutely it should. But let’s also include mental health in those parameters. Let’s stop using models and fitness pros as realistic and sustainable averages. For the most part, they are part of an enormous industry that drives that image and huge amount of discipline and monitoring to make sure that it is maintained safely. For those people, their physique is their livelihood and the BMI levels of many include some very unhealthy habits that they monitor to give themselves a break off season. Mental health needs to be included in body positivity because depression, bullying, unsafe dieting and food related illnesses can swing both ways. Teaching someone to be ashamed of themselves is much different than educating someone about their choices.

3.”Health at every size” seems physically impossible.”

It might seem that way and there is a definitive extreme in which it is not but there is a marked difference between what is healthy and what is considered conventionally aesthetically pleasing. The point in itself is a valid jump off. Someone who is morbidly obese has a greater likelihood of many health problems than someone who is not, but that smaller someone also has to have good cholesterol, blood pressure, insulin levels and healthy organs. Not all bigger people are rotting away on the inside as many people would have you think, just like not all average sized people are glistening pulsing pink unicorns under their skin either.

This is where the article really tends to slip for me, because here is the first instance where the author really feels the need to say something but feels that she cannot for fear of reprisal “saying otherwise would be shaming them”. Well it really depends on what you’re saying and if anyone asked for your expert opinion, doesn’t it? Is this you ordering a salad and making a face because the size 22 beside you is eating a cheeseburger? Or are you a health professional that has been asked by said size 22 for a consultation? Reading a lot of blogs does not make an expert opinion nor does it entitle you to voice your opinion without reprisal. Otherwise every asshole with a fashion Tumblr would be justified walking up to you and telling that your shirt and hat combo are terrible.

4. “People are not allowed to not be attracted to certain body types”.

I have a problem with this one; The author isn’t talking about body pride, she’s looking for permission to say “ew, oh my god how could you?” to the people that would date those who she wouldn’t herself date. You’re absolutely allowed to say that you aren’t attracted to certain body types. But some people are. Saying “no fatties” in your dating profile doesn’t mean you’re honest, it means you’re an inconsiderate dick. Like anything you’re “allowed” to say what you want, but if you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all. Some people like other body types. The author admits that some people may not find her body type appealing, but how would she feel if someone stopped to tell her? Or sent her a message to tell her? Or wrote a breakdown detailing why they don’t get how she could feel good about herself looking like someone they wouldn’t date?

Feel free not to date a person larger than yourself but don’t preach to others that they can’t. That’s their business, mind your own.

5. “Food addiction is a real medical problem”.

Yes please, let’s address the underlying issues: Consumerism, misinformation and class warfare. Not the guy buying a larger than yours burrito with a soda. He’s not your problem. Just like with drug use, alcohol consumption and smoking there are obvious health detriments. But you’d be right pissed if someone tsk tsk’d every time you took a sip of alcohol and started into a lecture on the billions it costs taxpayers every year in medical expenses. We’ve put up no smoking signs everywhere, people know it’s bad for them but they choose to do it anyways. It’s on the decline in some areas and still growing in other areas, again mostly in areas with less access to health care, education and financial resources.

The author and many others who write about obesity and the cost to taxpayers & employers don’t seem to make mention of the other legal and promoted consumerables that North Americans enjoy and then suffer from daily. Fat people know they’re fat. I don’t think they wake up one morning surprised about it. They certainly don’t need to be told that eating junk food isn’t helping to lose weight. There are enormous factors that go along with a person’s eating habits: cultural influences from preferred body types, financial status of being able to afford luxury food items, emotional attachments to food rewards and comfort and legitimate addictions to foods chemically engineered to trigger cravings.

6. “Childhood obesity is something we can’t be accepting of”.

Well when you say “can’t be accepting of” do you mean working to change the underlying issues that create nutritional/exercise misinformation or do you mean “don’t tell my kids not to call your kid fat because your kid shouldn’t be fat cause you’re a bad parent.”? I’m all for one, guess which one? Let’s start by pushing back health education into the system. Let’s teach positive mental health to the forefront of that as the much needed guideline and support people that want to make an effort. But if you have a kid who is overweight, first inform yourself, is this kid truly overweight or just doesn’t look like the model kid? Next let’s assess is this kid happy? Cause first and foremost making a happy kid sad about the way they look is the worst kind of parenting. Are you leading by example? Do you crash diet, binge eat, go on self prescribed unsustainable exercise practices and food exclusions?

At the end of this it comes down to take care of your own business. Educate yourself and create your own environment. FAM or HAES, it doesn’t matter, if these people are happy in their bodies, let them be happy in their bodies. And being accepting of your body shape doesn’t mean that it’s the last word in your body shape. There are people who are in great fitness form that hate themselves and no amount of exercise or vascularity or ripped abs will ever be enough. They punish themselves constantly and bemoan the water in their skin for blurring their definition. If the news of late in regards to mental health has shown us anything it’s that demons come in all shapes and sizes. Exorcising your demons doesn’t always mean exercising yourself. I’d much rather someone be happy with themselves, who they are, their values and their lot in life and happen to be bigger than someone who is ripped but tortured. 

Things change, outlooks change and habits change. When someone wants to change their body, the information is out there.
When someone wants your opinion, they’ll ask for it. If they haven’t, it’s probably because you don’t give very good advice.

  • Jones

    Ugh, what? This person doesn’t even know what body mass index is, confusing it with a completely separate metric that is on a wholly different (individual vs. population) scale.

    (FYI, I’m not interesting in taking a stance on fat acceptance, but terms like BMI, body composition, strength, and other biometrics have clearly defined values, and if we’re going to have any meaningful conversations about them we need to have a minimum baseline understanding)