The very hardest part of refusing to play ball with the Diet Zombies is trying to disconnect what a person weighs from what the food police presume is the current internal workings of that person’s body. If you pack more pounds than the BMI chart says you should, then refusal to accept permanent dieting as your fate in life is countered with a completely disingenuous “Don’t you want to be healthy?” where a person’s weight is the observable sign of moral grace.
I’ve addressed this topic before, in Health is More Than Weight, and I will no doubt return to it again. It is a bundle of presumptions and prejudices that need to be unpacked. I’ll start with a statement of fact – I am both fat and healthy. Yes, I mean it. No exceptions. No caveats. No conditions.
When health = weight = health, you end up in a situation where individuals are expected to engage in public performance of health as a sign of moral fitness. It demands that the individual prove that their claim to be healthy is valid. It looks for reasons why a person’s lack of health is due to a fault or failure of the individual to pursue and achieve this status. To resist losing weight is to acknowledge that you are unhealthy and that you are (in medical jargon) “non-compliant” in your treatment. “Don’t you want to be healthy?” is actually “You deserve to be sick if you won’t lose weight!”
This is a deeply inhumane way to conceptualize people’s health precisely because it dehumanizes the individual concerned. This is a feature, not a bug, as far as the food police are concerned. It allows the subject (the fully realized, embodied, engaged, complex human) to be converted into an object (fat cow who needs discipline), splitting and pathologizing aspects of person in isolation from her lived experience. It’s easier to condemn when you don’t have to address the particularities of the person in front of you. It’s also just bad science as it substitutes body weight as a cause of ill-health for weight as a risk factor or an indicator of specific health issues.
This is also one of the reasons that visual representations of obesity in the media tend to be of people at the very upper end of the obesity scale (so there can be no doubt but that Something Is Very Wrong Here) and where the person’s face is either not shown or else the person has been captured with a dejected, despondent expression, reflecting their inner disgust with themselves and encouraging the viewer to “mirror” the (imagined) self-revulsion and -rejection imagined to be going on inside the head of the Teh Fatz. The objective of depressing pictures of fat people is to reinforce feelings in the viewers that weight is A) a personal, mental and moral problem and B) something existentially crushing and C) something immediately obvious to outsiders. Fat as meta-disease.
Of course, this isn’t what fat and even obese people look like in public. If they photographed me, I’d either be on my way to a business meeting, and so be wearing my intense concentration face (which usually looks like I’m ready to drink the blood of innocents), or else I’m out and about in the neighborhood, in which case I’d have on my shades and be grinning like a hyena. In either case, the last thing I’d be thinking about is the breadth of my ass.
I spent today at the San Diego Zoo (if you get to San Diego, you should go there, it’s amazing!) walking up and down the canyons and looking at the wildlife, human and animal. The range of humanity was out there on display. Little kids, parents, seniors, zoo keepers, volunteers, people in all shapes and sizes. Some of the fat people required assistance going up and down the steep canyons of the zoo. Some of the non-fat people did, too. Most people, regardless of body mass, did just fine hiking around. Many people scowled or looked blank because, duh, that’s their resting expression. I couldn’t tell from just looking who was happy, sad, diabetic, ready to keel over from a heart attack, ready to climb Everest, ready to find a food stand and get a churro. People of all sizes were eating food, and some food was soda pop and hamburgers, some was goldfish crackers and gummy bears, and some was vegetable sticks and string cheese. I bought and happily wolfed down a soft pretzel.
No one was standing around, head down, sad faced, waiting to die. Really. They were all too busy checking out the zoo to waste any time with that nonsense.
Me, obese me, was chugging up and down the canyons, in and out of the aviaries, skipping the lines at the panda exhibit (they’re kind of a snooze, to be honest), laughing at the polar bears and their mid-day treats. I walked over to the zoo (about a 2 miles walk), I walked around the zoo (another 3+ miles) and then trekked back home for lunch. I know the distances because I used a GPS tracker, so the distances aren’t guesstimates.
Now, when I originally outlined this post, I was going to offer up various markers of my own health as a kind of refutation of the reductionistic pathologizing the Diet Zombies want to do with my weight, but then I realized to do so would be to play into the trap they’ve set up. Nothing I can post (even if I scanned and uploaded my most recent medical check up and lab tests) would be sufficient to refute their fundamentally (and fundamentalist) religious view of Fat Causes All Diseases and You Fatz Are Going to DIEDIEDIE!!!!, exactly in the way that you can’t argue with a climate denier or a Biblical literalist. They will simply, mulishly insist that soon it will “all catch up with you” and I will see my health deteriorate and then I will have doomed myself to misery and death because I will not discipline myself to lose those extra pounds. I’ll “be sorry” I didn’t “care enough about myself” to “do the right thing.” Nothing I can say or do about my fat, including getting rid of all of it, will satisfy; there will always be some way in which I fail to do everything possible to “be healthy.” All of which is just one big, fat, fucked up guilt trip foisted on me by people who have no idea who I am or what I desire to do with my life.
Instead, I offer up the idea that health is a fluid condition, unique to every individual, and is a balance of the abilities, disabilities, aspirations, and restraints that form the foundation and structure of an individual’s life. It includes a person’s mental state as well as their physical capacity, and it is respectful of limits that the individual sets on their physical condition. The individual has authority over and is responsible for choosing what measures (medical, dietary, physical, etc.) they will take to maintain this balance.
For me, that means being OK with being fat, having fun being active whenever the mood strikes me, working in a mentally healthy environment that gives me job satisfaction, cooking delicious meals to share with the person I love most in the world, and having regular medical checkups to keep an eye on my internal functions. When something wasn’t going right with my life, I changed things until it was right.
I am healthy because I am exactly where I need to be – physically, mentally – to achieve what I want in my life.
Fat ass and all.