I’m going out on a limb here, but I’ve been thinking about this issue more and more, especially after the Jennifer Livingston headline.
Jennifer Livingston is a female news anchor who spoke out against a letter she received from a by-chance viewer of her show. The letter criticized her for being overweight. The author wrote: “Obesity is one of the worst choices a person can make and one of the most dangerous habits to maintain. I leave you this note hoping you’ll reconsider your responsibility as a local public personality to present and promote a healthy lifestyle.” The statement was made with respect to the fact that her “physical condition” had not improved for quite some time.
Now, when you hear the letter, it does sound harsh. My initial reaction was, “Man, that guy’s a D-bag.” It’s really not about the content, so much as the delivery, right?
But when you listen to the letter and pick it apart sentence by sentence, you should see that he was stating his opinions matter-of-factly. It just so happens that harping on a woman for her weight isn’t generally considered a nice thing to do.
Livingston retaliated with:
The truth is, I am overweight … But to the person who wrote me that letter, do you think I don’t know that? That your cruel words are pointing out something that I don’t see? You don’t know me… so you know nothing about me but what you see on the outside and I am much more than a number on a scale… I leave you with this: To all of the children out there who feel lost, who are struggling with your weight, with the color of your skin, your sexual preference, your disability, even the acne on your face, listen to me right now: do not let your self-worth be defined by bullies. Learn from my experience — that the cruel words of one are nothing compared to the shouts of many.
Nice response. She really made a case against bullying. Against heckling. Against unfair prejudice. It was awesome!
Nothing about what this guy said, however, was out of line–and he wasn’t being a bully. That’s what I think, and I’m sticking to my guns.
Ms. Livingston, by addressing the “children,” takes the spotlight off herself–perhaps because she was accused of being a bad role model for young people. But there is a difference between being an obese child and being an obese adult.
Children are not in control of their food. They are beholden to their parents. Children are usually not in control of their own rational faculties, due in large part to lack of cognitive development, and ignorance induced by a lack of life experience and an inundation of junk food marketing.
But adults don’t have these excuses. We know why we’re fat.
Now being overweight is one thing. It is understandable, considering our environment (which is strongly structured to promote fat), that this happens. The majority of us are overweight. We get it. We know why. This is not news. There’s time for change. Let’s make it!
But being inordinately fat–that is obese–is another thing. It is up there with the most unhealthy things you can choose for yourself. In the end, I believe obesity-related illnesses will bankrupt our health care system.
Being overweight is usually a sign of temporary negligence, but being obese is a sign of long-term negligence and often out-right denial.
I’ll say from my own experience as a trainer (with a designation in Weight Management Coaching) meeting with potential clients and performing their physical screenings and body fat analyses that overweight people are frequently at the gym trying to correct their health. Obese people are not. The are under-represented at the gym
There are many reasons for this: embarrassment, low levels of self-efficacy, denial, feelings of defeat, lack of access, lack of volition. Obese people face a cascade of emotional and medical conditions that actually prevent them from taking corrective steps in their health. And morbidly obese people have it even worse; at that point, they become so chemically and behaviorally imbalanced that normal body weight, even if achieved, can be fleeting.
(Keep that in mind! There is a point of no-return–albeit, it is way out there on the spectrum of fat. Having seen numerous exposes on morbidly obese individuals trying to save their own lives from food addiction, I learned that many of these individuals keep the weight off until something stressful occurs. Once that happens, the addictive food behaviors return, and the weight comes back.)
We should do what we can to avoid obesity and reduce the number of overweight.
One of my favorite websites is The Yale Rudd Center For Food Policy & Obesity, founded by Dr. Kelly Brownell, author of Food Fight: The inside story of the food industry, America’s obesity crisis, and what we can do out it.
This book, dear readers, is the very first book I ever read about food and public health, in 2004, when I was but a sophomore in college, and this book was all over Yale bookstores.
First, a little back story:
I was a 100-lb 8-year old. Then a 150-lb 10-year old. By 14, I was 209 lbs. Despite my high levels of physical activity (I played hard), I was a fat kid. In the Presidential Physical Fitness Test inflicted upon middle-schoolers, I ran (more like staggered through) The Mile in over 12 minutes. My gym teacher turned off the clock and asked me to come in early.
I took up sports in high school, and went from 209 lbs to 172 lbs in one year. Then, over the course of three years due to negligent and emotional eating, plus boozing, I hit 222lbs.
I tried to enroll in R.O.T.C. to help pay for college. The army didn’t want me because my body fat percentage was 30.5%, just half a percentage point over their cut-off. I was pissed. I was fat, sure, but so what?! I was a great athlete!
What I failed to realize at that time was that I wasn’t the athlete I used to be–that I had become so fat (again) that I could barely clear the volleyball net.
As luck would have it, I found rowing, and my size was advantageous only because it was correlated with strength. But at the beginning of my sophomore year in college, when my coach told me I had Olympic potential, and that the US National Team would never take me seriously if I didn’t get my weight down, I had a revelation.
What you put in your mouth makes all the difference.
I read Brownell’s book and realized he was talking about me. That my over-indulgence, my drinking, my absent-minded eating, more poor food choices, and my non-healthy friends and environments were making me fat.
Needless to say, I’m grateful to Brownell for his book. He would also teach its content as a class. Shortly thereafter, he started the Yale Rudd Center.
What struck me about Brownell, oddly, was that he is fat.
The Yale Rudd Center was once an organization for the exposure of unfair food marketing practices, food addiction, and policy changes. But over time, it also took on fat acceptance, weight bias, and prejudice.
I must wonder… I really must. Would the Yale Rudd Center have focused so much on weight bias if Brownell himself were a normal weight?
*Disclaiming wave of the hands* Jennifer Livingston would tell me that I don’t know a thing about Brownell–that he’s more than just a number on the scale. Clearly! I love that guy! I mean, I owe my own waist-line to him.
But I’m in slight disagreement with his attention on fat acceptance. The site states:
Despite increased attention to the obesity epidemic, little has been done to stop the bias and discrimination that obese children and adults face every day. The social consequences of obesity include discrimination in employment, barriers in education, biased attitudes from health care professionals, stereotypes in the media, and stigma in interpersonal relationships. All these factors reduce quality of life for vast numbers of overweight and obese people and have both immediate and long-term consequences for their emotional and physical health. The Rudd Center aims to stop the stigma through research, education, and advocacy
True, true. Discrimination sucks. Bullying is mean. It is hard to be fat. If you’re fat, you better be funny; or you better be the bully; or you better be wicked smart. It sucks. No one really wants to be fat. It’s not fair, either, considering that the media alternative is anorexia.
Couldn’t the author of that letter addressing Ms. Livingston have been written to any of the emaciated female anchors or media stars serving at wretched examples to young girls? Eating disorders are also epidemic.
The fat acceptance movement has gained some ground. Some of its proponents state that being fat doesn’t necessarily mean you’re unhealthy. That’s true. But it’s also like suggesting that I leave one chamber empty into my Fat-Makes-Me-Sick-Gun and play Russian Roulette.
I’ve heard that being fat is an individual issue, and its “my business if I’m fat, not yours!” Okay… well, in the words of my Kettle Bell Concepts II instructor, “You have a social responsibility NOT to be fat. If there’s a fire in my office building and the elevators aren’t working, your fat body is probably what’s getting between me and the fire escape.”
Man, the comments can be harsh. The truth hurts, especially when your condition is your responsibility.
The Yale Rudd Center submitted these guidelines in how to portray fat people in the media:
- I: Respect Diversity and Avoid Stereotypes
- 1. Avoid portrayals of overweight and obese persons merely for the purpose of humor or ridicule.
- 2. Avoid weight-based stereotypes (e.g., such as obese persons are “lazy” or “lacking in willpower”).
- 3. Present overweight and obese persons in a diverse manner, including both women and men, of all ages, of different appearances and ethnic backgrounds, of different opinions and interests, and in a variety of roles.
- 4. Portray overweight and obese individuals as persons who have professions, expertise, authority, and skills in a range of activities and settings.
By following some of these guidelines, don’t we inadvertently send the message that “It’s OK to be fat!” That it is acceptable? Isn’t that what the fat acceptance movement is all about?
Unacceptable! Here is a neat little write-up of the economic costs of obesity. Obesity accounts for 21 percent of health care costs. Obesity, as far as the military is concerned (I wasn’t allowed into R.O.T.C.) is a national security threat. Obesity contributes significantly to rising health care costs, how insurance policies are structured, time loss at work, sick days, ridiculous infrastructure modifications like larger seats in airplanes and restaurants, emergency medical responses, fertility complications, and more.
And we should just sit back and accept it because now everyone these days is fat?
Unlike being a minority, being young, old, gay, or handicapped, being fat is controllable.
Every bite that you take and every step that you make factors into your weight. (A small percentage of a small percentage have weight issues related to genetic deviations, medications, and underlying disorders unrelated to initial body mass, and I respect that).
No one really wants to be fat. And when a fat person wants to lose weight, one of the best things they can do is make it public–tell everyone they know what their goals are, surround themselves with people who also have healthy habits, and remove themselves from fat-promoting situations. They should not seek solidarity with other fat people. It’s like an alcoholic trying to quit drinking at a bar.
Now come on, Maria. Alcoholism is an addiction.
What, and lifestyle isn’t defined by habits and addictions? Changing your lifestyle–just about everything you do–is like quitting a substance. It’s hard.
And so, back to Ms. Livingston… while I agree that her critic is kind of a D-bag and that fat kids and people shouldn’t be bullied or socially subdued, we should not accept fat, we should not falsely accuse someone of bullying just because the truth makes us feel bad.