Rev. Emily C. Heath

Loving myself gay, loving myself fat

Filed By Rev. Emily C. Heath | November 07, 2010 7:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Politics, The Movement
Tags: fat phobia, homophobic behavior, nolose, sizeism

I stood stunned at the edge of the football field. Our touch football game mike-and-molly.jpghad ended and I'd had a brief conversation with a woman who made a significant living off her public reputation as a feminist and LGBT activist. I didn't know her well. We'd had brief conversations in the past, but had never so much as shared a cup of coffee. So I had been surprised when, as we prepared to go our separate ways, she called me back.

"I know this is none of my business, but...."

I braced myself. I knew what was coming next. You see, I've been fat my whole life. My first experiences of bullying as a child were around weight. Since then I haven't gone a day without being aware of the fact that I'm heavy. So, when she recited those magical words that everyone thinks excuses what comes out of their mouth next (I know this is none of my business, but...), I knew it was going to be about my weight.

Now, I'm not going to detail my medical history here because, frankly, it's no one's business. And besides, there would just be the argument from some that fat people use medical issues as an excuse. Those people will say fat people just need to "diet and exercise." And then there are the people who will talk about personal obesity using the rhetoric of a "public health crisis." There has always been plenty of objectification of fat people as either lazy moral failures, walking medical cases, or piteous lesser-thans.

I'm used to that. When I was looking for a position as a pastor I had an experience where a congregation was heavily vetting me. We had great phone conversations and seemed like an ideal fit. And then they met me. The chair of the committee made sure to mention several times that she was a Weight Watchers leader. I received a rejection letter several days later. I could tell ten more stories like this off the top of my head, and I'm sure other fat people could do the same.

But then there is another whole level of rhetoric. The rhetoric of full-blown, undisguised size-phobia.

Recently Maura Kelly, a columnist for Marie Claire, wrote a column detailing her disgust with a new show called Mike and Molly. Full disclosure, I've never been a reader of Marie Claire or any similar magazine and I've never seen Mike and Molly. But the outcry about Kelly's article has been too great to ignore for those of us who are fat. Here's an excerpt from "Should 'Fatties' Get a Room":

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.

Suddenly I'm not only fat (or, in Kelly's language, a "fattie") but I'm "gross" and the moral equivalent of a heroin addict. Kelly's analysis is one part junior high mean girl and one part pop psychologist. (And, just for fun, read Kelly's whole article and insert "gay" into every "fat." Sound familiar?)

But, as much as Kelly's words disgust me, they don't personally affect me as much as the very real size-phobia I've witnessed in the LGBTQ community. I'm always amazed that a community that values diversity and respect for others can be so judgmental, occasionally to the point of being bullying, when it comes to weight. Even in the bear community there is a growing, increasingly bitter, separation of "muscle bears" from the "lesser," heavier bears.

Which is tragic. Because, if there's one thing LGBTQ pride should promote it's the idea that we can love ourselves and feel value in ourselves, just as we are. That's the ideal, but it's not the reality.

So, as I walked away from the football field last month, advice on how I should try Weight Watchers ringing in my ears (because, really, I'd never heard of them before), I left with that old familiar feeling of shame. As I met friends for lunch, I beat myself up for wanting a hamburger more than a salad. As I walked the streets of Provincetown, a place where I have always felt good about just being myself, I suddenly felt like everyone was looking me and just seeing a fat person. As I caught up with old friends, I wondered if they saw me or they just saw my weight.

Then I realized how absolutely messed up that was. Here I was, in the middle of maybe the most gay-friendly mile in America, hating myself. And, really, I've spent enough of my life hating myself. I came out because I chose not to hate myself anymore. And I'm not going to hate myself because someone at a football game feels the need to project their fat-phobia on me.

One of the things I've always loved about both feminist and LGBT activism is that both understand that liberation does not come in isolation. As a young activist I learned that racism, anti-Semitism and ageism were now my fights too. Bigotry against any group affects every group.

The same is true around issues of size acceptance. If the LGBTQ community continues to tolerate sizeism in our life together, our community is the less for it. If we continue to tell brothers and sisters that they are somehow less worthy because they are heavy, we lose part of our witness to equality. And if we continue to buy into manufactured standards of what is attractive or acceptable or right, we open ourselves up to criticism on other levels as well.

There are some great activists doing work around size acceptance in our community. One group composed of such activists is NoLose, which hosts conferences and other programs around fat acceptance in the lesbian and trans communities. Other grassroots groups are doing similar activism. I believe our community will be better for their work. But there's still a lot of work to do. As I walked away from the football field on that day, that was all too clear to me.


Recent Entries Filed under The Movement:

Leave a comment

We want to know your opinion on this issue! While arguing about an opinion or idea is encouraged, personal attacks will not be tolerated. Please be respectful of others.

The editorial team will delete a comment that is off-topic, abusive, exceptionally incoherent, includes a slur or is soliciting and/or advertising. Repeated violations of the policy will result in revocation of your user account. Please keep in mind that this is our online home; ill-mannered house guests will be shown the door.


Thank you for sharing such a personal and painful insight into your life. I, too, have always been overweight, and only in the last few years, thanks to the work and words of such activists as Marianne Kirby (co-author of "Lessons from the Fat-o-sphere: Quit Dieting and Declare a Truce with Your Body" and owner of http://therotund.com) have I come to terms with "fat" being not only an adjective, but part of my identity. While the fat acceptance movement has become far more public of late, the message still has not reached deep into the damaged psyches of all the unfortunate people who are determined to self-loathe themselves to thinness.

I also notice that size is perceived very differently when comparing masculine and feminine bodies. While it's not always the case, a man, butch, or transguy who is my size or larger is described in terms that connote strength - "sturdy," "stocky," "husky," "solid." Masculine privilege isn't relegated to the world of cis- or bio-men, and a heavier butch tends to find more favor in the butch-femme world than does a heavy femme. Just another example of how our community tears itself apart from the inside while asking everyone outside to accept us all. It can be truly disheartening.

This is a very good point, aglaia. Men and women who are equally overweight for their relative sizes are just not treated the same. The first example of this is from the old sitcom "Roseanne". The two stars were just as heavy, but it was only Roseanne that was constantly made fun of by the popular media.

The second example is that of a lesbian who is called a "fat dyke" and then after transition and is considered an "average Joe"; not unlike John Goodman. Exact same person, two different reactions.

Body fascism is terrible in the gay male world, and I think it's because many of us have learned to hate our own bodies for its desires that we then project it out to others. That and we're plenty bullied while growing up that we end up becoming bullies to one another when we grow up.

The worst people when it comes to fat-phobia are the thin people who worry about becoming fat. They usually have lots of anxiety around these issues, which causes them to act out and try to make other people feel the pain that they feel.

I think it's kind of like those people who rail against the gays and then they turn out to be gay themselves. Well, they don't actually think they're gay, they think that if they don't have sex with someone of the same sex that often that they're not officially gay or if they pray hard enough then it's just temptation and not them. It's what I think of whenever I see another Bill Maher rant calling Tea Baggers fat: Is there something you're worried about there, Bill?

Portia Di Rossi has a book out on this exact topic, how being queer exacerbated her anorexia. I think there is something here in how we get torn down and then we look for reasons to tear each other down, all related to body-hatred in one form or another.

Thank you Emily, until the LGBTQ community owns up to its often intense body-based discrimination (and self-loathing) we ain't going nowhere. This was a very moving essay.

Yes this a true shame, while we tell the world that we want equality, equality within out community doesn't exist at all. Ageism, sexism, and sizeism its like if you are not a twink, HWP, you just don't matter in out community, unless you are very rich...This is our dark size, till we all can accept each other for who we are instead of how we look, we will not get anywhere.. Face it, we do more damage to ourselves then any hate-group can do to us..

There is something to this. I have had weight image issues all my life as well. Though never morbidly obese at all-I have been - at times about 20-30 pounds more than my ideal weight. I have also been underweight as well. I am trying hard to keep my weight steady and love myself as I am- little 'pooch' and all. I have had a love/hate relationship with my body for some time.
I do not own a scale which I find liberating-so the only time I weigh myself is at the doctor's office- or sometimes at the gym. If my clothes fit then I am ok. At 41 I know I may always have cellulite and a stomach. I may never be as muscular as I once was - and perhaps will never fit a size 6 again.
But I am taking chances I might not have taken before-going back to school and trying to learn something new. I am still on a swimteam and swim laps every week. I am still a little restless but ok with who I am as a person. I am learning to accept myself AS I AM and not nitpick about every little thing.
I'm glad for this article. It brings up a topic that really needs to be addressed.

Robert Ganshorn Robert Ganshorn | November 8, 2010 3:58 AM

Emily, I feel your pain. You have demonstrated your courage and beauty by undertaking this post.

I began as a fat kid. in the 50/60's it was healthy to be "husky." I dropped the weight and did feel great about it in high school and college. Slowly weight returned as years went by (my partner was a great cook) ;) and as many of my friends are older and overweight I saw the pain they ultimately had with hips, backs, knees, blood pressure, sugar and cholesterol levels.

I got mad about that inconvenience to my friends.

More importantly when I had a series of blood work done and found my triglycerides had increased 30% in six months, my blood pressure was elevated and I had developed a right bundle branch block in the heart. I got mad at myself too.

A lot of it revolves around the Western "processed food" diet itself and has nothing to do with you. Restaurant eating takes too much out of your control. Eat the hamburger and forget what mama said, cut it in half and have the rest the next day. Restaurant portions are much too large. Another factor is we are descended from people who survived because they COULD retain weight in extreme climates. Well our genetic inheritance sometimes works against us.

For myself it was a simple matter to abstain from alcohol, all dairy, sugar, ARTIFICIAL sugar, white flour, egg yokes, greasy foods, (basically everything made by Kraft including their salad dressings), shellfish and consider meat a small quantity item in favor of fish and skinless chicken in moderate quantity. What is left is fresh veggies, fruits and salads along with whole grains such as a "Musli" type cereal, nuts (almonds are a great snack), olive oil and small quantities of dark bread and rice.

To this I did add daily exercise at a low and increasing level of difficulty as my body adapted.(only walking at first and resting frequently) Thus far 60 pounds have left me over three years and I feel tremendous. Small but consistent changes. So please, love yourself gay and also love yourself for the real beauty inside of you, but also love yourself enough to do the right things for your health while you are younger.

If you are very lucky in life you will have ten truly great friends. Don't worry about what the rest of the world thinks because you will never measure up to their foolish standards. Set your own, but even though "it's no one's business" take care of your health. Hip and knee replacements are not a fun option in later life.

And of course people judge us all by our outward appearance because if they had to consider everyone they come across individually they would go quite crazy. Call it "profiling" if you must but people cannot know the beauty that lies in every other person. I include in that definition of beauty a man I know here with a profound cleft lip that many look away from. We laugh together.

Overweight is not a "gross" physical deformity, but the result of what we were addicted to in eating habits. We all will hopefully grow much older, but like ageism/racism/sexism we have to unlearn what we thought we knew.

Since I retired from competition my weight has slowly climbed. It really is hard to deal with my own image issues around my weight.
For me it has always been the internalized issues. I've not been bullied or made fun of for my weight but I only became large as an adult and it doesn't seem to happen to adult males as much as females and kids.

"And besides, there would just be the argument from some that fat people use medical issues as an excuse. Those people will say fat people just need to "diet and exercise." And then there are the people who will talk about personal obesity using the rhetoric of a "public health crisis."

I wouldn't necessarily characterize other people's comments as an "argument" or ignore health warnings.

Mayo Clinic and other medical institutions suggest medical problems contribute to less than 5% of obesity. Progress has been made in finding some encouraging drugs/treatments. But, for 95% it is really about how we treat our own bodies and how we wish to live.

It is healthier to be fit. We should do everything we can to eat well and exercise. Aside from the clear health benefits, we simply feel better and are more productive.

Thirty years ago 10% of 12 year-olds were obese, today it is approaching 50%. As a direct result of this fact, life expectancy is now declining for the first time ever.

I have seen the LGBT Community be very supportive of those that want to engage in a fitness program and change their lives.

Most of this conversation is about defining what's "preventable" and what isn't. Maura Kelly was trying to express that obesity is "unattractive" and I don't find that offensive. A few years back obesity was compared to cigarette smoking (preventable) and it was considered unhealthy and unattractive.

I don't think it is judgmental to express concerns about someone's health. In fact, I think it can be very helpful. Ultimately, it is that person's body and their responsibility, but I wish more people expressed concern for what is becoming a major health crisis.

I have a problem rectifying acceptance of all people with something that can theoretically be adjusted, but instead of projecting my own internal conflict onto others and making them deal with that pain for the rest of the day or the rest of their life, I instead choose to believe that most people aren't dumb as a sack of bricks and are, in fact, aware of their own bodies and don't require a stranger to tell them about their own bodies.

The statistic you cite regarding year old boys should be proof enough that it is not laziness or any other dismissible internal weakness inherent in the person, unless you would like to say that we've seen a sharp increase in laziness among 12 year olds. The problem is clearly systemic, and cannot be solved by simply telling every person who to you seems obese about Weight Watchers or simply that they appear to be unhealthy because I can assure you they have heard it before. As I see it, the solutions rely in our changing of the food industry and adjusting to our modern sedentary lifestyle, not morally judging those that fall victim to these systems. Which may be a judgment or offensive statement in itself; as I said, I'm internally conflicted on the matter and may not be acting as understanding as I could be.

An example of these systems damaging our health lies within heart disease. Incidents of heart disease have gone up (way up), at one point reaching a similar crisis level, until medical science caught up enough that fewer and fewer people died from it. But the medical advances treated the smoke; not the fire. Diets also treat the smoke, and have an enormously high failure rate. In essence, they just don't work. The western world needs to change its diet wholesale, not on an individual level.

Of course our 12-year-olds are lazier and we are allowing that (some are even encouraging it). If we make the issue "health" it is not judgmental to want our friends to be healthy - it is an expression of love and concern.

In the past few years obesity has eclipsed cigarette smoking as the number one cause of health problems in America. That shouldn't be ignored or explained away with "acceptance." It's a serious problem.

In fact, we lead the World in obesity rates:

Countries / Amount

1 United States: 30.6%
2 Mexico: 24.2%
3 United Kingdom: 23%
4 Slovakia: 22.4%
5 Greece: 21.9%
6 Australia: 21.7%
7 New Zealand: 20.9%
8 Hungary: 18.8%
9 Luxembourg: 18.4%
10 Czech Republic: 14.8%
11 Canada: 14.3%
12 Spain: 13.1%
13 Ireland: 13%
14 Germany: 12.9%
15 Portugal: 12.8%
15 Finland: 12.8%
17 Iceland: 12.4%
18 Turkey: 12%
19 Belgium: 11.7%
20 Netherlands: 10%
21 Sweden: 9.7%
22 Denmark: 9.5%
23 France: 9.4%
24 Austria: 9.1%
25 Italy: 8.5%
26 Norway: 8.3%
27 Switzerland: 7.7%
28 Japan: 3.2%
28 Korea, South: 3.2%

Americans are three times fatter than Europeans.

Doesn't that concern you?

Andrew, really, where do you think we have been? We've been having these same statistics shoved in our faces for years. Please don't act like we haven't been watching the same TV for the past 20 years.

As a person who has a master's degree in public health, and has taken multiple upper level statistics classes, I can tell you there is more to the story.

It is possible to be fat and fit. Do you really think that walking off a field after playing football is the appropriate place to assume someone is not fit?

Based on the numerous statistics and just a "look around" we haven't gotten the message. America is fat. That's not a good thing.

--"That shouldn't be ignored or explained away with "acceptance." It's a serious problem."--

I never suggested such a thing. I said that people should be accepted and not constantly told things they already know. Overweight people understand that they are overweight. Shaming them will not solve the systemic problem.

At least you admit it's a "problem." Thank-you.

Andrew, your information is a bit out of date. Mexico is currently the world leader for medical obesity in terms of percentage of population.

http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/202313.php

I would expect you would have actually done some credible research on the subject and not just throw numbers around. That is apparently far too much to ask.

Thank you so much for a brilliant and much-needed piece of writing!

For the people who are doing weight-focused health policing here...

I strongly suggest you get some education about the Health At Every Size paradigm. The so-called science you cite is strongly biased, promoted by a $58 billion weight-loss industry (that relies on the near-total failure rate of its product to produce repeat customers), and is used in our society to validate and perpetuate weight-based prejudice and discrimination.

There's a better way, both for the physical and psychological health of people of all sizes and for social justice.

For a good introduction, I suggest...

"Health At Every Size: the surprising truth about your weight," by Linda Bacon, PhD (www.lindbacon.org)

An excellent, recent journal article reviewing results of longterm weight-loss treatments...

Medicare’s search for effective obesity treatments: diets are not the answer. Am Psychol. 2007;62(3):220-233, by Mann T, Tomiyana AJ, Westling E, Lew AM, Samuels B, Chatman J.

A takeaway quote from Tomiyama et al.'s conclusion:

“The benefits of dieting are simply too small and the potential harms of dieting are too large for it to be recommended as a safe and effective treatment for obesity.” (p. 230)

I imagine that people with feminist consciousness and awareness of queer history will understand how medicalizing difference is not necessarily true or helpful! (I'm a fat activist because I'm not allowed to buy health insurance based on my weight alone — no matter my actual health status. Just one more reason why weight-focused health beliefs are dangerous!)

Nobody is doing "weight policing." The issue is obesity or fat. Surely you know the research confirms that the "percentage of body fat" is the important factor, not "weight." Health is directly related to the amount of fat we have, not our weight.

From the National Institute of Health:

Obesity Threatens to Cut U.S. Life Expectancy, New Analysis Suggests

Over the next few decades, life expectancy for the average American could decline by as much as 5 years unless aggressive efforts are made to slow rising rates of obesity, according to a team of scientists supported in part by the National Institute on Aging (NIA), a component of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) of the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS).

The U.S. could be facing its first sustained drop in life expectancy in the modern era, the researchers say, but this decline is not inevitable if Americans — particularly younger ones — trim their waistlines or if other improvements outweigh the impact of obesity. The new report in the March 17, 2005 issue of The New England Journal of Medicine appears little more than a year after the DHHS unveiled a new national education campaign and research strategy to combat obesity and excessive weight.

That's from 2005.

This IS a growing problem. I have some large friends that are fit - it takes effort. We should encourage that, not suggest it isn't a problem. Health is important.

Link: http://www.nih.gov/news/pr/mar2005/nia-16.htm

Actually, you really should read some of the criticism of the mainstream obesity research. I would need a book to explain it all to you. Luckily many have already been written. Try "Rethinking Thin"of "The Diet Myth."

While health is tied to behaviors, the way we look is not as tied to behaviors as the weight loss industry and the researchers funded by that industry would have you believe. In fact, there are probably more health problems linked to dieting and weight loss than there are from just being fat.

This statement, "Over the next few decades, life expectancy for the average American could decline by as much as 5 years unless aggressive efforts are made to slow rising rates of obesity, according to a team of scientists supported in part by the National Institute on Aging" is not actually based on data. It is an inflammatory statement made by a person whose life work is supported by keeping that fear alive. But he actually has no hard data to support it. The data really tells us that those with a BMI between 25-30 have the most longevity.

It is really time for us to acknowledge that dieting is not working. It is not making us healthier, and that you absolutely cannot tell how healthy a person is, or how much they exercise by looking at them.

I didn't say anything about "dieting" and you are using the word "thin." The opposite of Fat is Fit, not "thin." Thin can be unhealthy, too.

The vast majority of medical research confirms that obesity is unhealthy - that's not disputable. If you are suggesting that being overweight doesn't necessarily mean unhealthy, then I would agree. But, not exercising (or at least being active) weakens our bodies and compromises our health.

From the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:

Research has shown that as weight increases to reach the levels referred to as "overweight" and "obesity," the risks for the following conditions also increases:

Coronary heart disease
Type 2 diabetes
Cancers (endometrial, breast, and colon)
Hypertension (high blood pressure)
Dyslipidemia
Stroke
Liver and Gallbladder disease
Sleep apnea and respiratory problems
Osteoarthritis
Gynecological problems

For more, see "Defining Obesity" at:

http://www.cdc.gov/obesity/defining.html.

In addition to all the compelling research in this area, people know how they feel when they are fit and when they are fat. They know the benefits. We owe it to each other (and especially children) to promote good health and fitness. To the extent that it is preventable we should strive to achieve that goal and not simply dismiss it as "acceptable." I have friends that smoke and I regularly remind them of the risks to their health and their shortened life-span. I encourage them to embrace simply being "healthy."

>>> "The opposite of Fat is Fit"

Andrew, this simply is not the case. I encourage you to read at least the first section of Kate Harding and Marianne Kirby's "Lessons from the Fat-o-sphere" for a sobering collection of facts (complete with sources) about fatness and fitness. They are *not* opposites, nor are they mutually exclusive. I'm not saying "thin" can't be unhealthy, or that "fat" never is, but none of these things are irrefutably tied to one another.

>>> "The opposite of Fat is Fit"

Andrew, this simply is not the case. I encourage you to read at least the first section of Kate Harding and Marianne Kirby's "Lessons from the Fat-o-sphere" for a sobering collection of facts (complete with sources) about fatness and fitness. They are *not* opposites, nor are they mutually exclusive. I'm not saying "thin" can't be unhealthy, or that "fat" never is, but none of these things are irrefutably tied to one another.

Sure. I'll look at it. You look at this:

OBESITY AND THE ECONOMICS OF PREVENTION: FIT NOT FAT.

http://www.oecd.org/dataoecd/52/4/46044572.pdf

From the report:

OECD’s new report examines the scale and characteristics of the current obesity epidemic, the respective roles and influences of market forces and governments, and the impact of interventions to tackle obesity.

The report presents for the first time analyses and comparisons of the most detailed data on obesity available from 11 OECD countries. It includes a unique analysis of the health and economic impact of a range of interventions to tackle obesity in 5 countries, carried out jointly by the OECD and the World Health Organization.

Obesity is an epidemic.

If obesity were an epidemic, you'd be "infected" by now. It is not "catching," it is not a "disease." I have no use for so-called professionals or organizations who use scare tactics to further their agendas.

Gee whiz, encouraging health is now a "scare tactic?"

What "agenda" do these professionals have - reducing healthcare costs and extending life?

Those bastards.

Sarcasm proves nothing, Andrew. The agenda according to the article you posted is government control over *my* body - and let me tell you, that is a whole other topic. The end goals of lowered health costs and longer life expectancy are not taking into account the *fact* that fat does not mean not fit.
If the government were to intervene through businesses and organizations, would they encourage employers to single out fat employees so as not to waste initiative dollars on "fit" workers? Blatantly permit discrimination based on, what, BMI, the most arbitrary, archaic body testing method around?
If being thin were as easy as being fit, I guarantee you that most of us who have suffered the teasing and shaming our whole lives would take the former. As that is not the case, I'm content with being fit AND fat.

You're making it "personal," I am not. Obesity is a societal problem and that's indisputable. Google "healthcare" and "prevention" - study the results.

Some companies are already providing healthcare discounts for their fit employees. I think those employees deserve the discount. I also think cigarette smokers should pay extra for their health coverage, something that is happening, too.

@AndrewW

I think that the key issue you are not seeing here is that, regardless of one's beliefs about a person's weight, they way the matter is often handled, especially in our community can be dehumanizing.

Think about Emily's story of being at the football game, generally when one needs to preface something with “this is none of my business but” they'd be better off putting a period after the “but” and in the case of someone's weight it truly is none of their business. I don't buy this whole “concerned for your health” routine. The people in my life who are fat know the health risk, as do the people who smoke, or who ride motorcycles, and some of the fat people in my life have a lot less say over their weight then those who ride a motorbike or smoke.

Society, and the LGBT community in particular can be highly judgmental. I have Tourette Syndrome and bark (like a dog) and twitch among other things, and the gay community has historically not been too friendly, although the kink community has been very welcoming. Like Emily's story, strangers think nothing of both telling me to stop (yeah, like it never occurred to me to try that one) or telling me that it is my fault for not using X medication/alternative treatment that worked really for a friend of a friend etc. They are rarely interested in the nuances of both medication side effects and the percentage of Touretters who are non or low-reactive to medication.

Most importantly though, it is really none of their damn business if I bark or if Emily is fat. I think that the point you have missed here is that treating people with respect too often gets lost under the guise of “looking out for their wellbeing.”

Would you feel the same if Emily was a police officer or fireman? If she was employed as someone required to protect us? Would you want her to be fit?

>>Would you feel the same if Emily was a police officer or fireman?
Why is this even relevant to this discussion? Besides, I've seen some pretty portly police officers and firefighters - and boy, can they haul ass. Not to mention they can carry more, for longer, than some of their thinner colleagues.

The bottom line re: fit "vs" fat is that people's brains are stuffed with the idea that these two are incompatible. If a doctor looks at my vitals without seeing me or knowing my weight, I am declared "perfectly fit." Hearing multiple doctors essentially say "all of our bazillion dollar equipment and research says you're in great shape - but you're fat, so that can't be right," boggles the mind. If doctors didn't allow their theories to be proven wrong, we'd still be bleeding people with leeches. This needs to be addressed, loudly and often.

Even though Emily is not a police officer, of course we all want her to be as healthy as possible.

You seem to want to continue to reference the few exceptions to the reality that obesity is unhealthy. It shouldn't be ignored, apologized for or made to look insignificant because some overweight people work hard to remain fit.

Human beings are most effective physically when they are fit.

>> Human beings are most effective physically when they are fit.

I am not arguing this point. Physical activity, sufficient rest, and eating foods rich in the nutrients our bodies need in order to function properly are important for everyone's physical, mental, and emotional health.
I am arguing the point you are trying to make that "fat" and "fit" are mutually exclusive. I am fit. I am fat. I am not an anomaly; I am not the one exception to your rule.

What's your percentage of body fat?

As my percentage of body fat is not an indicator of *health* or *fitness*, and only of whether or not I am *fat*, which I have already said I am, it's moot to this discussion.

As you also seem to have a tendency to troll Heath's posts, I'm not going to bother to engage with you any further. I don't argue for argument's sake; I've better things to do with my time.

Okay. How fat someone is - via a body fat percentage is not "relevant." Amazing.

I am a transsexual woman with a "Rubens" female figure and self acceptance of my weight came with acceptance of my true gender identity. I beg to differ with folks who think fat people can't be healthy and physically active as I am both. And I don't find a shortage of men who find bigger gurls attractive. Back in the days when I was trying to be male I dieted and exercised complusively to have a hard, ripped masculine body. That simply never worked either physically or psychologically. I never felt good enough or attractive enough. While I am not morbidly obese I love my body as a full figured woman.

NewEngfemme | November 8, 2010 1:17 PM

This comment has me laughing hysterically, Andrew. Since I actually know Heath, I can tell you she would make a great cop or firefighter. On more than one occasion I have watched her confront someone abusing their partner in parking lots or on the street when everyone else has just walked on by. I've watched big guys back off and apologize. And considering the fact she is a former rugby player and judo student, I'd feel just fine with her protecting me.

As far as being a firefighter, she has incredible energy ans she's one of the physically strongest people I know. I'd be happy to know she was going to be the one carrying me out of a burning building. Oh, and the last place she lived? They tried to recruit her to the fire department.

So, instead of criticizing someone's weight from behind a screenname, why don't you go back to work on those studies we keep hearing so much about?

I didn't criticize anyone's weight. Try to pay attention to what I wrote.

MarilynWann | November 8, 2010 2:31 PM

@AndrewW

You write as though people who argue for fat people's human rights and also for a Health At Every Size approach have never heard messages that are repeated literally thousands of times in media every day. Yes, we've heard the reports. Yes, we disagree with these interpretations of the data (and often with the data collection methods). Yes, we think we have a better option for people of all sizes.

In brief, the Health At Every Size approach encourages:
- celebration of weight diversity
- pursuit of health in a weight-neutral manner, rejection of weight-loss goals
- enjoyment of nutritious foods and eating in response to internal hunger/satiety cues
- enjoyment of regular physical activity

This is a crucial framing debate:

Correlations do not prove causation. Correlations between higher weights (higher levels of body fat, etc.) and increased morbidity/mortality risk are nowhere near as strong as correlations between tobacco-smoking and increased morbidity/mortality risk. Even the fattest people face at most a doubling of risk (2x) while people who smoke tobacco face 300x the risk of dying from lung cancer alone. Also, obviously, weight is not a behavior, while smoking is! Nutrition and fitness are behaviors and these behaviors correlate strongly with health and longevity. They also serve as powerful confounding variables in the weight/health correlation. Dr. Steve Blair (a fitness researcher who has written the President's report on physical fitness) finds that fatter people who are moderately fit are healthier and live longer than thinner people who are sedentary. A history of dieting and weight-cycling correlates with increased risk of morbidity/mortality. Higher levels of discrimination and related stress correlate with increased risk of morbidity/mortality. Fatter people face barriers to accessing healthcare services (like me! who's denied insurance at all!!!) and bias from healthcare professionals and lower quality medical care. We are also targeted for dangerous, ineffective cures for our weight. These confounding variables could explain a large part, or all, of the difference in health status between people of differing weights. We do not know the answer to this question because nearly all of our science funding on the question of weight is driven by the goal of eliminating fat people from society.

If you insist on defining health in terms of weight, you are not showing concern for fat people's actual wellbeing. In reality, a focus on weight results in all sorts of dangers for fat people, no increase in positive behaviors in the longterm over the whole population, and continued discrimination based on weight.

Here's yet another peer-reviewed journal article that proves a Health at Every Size approach yields far better health and happiness results than the traditional weight-focused approach.

http://www.adajournal.org/article/S0002-8223(05)00322-6/abstract

Luckily for me, AndrewW, I don't need your permission to be healthy or happy!

I defined "fit" in body fat percentage and mobility. This is how the World Health Organization and the National Institute for Health defines it:

Women
Age Range Healthy %
20-39 yrs. 21-33%
40-59 yrs. 23-35%
60-79+yrs. 24-36%

Men
Age Range Healthy %
20-39 yrs. 8-19%
40-59 yrs. 11-22%
60-79+yrs. 13-25%

It's much more important to know these numbers than weight. Any health club can provide a measurement, or look here:

http://www.livestrong.com/article/168141-how-to-fit-a-body-fat-percentage-to-simple-body-measurements/

This is an excellent post! And hey, as a bonus, we have teased out yet another issue on which AndrewW thinks he knows what he's talking about but doesn't. Woot!

The fact that this discussion has devolved into one about health issues proves that people didn't get the point of the article. How about everyone gets off their own hobby horse and actually reads what she wrote and think about it. Then if you insist on getting back on the horse, I can go back to ignoring those comments.

Emily said:

"If we continue to tell brothers and sisters that they are somehow less worthy because they are heavy, we lose part of our witness to equality. And if we continue to buy into manufactured standards of what is attractive or acceptable or right, we open ourselves up to criticism on other levels as well."

Nobody is telling anyone they are "less worthy because they are heavy." If they are it is wrong. My sense is that much in the same way many people express disdain for cigarette smoking, they are concerned about obesity - especially if it includes a friend. I know of many people reaching out and offering help, not treating them as lesser.

We also don't all succumb to "manufactured standards of what is attractive," we decide what we believe is attractive. I think if we're genuinely honest we recognize healthy people as attractive.

I have friends that have conquered their individual struggle with obesity and I admire them greatly. They made their health important and what THEY think about themselves will always be more important than what anyone else thinks, but they did it to feel better physically. They did it, others can, too.

We don't help each other by suggesting poor health is somehow acceptable or even attractive - it isn't. There is nothing "personal" about that, either. Ultimately, we make our own choices about what it means to be our best and how much effort we are willing to put into that choice.

None of my comments have anything to do with any individual - obesity is a huge health problem in America and it is better to confront it than to simply try to explain it away under the guise of "acceptance" or even "diversity."

Andrew, I dont really know what to say to you except this. You tried to use a friend of mine as an example by asking for her body fat percentage. You want to stalk me from thread to thread and launch personal attacks. Fine. But now you chose to pick on another poster an try to shame her for her weight. That's not ok, Andrew. Have you ever considered the fact that there is something to be said for kindness? I've never seen you exhibit any to anyone. What a sad life you must have that you anonymously bully women online about their weight.

Don't be silly Emily, I didn't shame anyone about their body weight - in fact I said a few times "weight" is not the issue.

During an exchange of comments about health and fitness we discussed "body fat percentage," which is simply these most accurate way to determine fitness levels.

Expressions of ideas and opinions are not "bullying" and I didn't insult or demean anyone here. My comments have been directed at the very serious health problem of obesity and I do not think it is appropriate to ignore that important issue. Your suggestion that it is simply discrimination or "sizeism" defeats the very real need to respect our bodies and good health. It doesn't matter what I, or anyone else, thinks about another's appearance - it matters what THEY think. It matters how THEY feel. I have been very clear about that, despite numerous disingenuous comments.

As far as my "other" work is concerned, I fully expect people to make sincere comments when it is released - both supportive and critical. That is the purpose of conversation.

You can even take out the word "bully" and replace it with "commenter". (Though I do think you bully people.) It's still telling. You've spent a good portion of your day commenting on the weight of women you don't know. How is that healthy?

Now you want to add "women" to my supposed bullying? Are you kidding?

My comments are all about "health." You can ignore that fact or try to explain it away, but I didn't insult anyone.

We simply disagree about the importance of being healthy.

C'est la vie.

No, Andrew don't disagree on the importance of being healthy. We disagree with what makes one healthy. You think all people with a high body fat percentage are unhealthy. I think people who feel the need to obsess about other peoples' weight are unhealthy. I firmly believe you can be fit and fat at the same time. You don't. Fine. But don't tell me what I believe. And maybe ask yourself why you are so obsessed with the weight of people you don't know. To me, that's the more concerning health issue.

No, Emily it isn't my belief - it is the collective belief of the medical community. In fact, they call it an epidemic. They are not in disagreement about the problem, they are concerned and have been sounding the alarms for quite some time.

Body fat percentage is important and a very accurate way of understanding someone's health and fitness. Not weight, but percentage of body fat. Ask any Doctor.

Obesity in the US has tripled in the last 20 years. Do you really believe that is healthy? Diabetes in children used to be rare, now it is very common. Part of our responsibility as adults is to protect the children. Teaching them is much better than explaining it away with "acceptance" or "diversity." It's a problem. A very real problem.

There are indeed doctors who disagree with you. And the only very real problem you have convinced anyone of is your intolerance, size-phobia and love for bullying fat women from behind an anonymous screenname. Here's my challenge for you, Andrew. If you want to behave in this manner, how about being decent enough to not hide your real identity? You made a lot of half-researched claims on a number of issues. So, tell us more about you. Education? Occupation? Experience? Or, are you just more comfortable stalking the posts of a few of us in anonymity?

Half the comments here are anonymous. It is the content of those comments that should be important to you, not the source.

I have provided several links to medical institutions and government agencies that are trying to solve the problem of obesity. I shared their understanding of the problem. If you have a doctor that wants to claim "fat is healthy," please post it.

I have already responded to your silly "bullying" claim - it is totally without merit.

If you knew anything about how body fat percentage is usually calculated, you would be aware of the fact that BMI is standarized using ONLY cis white males and is ONLY partially accurate even for them. Muscular women, in particular, always get marked as fat by BMI, regardless of their actual body fat. When I weighed 145 lbs, could bench press 90 lbs, and had visible abs, I was still obese by BMI standards. The lack of accuracy of these standards when applied to women (particularly muscular women) and people of color is well documented.

"to respect our bodies and good health" I don't have 'good health' and with my disabilities, I never will. People's hyper concern and hatred of fat people almost killed me, delaying my diagnosis by years and putting me at risk of death. I have had doctors look at me, see a fat person, and assume all of my health problems were caused by my weight and dismiss my symptoms, even though they all started before I got heavy. There was zero concern about my health and a shit ton of concern about my weight. I spent six years severly ill when it could have been mitigated. Six years of being so exhausted I sometimes hallucinated, because people thought of my weight as a disease, rather than a symptom or just part of my body. The first doctor to take me seriously was fat and his size acceptance saved my life, both literally and figuratively. You want to know why fat people die more? Try considering the fact that our doctors seeing our bodies as a disease are fucking killing us.

Not a single person who has ever publically called me fat or fat shamed me has given a shit about my health. Someone who knew about my health would know I take the elevator up one story because I have been in severe pain for a third of my life and if I use stairs I will puke from it. Someone who knew about my health would know about my thyroid problems, my hormones, the results of my hundreds of blood tests, my MRIs, my specialist appointments. It's not about health, because people who actually know about my health (like my close family and friends, or my doctors) know about things like my blood pressure, blood sugar, cholestrol, etc, that are better indicators of health than any damned body fat measure or random person eyeballing my big ass. If my health were your damned business, I would have already told you about it.

BMI or Body Mass Index is not the same as Body Fat Percentage. BMI is just a (sometimes) helpful standard, as you've pointed out. Body fat percentage is very accurate and represents exactly the person being tested. It is much better than BMI or weight-watching.

I'm sorry you have suffered discrimination and I acknowledged earlier that 5% of the population do have certain medical conditions that contribute to obesity. My comments about health are directed at the 95% - the ones that suffer from preventable obesity.

I apologize if I wasn't clear.

AndrewW-
I really, really, wasn't going to engage in this debate.

But here's the thing:
Even if one entirely agrees with everything you say, you acknowledge that there are people whose obesity is not preventable.
And even if one entirely agrees with everything you say, it is still not polite, kind, or reasonable to expect that people whose diagnoses you do not know explain whether they have the special acceptable obesity or the kind that is a scourge on our whole society.
In fact, if one agrees with all that you say and preventable obesity is all but a moral failing, it seems particularly cruel for anyone to suggest that Emily might be one of THOSE people, when she might not be, because, how offensive.
Other people have said this more briefly than I, but it actually doesn't matter whether Emily's weight is unhealthy. Her point, with which I agree, doesn't actually conflict with your point (though it does conflict with your expression of your point): Other people's size, appearance, and health are in no way anyone else's business.

Because you will want to know: I am 39 and female, and my body fat percentage is approximately 24. I can also provide you with my VO2, blood pressure, cholesterol, and glucose levels, if that is relevant to my having anything to say on the topic, but the short version: They're all fine; thanks for your concern.

Wow, these comments seem to have gotten a bit out of hand and slightly vitriolic. There's a fundamental problem in the communication here. I think the thing AndrewW seems to be stuck on is the point about the health hazards to being "overweight." My wife is a bit overweight, and we've both been concerned about many of the health implications that Andrew pointed out early in the string. I can comfortably join Andrew in recognizing that these are valid concerns.

But I believe, Andrew, you have been omitting one very important health concern from your points. I'm not going to try and refute any of the doctors or medical studies you've quoted, but I'd like to point out to you that there are just as many doctors and medical studies that confirm "Obesity" as a social disease as well as a physical one. And those studies will generally point to unnecessary societal intolerance as a contributing cause and factor. So if, as you suggest, you are acting from a perspective of concern for the larger problem at hand, then it would be more appropriate to treat the subject with some sensitivity and less combative language. Because you're talking about something different from everyone else. Emily wrote about the social disease. You're stuck on the physical. It's not even close to the same subject. The inconvenient thing is that for the physical disease called Obesity, the problem is Obesity itself. But for the social disease called Obesity, the problem is society and its judgments.

Using your logic, let me attempt to explain to you what these good people seem to be trying to say. Accepting your tenacious supposition that obesity is a serious physical disease, let's say a person contracts a different serious physical disease, say swine flu. Is it appropriate to go to that person and quote all the scary statistics of swine flu and berate them for making the life decisions that led to them contracting it? Is it appropriate to judge that person as a lesser human being on a moral level because they caught swine flu?

Now I think my analogy falls apart a bit when it comes to treatment. If a person with swine flu chooses not to treat the disease, then perhaps you should berate them as an idiot. But here is where I say that Obesity isn't swine flu. Yes, obesity can kill you in all kinds of different ways, and so can eating red meat. But the truth of both of these things is that it is totally possible and even popular for a person to choose that path and live with that choice until it kills them, and very often, it's so far down the line that it's NOT the life choice that kills them anyway. There's nothing about that kind of death that's more right or more wrong than any other way to die.

So the supposition that obesity itself is inherently wrong comes from a judgmental place. And that judgment is at the heart of the social disease called Obesity. And it's that kind of judgment that causes the knee-jerk reaction in the opposite direction and contributes to the problem. Now, don't misunderstand me here, I'm not saying that being obese is "right." I'm just saying that it's not "wrong." And bringing in terms of "right" and "wrong" simply serves to hurt people's feelings, and I believe, Andrew, that's what you're doing in this string.

I appreciate your thoughtful conversation.

I didn't say obesity was wrong, I said it was "unhealthy." That isn't my judgment, it is the consensus of the medical profession. Nobody sees it as a "disease," either - it is mostly behavioral.

Our health (which is sometimes reflected in our appearance) is our choice. I'm not making it right or wrong, it is up to each individual to determine how important their health is.

My comments were about the societal problems of obesity - added healthcare costs, reduced productivity and shorter life spans. Entire countries are combating this problem and many consider it an epidemic. It is a serious problem.

The divide seems to whether or not we should acknowledge the problem or simply "accept" any behavior. I know that must sound harsh, but it is troubling that young kids now routinely have diabetes. Many are unable to engage in physical exercise.

If we keep ignoring the problem or explaining it away as "diversity" we're hurting those children. As adults we need to teach our children and provide a good example. A healthy example.

Here's one other thing that people often fail to consider, and yes I recognize that I am relating personal experience and it's therefore anecdotal evidence at best: two people, making extremely similar lifestyle choices in terms of diet and exercise can, based on the luck of the genetic draw, wind up with drastically different physical results.

I eat, and have eaten for years, far better than most of my friends. I don't drink soft drinks (realistically, I would say it's only once a week I drink anything other than water or black coffee), I rarely eat white bread or processed foods, and take down a lot of vegetables and lean protein daily. I only eat out a few times a week, generally on weekends, and those tend to be the only meals that I'm not super careful about. My blood pressure is average-to-low and has always been, my resting heart rate is in the 40s, and my cholesterol has never been high.

Despite this, I have been between 70 and 120 pounds overweight (that's on the "morbidly obese" end of the chart, for my height) for my entire adult life.

I have a lot of friends with habits similar to mine. They run the gamut from rail-thin to slightly overweight. I also have a friend who eats pizza three times a week, takes down 64 oz slurpees regularly, drinks soda like water, and is about as physically active as I am. He is a normal weight for his height.

Now, almost anyone, looking at a list of how he and I eat and take care of ourselves side by side and then looking at us, would conclude that *I* was the one eating pizza, and drinking slurpees and soda, and munching on chips every day. Someone might even think they were showing concern by suggesting helpful weight loss tips, or a system they just *knew* would work. They would be making what seemed like a reasonable set of assumptions about my life based on my appearance, a set of assumptions that I am ill-informed about my own health, that I am poorly-disciplined about what I eat, that maybe I just don't care enough about myself to have looked into the things that are thrust at me every day.

Now, in fairness, I am one of the 5% that falls into the "medical" reasons category - I only recently learned that I have been battling an autoimmune disease that suppressed my energy and, to an extent, my metabolism, for the past 15 years. Since starting treatment for it I've dropped a lot of weight but I still, and likely will always, look like the unhealthy one standing next to this friend. Furthermore, I'd had metabolic panels done over the years based on the suspicious disconnect between my habits and my weight that showed nothing out of sorts - until I got seriously sick and they were able to identify the long-term problem by its acute signs, I was one of the "95%" that was assumed to be just lazy, undisciplined, or otherwise. And believe me, those of us who are fat are aware of those assumption - aware to the point of paranoia at times.

For people who are LGBTQ and fat, the constant awareness of the gaze of others and their assessments of one's behavior, appearance, habits, mannerisms VS the "norm" is doubly felt, and what you might think is a helpful and novel suggestion is really an assumption that the recipient is giving little-to-no thought to an area of their experience that is more likely to be under constant, painful self-examination. No, it's not bullying and I understand it not to be, but it is giving a human being a lot less credit than they deserve for understanding their own life.

Generalizations can be useful for the population at large, of course, but when dealing with an individual you can no more know that a fat person makes unhealthy choices than that a thin
person makes healthy ones.

On a somewhat-related note, Maura Kelly, who claims to be disgusted and grossed out by overweight people, has a long and well-documented history of a battle with anorexia that nearly killed her and that she still battles today - no one, *no one*, should be allowing her to approach subjects even tangential to a healthy understanding body image with any kind of credibility. Her own experience can of course be part of the larger conversation, but it sort of rules her out as an expert or even a reliable opinion.

Great comment. It is helpful to hear honest personal stories.

To add some perspective, I thought it might be interesting to link to this other Marie Claire article that shows a different point of view coming from a society where the social perceptions of obesity are reversed.

http://www.marieclaire.com/world-reports/news/international/forcefeeding-in-mauritania

I think this is thoroughly horrifying, but the reversal of the social perceptions highlights for me the validity of Obesity as an extremely complicated social disease.

The issue that I think is more important than anything else is the right to medical privacy, even in public. That is really what Heath is talking about more than anything else IMO. If Rev. Heath doesn't want to explain medical history to someone who is a once and a while acquaintance, isn't that an issue of privacy even more than weight? Would you go up to someone and ask them something like "Geez you know, that mole on your face is really large and kind of hairy! When are you getting it removed?" rhat's Rude. It is just rude.

And also I don't think there is anything wrong with eating a hamburger. It's American, and we should all partake in such indulgences when we have a chance!

Here's one other thing that people often fail to consider, and yes I recognize that I am relating personal experience and it's therefore anecdotal evidence at best: two people, making extremely similar lifestyle choices in terms of diet and exercise can, based on the luck of the genetic draw, wind up with drastically different physical results.

I eat, and have eaten for years, far better than most of my friends. I don't drink soft drinks (realistically, I would say it's only once a week I drink anything other than water or black coffee), I rarely eat white bread or processed foods, and take down a lot of vegetables and lean protein daily. I only eat out a few times a week, generally on weekends, and those tend to be the only meals that I'm not super careful about. My blood pressure is average-to-low and has always been, my resting heart rate is in the 40s, and my cholesterol has never been high.

Despite this, I have been between 70 and 120 pounds overweight (that's on the "morbidly obese" end of the chart, for my height) for my entire adult life.

I have a lot of friends with habits similar to mine. They run the gamut from rail-thin to slightly overweight. I also have a friend who eats pizza three times a week, takes down 64 oz slurpees regularly, drinks soda like water, and is about as physically active as I am. He is a normal weight for his height.

Now, almost anyone, looking at a list of how he and I eat and take care of ourselves side by side and then looking at us, would conclude that *I* was the one eating pizza, and drinking slurpees and soda, and munching on chips every day. Someone might even think they were showing concern by suggesting helpful weight loss tips, or a system they just *knew* would work. They would be making what seemed like a reasonable set of assumptions about my life based on my appearance, a set of assumptions that I am ill-informed about my own health, that I am poorly-disciplined about what I eat, that maybe I just don't care enough about myself to have looked into the things that are thrust at me every day.

Now, in fairness, I am one of the 5% that falls into the "medical" reasons category - I only recently learned that I have been battling an autoimmune disease that suppressed my energy and, to an extent, my metabolism, for the past 15 years. Since starting treatment for it I've dropped a lot of weight but I still, and likely will always, look like the unhealthy one standing next to this friend. Furthermore, I'd had metabolic panels done over the years based on the suspicious disconnect between my habits and my weight that showed nothing out of sorts - until I got seriously sick and they were able to identify the long-term problem by its acute signs, I was one of the "95%" that was assumed to be just lazy, undisciplined, or otherwise. And believe me, those of us who are fat are aware of those assumption - aware to the point of paranoia at times.

For people who are LGBTQ and fat, the constant awareness of the gaze of others and their assessments of one's behavior, appearance, habits, mannerisms VS the "norm" is doubly felt, and what you might think is a helpful and novel suggestion is really an assumption that the recipient is giving little-to-no thought to an area of their experience that is more likely to be under constant, painful self-examination. No, it's not bullying and I understand it not to be, but it is giving a human being a lot less credit than they deserve for understanding their own life.

Generalizations can be useful for the population at large, of course, but when dealing with an individual you can no more know that a fat person makes unhealthy choices than that a thin
person makes healthy ones.

On a somewhat-related note, Maura Kelly, who claims to be disgusted and grossed out by overweight people, has a long and well-documented history of a battle with anorexia that nearly killed her and that she still battles today - no one, *no one*, should be allowing her to approach subjects even tangential to a healthy understanding body image with any kind of credibility. Her own experience can of course be part of the larger conversation, but it sort of rules her out as an expert or even a reliable opinion.

Eegh, sorry about the double-post. New 'round these parts.

As RuPaul says, if you can't love yourself, how the hell you gonna love someone else?
Also, if you can't learn to love yourself at whatever size, no amount of weight loss is going to be a miracle cure for the self hate.
I have lived with self hate for years. I'm straight, so that was one battle I didn't have to fight. (It's ridiculous that sexual orientation has to be a battle for anybody.) But I have struggled with mental illness for as long as I can remember, and I am physically handicapped after an accident 7 years ago that left me with a spinal cord injury. At 44 I am incontinent of urine and have to wear Depends. I walk with a cane. My kidneys were injured and I do have to have dialysis although I am luckier than a lot of people as the kidneys still do function to a degree. Plus I am morbidly obese. Admissibly this is muchly my own fault as after the accident I became severely depressed and just didn't care about anything, particularly myself. I sat around watching TV and eating and wishing I'd die. At this point it is hard to lose the weight that I put on because I cannot exercise strenuously. I have radically changed my eating habits but I cannot live on Slim Fast (bleah!) So I am still morbidly obese.
Here's a shocker for the "so concerned about your health" crowd--especially those that have the audacity to lecture someone they really don't even know! Fat people--get ready for it--KNOW THEY'RE FAT! We might even know that our weight is in the unhealthy range. We don't need to hear it from you.
I always struggled with my weight. I was bulimic in my teens. If anyone ever told me that I would be morbidly obese I would have killed myself, because I did not have any love for myself, even when I was tiny--110 pounds--and still thought I was fat.
I would give a lot to lose 100 or more pounds, but I no longer say I would give anything. Because there are things in this world a lot more important than being skinny. Such as being alive and being with people who love you and are really there for you no matter your size.
You are a great writer, Emily. Thank you for making my day today.

"Plus I am morbidly obese. Admissibly this is muchly my own fault as after the accident I became severely depressed and just didn't care about anything, particularly myself. I sat around watching TV and eating and wishing I'd die."

Opal, that isn't your fault. Depression is an illness just as diabetes is an illness. Over-eating is a symptom of depression just as having high blood sugar is a symptom of diabetes. You aren't responsible for having an illness. Having a spinal cord injury at 37 is more than sufficient cause for being depressed, although depression doesn't especially require a specific incident.

So give yourself a break, and stop blaming yourself for your weight gain. In any case, since you can't go back in time to change something, it doesn't matter why anyone gains weight. It only matters what happens in the future.

@Andrew W

Hey, Andrew. I hear what you're saying. And guess what? I even agree with you (to an extent). However, there is a side to this whole discussion that you have seemed unable to hear. (Maybe you HAVE heard it after a few of these later posts; I'm not sure.) Here's the deal:

First things first - thank you for caring about this enough to stay engaged in the conversation rather than pointing fingers, judging, blaming, and walking away. The mere fact that you are trying to understand another perspective shows that this matters to you, regardless of how clumsily you and "they" try to connect and hear one another.

Obesity IS a major health problem and is increasingly rampant worldwide, but particularly in the United States. Anyone with an IQ over 80 can probably tell you that the way to maintain a healthy "normal" weight is to regulate your caloric intake and the caloric impact of your exercise and your body's basic needs so that you physically control the number of calories that your body stores either as fat, sugar, muscle, or water. On the surface, it's all very basic.

Under the surface, it's not basic AT ALL. The increasing incidence of obesity in the United States AND in other countries in the world directly correlates to two things: (1) the rise and spread of the fast food industry, and (2) the rise and spread of the diet industry.

I think it's safe to say that we all know the perils of fast food. What many people don't realize is that more than 90% of food you are able to purchase in an average grocery store is also the nutritional equivalent of fast food. Is there a way around this? Yes. But access to affordable, fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, meat from 100% grass-fed animals, and eggs that are from pasture-raised chickens is hard to come by, particularly for people who live in statistically poorer neighborhoods and communities. In many places, access to such whole foods is literally non-existent. If a person does everything she can to eat healthily from the selection of foods and food-like substances available to her in the grocery store, is she morally responsible for the consequences of ingesting harmful chemicals, high-fructose corn syrup, excessive salt, and God knows what else that our modern American food supply is riddled with? Some peoples' bodies have managed to evolve to process the chemical crap, but most haven't. Eat the food available to you on an Indian Reservation and see if it's even possible for you to dodge diabetes after a few years.

The people who are responding to your posts aren't trying to refute your every comment; they're trying to point out that there are MAJOR systemic issues at the root of this. Though the book I'm about to recommend isn't about obesity or the health-related complications, there are interesting bits of information to be gleaned from it which are directly applicable to this discussion. Read The Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael Pollen. You'll have to endure the first few chapters to get into it.

The other piece of information you seem to be missing is this: telling people who are overweight that they need to go on a diet doesn't work. It seems illogical on the surface, but it's true. Why? The psychological implications trump any attempt at loving concern that may have been behind even a health professional's recommendation that a person lose weight. Here are some facts. Add them together and maybe you'll see the disconnect:

a. People in the United States know the social standard very well: "it is physically, emotionally, and sexually desirable to be thin, muscular, or visibly fit".

b. People in the United States know that a person who is overweight has an increased risk of a host of medical complications.

c. People in the United States who are fat are very well aware of the fact that they are fat. You'd have to be deaf, blind, and home-bound not to feel assaulted by the constant barrage of ads, articles, comments, gestures, looks, and dismissals that come from those in our country who happen to have a body that "fits" the socially-accepted ideal.

d. Diets don't work (for 95+% of people) because humans are not mere calorie-converting robots. We are social, emotional, and spiritual beings. We are taught to strive for the accepted "norm" from the time we are toddlers, a teaching that is every much as ingrained in our upbringings as is the West-African male arousal toward obese women. We literally cannot escape it.

e. Very few people -- at least in the United States -- eat food simply for its nutritive value. We have all sorts of traditions and customs surrounding food. It is expected that everyone will eat mashed potatoes at Thanksgiving, for example. Whether or not they are providing the elements my body needs at that time is irrelevant. Thus, food is more to us than just a pile of calories.

f. We are raised to eat the food that is put in front of us. As kids, we are told that we need to clean our plates. We are trained to NOT listen to our body's cues for hungry or full, but to listen to the expectations of the person putting the food in front of us. Even if we are raised by parents who feed us primarily fruits and vegetables, many of us lose the ability to physically discern whether or not we are satiated, and we are taught that it is wrong to waste food. It's better to "throw it in (ourselves) than to throw it out", which from a health perspective is absolutely counter-productive.

g. Add to all of this the mind games we play with ourselves when we try to diet. "If you are fat, you are bad. If you are thin, you are good." "If you eat celery sticks for an hour you are good; if you eat a small cookie you are cheating." Hmmm... do you look, feel, and act your best when your self esteem is in the pot? Do you think it helps to be reminded that everyone else thinks "you're a failure" too? It doesn't... and for a whole heck of a lot of people, food is as much of an escape from that pain as is alcohol, heroin, or crack. The difference? An alcoholic or drug addict doesn't EVER have to have a drink or take a hit to stay alive; a compulsive over-eater DOES have to eat to stay alive. The point is that when you express any form of disapproval for a person's body (based on shape or size), you are actually COMPOUNDING the emotional problem at the heart of many people's struggles.

Just in case this part doesn't sink in, health professionals and news organizations have been telling us about the high correlation between medical problems and obesity for years, encouraging people to diet and exercise. In that time, we've proceeded to get fatter and fatter at an almost exponential rate. Telling fat people that they need to lose weight doesn't give them information they don't already know; it throws another emotional barrier in their way of achieving a healthy relationship with food.

THIS is why people on this site have called you a bully. They feel the constant barrage from every direction all the time as it is and here you are--not hearing or getting the social and emotional implications -- adding to it all over again. AFTER reading an article that poignantly illustrates the hyper-self-consciousness and inner turmoil that this creates.

h. Last but not least, by definition, not everyone can fit into the "norm". No matter how the criteria are established, there will be outliers. Therefore, no matter how the criteria are established, there will be people who are labeled "obese".

For the record, I am clinically obese. I know that there are a whole lot of things that I could change that would make a difference. I don't in any way deny the role I play in this. However, I will ALWAYS be considered overweight. I haven't been in the "normal" weight range for my height since I hit puberty, and I was even lucky enough to avoid the physically-disastrous trap of dieting back then. I would not currently consider myself to be physically fit, but I will be physically fit long before I weigh little enough to be considered "overweight" rather than "obese". And in all honesty, if I acted anorexic and actually managed to lose enough weight to fall into the "normal" range for my height, I would probably be sickly rather than healthy and physically fit. To top it off, I was born a scrawny stick child whose family members and doctors worried would never reach a high enough weight to be healthy. Hormones can do rather remarkable things.

By the way, are you aware that there is a movement among some endocrinologists to redefine body fat as an organ? The fat in our bodies interacts with our pancreas, thyroid, and parathyroid glands, altering the chemicals that these vital organs produce. Fat actually creates its own estrogen, and estrogen increases strongly correlate to higher body fat. Body fat is very self-serving that way. The ENTIRE endocrine system is based upon hormones. That these hormones play such a dynamic role in maintaining our overall health, in determining our individual metabolisms, in determining our individual body shape and size, doesn't it make sense that maybe, just MAYBE this isn't entirely about how many calories a person eats?

Even if everything I've said is wrong, doesn't it at least make sense that it's hurtful to judge people without knowing them? To assume things about their behavior, self-worth, abilities, or potential value to society simply by how they look? All we're really asking is that you - you who cared enough to stay engaged in dialog this long - also care enough to take a step AGAINST the war on fat people. And yes, it IS a war. Promote exercise and physical fitness; we fully agree that they are critical. BUT promote physical fitness measured by what a person's body can sustain or endure, not by how much it weighs or what shape it is. Look beyond the "all-telling" cover to see and hear that there is more to the story underneath.

As an earlier writer wrote that obesity is a health problem and a social problem. I hope that you've heard enough voices to understand the compounded impact on health that the social problem causes.

Thank you for caring.

This is the most substantive and thoughtful comments in this conversation.

I agree, obesity is difficult and sometimes much more complicated that it appears. My only intent is that people do whatever they can to be as healthy as they can be. That requires effort and I know it is challenging. I applaud those that work very hard to be as healthy as possible, despite the numerous challenges.

There is a lot of work to do for both the health aspect and the social aspect. I think the best way to handle that is with honesty and your comments confirms that.

I have not expressed or endorsed "judgment" in any of my comments. I have tried to remain objective and helpful. I do not believe we should continue to make this subject "taboo," it needs to be discussed. I appreciate Emily's honesty in sharing her feelings, but I disagree that just because someone expresses some discomfort they are judging or even discriminating. I actually think we all want everyone to be the best they can be. Perhaps Emily misreads sadness or concern for judgment.

I'm glad you took the time to make such a thoughtful contribution and I have learned from it. Thank-you.

seeingeyegrrl | November 14, 2010 10:58 AM

Great post, obviously generated a good deal of debate. I do think that there is a health consideration. But that is for each individual to decide. The fact is that for most overweight or over fluffy folks, only 5% can lose it with diet and exercise.

As a person who had weight issues most of my life...and only out about 12 years...While I knew I was different growing up, I have been blessed to have had a fairly easy transition regarding being 'out'. Being overweight, is obvious to everyone...being out is not.

Anyway, my weight, my health issues and the people in my life led me to choose a path that significantly impacted and changed my body.

Dealing with the change....going from someone who was overweight to someone who was described as 'thin' and 'slender' created a major identity crisis. Because identity is so impacted by other people's views of who we are. I was never so aware of this fact as I struggle to find myself when the person looking back from the mirror was not the person I knew. I was known for my great sense of humor and wit...who knew that was tied to my weight? As a fatty I could be the class clown and was accepted....as a skinny...no way. As a fatty I was safe to be around people who were in relationships....as a skinny ...no way. I went through the anorexia jokes, being the most slender person in the room who gets teased that they need to eat. When I was overweight, no one commented on my weight or what I was eating (even if they were thinking about it). As a skinny I was open to all sorts of unwelcome comments about what I ate, how much did I weigh, what size I was and that I needed to eat more. I even had strangers give me food!

And when I looked around my community....the average lezzie...is well...on the fluffy side. I went from thinking I was in some form a 'goddess' to losing all that was round about me.

The good news, is I did achieve the health benefits I desired. And as the years go by I am getting used to this new me...who is not only self defined, but other defined. And some times I feel like a fatty who is not out...and bottom line, I still feel different in my skin. While I agree that tolerance for all is important...as is tolerance for self, I also think there is a point where we need to take over the defining process of who we are. Which in my mind is realizing that all people have issues...life induced issues. Your life would not be perfect if you were straight, your life would not be perfect if your weight or skin color was different. Self acceptance, self approval and choosing who to have in your life....all will help with learning our true essence. Life is a process, a journey....safety on the path to all.

Side note: The Google ads at the bottom of this page are now for (creepy, UNhealthy-seeming) weight-loss products. Is there a way to complain about that?