Dear People Who Want to Shrink Fat Bodies:
I think all bodies are awesome – thin, fat, disabled, buff, hourglass, angular, apples, pears, carrots, celery (what, thin people can’t have food body-descriptors?). To my mind, there is no body out there that is not simply wonderful. So it dismays me that there are people who do think that there is a hierarchy of goodness when it comes to bods – with fat bodies on the bottom. They are so distressed by fat bodies that they’ve committed, either personally or professionally, to help make us thinner. To those folks: I know you think you’re doing good, but you’re not, and so…we gotta talk.
I understand that for the most part, you are acting out of the goodness of your heart (even if you are making money from this endeavor). You see how fat people suffer at the hands of a cruel world who has decided that having at least one (but often many more) oppressed segment of society is beneficial in so many ways, especially the money-making way, and you don’t want us to suffer anymore. So you think the best way to end that suffering is to end our fatness. You’ve heard about how fat is killing us all (even though it really isn’t) and you want to save us from death (even though we all die. No matter what.). Because you know (just as we once all knew the world was flat) that it’s just a matter of changing our diets, getting off the couch a bit more, right? Even though if that were truly the case, there would probably hardly be any fat people, since that sounds pretty simple, and lots of us already do it.
You don’t understand that maybe some bodies are just naturally fat, or eventually become fat, that the bell curve of bodies tends naturally toward diversity of size and shape and ability (because from an evolution standpoint, that’s a totally helpful thing) and therefore you simply don’t understand why all us fatties are just choosing to be needlessly fat. Perhaps we are just like willful children who need your thinner, wiser guidance. (Also, you might make some money! A LOT of money!)
But here’s the deal – I know almost no fat person who hasn’t tried to turn herself or himself into a thin(ner) person at least once in their lives (fat people who have never dieted aren’t quite unicorns…but they are exceedingly rare in my personal, non-scientific, anecdotal experience). We’ve tried the sensible diets (supposedly Weight Watchers and healthy lifestyle changes) and when those didn’t work (or worked to turn us into crazy people), other diets were tried – some of them more and more extreme as time went by (you go, breatharians!). In reality, if just plain sensible nutrition and exercise (which isn’t all that difficult) worked consistently and reliably to turn fat people into thin people, there wouldn’t be any fad diets at all. But there are. Lots of them. So yeah, we’ve tried them all…and most of us are still fat.
But for the love of all that is kale-infused, if you’re going to make fat people your charity project, at least do the research. (better yet, get a different project). You will find out that most intentional weight loss efforts – like 95% – fail after more than 5 years (and usually by year 3). It is not due to lack of willpower, and the science shows this reliably. In a country that sent people to the moon (conspiracy theorists, stop right there) and invented the iPhone, and where people regularly don’t take vacation, you’re trying to say that we’re simply not trying hard enough? Hogwash. I’m not buying it. People try hard at things all the time, even fat people. If long-weight loss could be maintained by more than a tiny fraction of people, we would have maintained it by now. So you’re not going to make our lives better by making us thin, because there is no real way to make the majority of us thin for the long-term.
How could you help? Lay off the fat phobia, first of all. Consider that there are a lot of ways for people to be happy and get healthy without focusing on weight. Anyone can benefit from eating better – and I don’t mean more restrictively – or being more active, but unless someone has asked for your help, please don’t launch in on a reform mission. No one wants to feel like they need to be fixed, especially by someone who has never walked a mile in their shoes.
Please stop assuming you can tell how or what someone eats just by looking at them. You can’t. And you can’t tell their health status either. Good doctors don’t diagnose by looking at someone by five seconds and making assumptions. You shouldn’t either.
You can advocate to end the stigma and rampant discrimination that fat people face (or any people. No one should ever have to suffer from any kind of discrimination). You can decide to do nothing at all and just leave fat people alone – that in itself will be huge. If you do nothing other than to refuse to speak judgmentally about body shapes and sizes (and that includes thin bodies) you help to shut weight stigma down.
To all our thin and “normal” weight allies – thank you. I love you so much, because you have nothing personally to gain (other than living in a harmonious world full of happiness and rainbows, I guess). To all those who truly don’t give a shit one way or the other whether someone is fat or not – thank you to you, too. You at least aren’t making things worse.
And to those who still want to shrink fat bodies– I hope you find another hobby someday. Because this one isn’t working for us.
Dietitians Unplugged podcast – episode 6 available now!
Episode 6 is called “Clean Eating or Toxic Ideas?” and we had so much fun talking about this subject.
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