Sunday, September 07, 2008

Naturally fat?


This comment, made in response to an earlier post, seems to epitomize so much of the anti-obesity attitude that I thought it deserved its own post:

Of course there's nothing wrong with being fat. I don't get why fat people get offended when we say that obesity is dangerous. We're not talking about people who are fat. We're talking about people who are dangerously obese. You remind me of the naturally skinny girls who get offended when people speak out against anorexia nervosa and complain, "Why does everyone hate skinny people? Wah!"

There is absolutely nothing wrong with being naturally fat or naturally skinny. But if someone is deathly thin or morbidly obese then it is a real problem.


So first of all, please tell us how to distinguish between "naturally fat" and "morbidly obese." What is "naturally fat"? Is it the-amount-of-fat-I would-have-had-if-I'd-never-gone-on-a-diet? Is it 5 pounds "overweight"? 20? 50? Is it the same for you as it is for me? Is it fat that comes from eating avocados and almonds as opposed to chocolate cake and ice cream? Who decides what constitutes natural fat vs. unnatural fat?

I'm fascinated by the semantics around this issue. Morbidly obese = morbidity = a death sentence if you're fat. When's the last time you heard anyone called "morbidly skinny"? And yet semi-starvation can certainly kill you.

Personally I don't know any "naturally skinny girls who get offended when people speak out against anorexia nervosa." Someone who is thin but not eating disordered typically wouldn't be offended by this. Someone who's eating disordered, either diagnosed or subclinically, might well be offended because the nature of anorexia is to be ego-syntonic. They identify the illness with themselves and will defend it to the death--their own. They can't help it; it's a symptom of the disease.

I hope my readers will weigh in (so to speak) on this one. I'd like to know what you think.

16 comments:

Louise said...

I agree there. Going by the BMI Project started by Shapely Prose, people have no idea what officially "overweight" "obese" and "morbidly obese" even look like. They think "morbidly obese" must mean the headless fat people (who are usually 400lbs+, and relatively rare in the population) in pictures attached to every obesity scare story. If you showed them a picture of a "morbidly obese" person from that BMI Project slideshow, they'd probably call that "naturally fat". I've had people be astonished that I'm "Super morbidly obese" with a BMI of 51. They think I'm just "obese".

Also, people don't know what "morbid" means, in this context. They think it means "deathly". It's supposed to mean "obesity where morbidities become more prominent", and morbidities are not SIGNS OF DEATH OMG, just various conditions. It's not even a real medical term, though the medical establishment has now adopted it. Some doctor years ago with a diet to push needed a term to make obeeeeeeeesity sound even worse and more scary.

Jen said...

The only thing I can say in response is this: If someone is morbidly obese, like, help me I can't get out of bed/haven't left my house in 10 years because I'm too big to get out the door, that's a problem. That is probably the kind of morbidly obese that the commenter is talking about. The healthy fat people we all know and love who throw the 'fat=unhealthy' arguement right out the window are probably not the type of person that the original commenter is talking about. Of course, I can't speak for them.

Whiner said...

I have known naturally skinny people, male and female, to be rather annoyed at being constantly accused of being anorexic.

And while I am not a doctor, by my best estimation, they are correct. They are just skinny people. I have also seen people that my best guess would be that they WERE anorexic, but since I am not a doctor and these were strangers, I do not think it is my business to hassle them about it.

Robbie said...

If there is "nothing wrong" with being fat then why is it fat people cant seem to get a real diagnosis from a doctor? Get glares if from the general population for putting anything other then a carrot stick in their mouth in public? Why is it a woman is left dying on the dining room floor of a heart attack while the EMT's make fat jokes because they cant "figure out" how to move her?

I dont care if someone is "naturally fat" or baby flavor doughnut and no excersize induced fat. Fat, Obese, and Morbidly Obese people are just THAT, people. You cant put a price on respect and dignity.

The "I mean the unhealthy morbidly obese people" line, is just a candy coating (pun intended) way of saying "Oh, I dont mean YOU" to back track on some totally hateful, fat phobic comment.

/rant

ja said...

The healthy fat people we all know and love who throw the 'fat=unhealthy' arguement right out the window are probably not the type of person that the original commenter is talking about.
Thanks Jen, that's basically what I meant.

Personally I don't know any "naturally skinny girls who get offended when people speak out against anorexia nervosa."
I know a few. Unless they secretly have an ED and I just don't know about it.

So first of all, please tell us how to distinguish between "naturally fat" and "morbidly obese." What is "naturally fat"? Is it the-amount-of-fat-I would-have-had-if-I'd-never-gone-on-a-diet? Is it 5 pounds "overweight"? 20? 50? Is it the same for you as it is for me? Is it fat that comes from eating avocados and almonds as opposed to chocolate cake and ice cream? Who decides what constitutes natural fat vs. unnatural fat?
By naturally fat I mean people who live balanced, healthy lives who happen to have naturally bigger builds. I don't define "overweight" as a specific number on a scale. It depends on the individual. In my unscientific opinion, I would consider someone who is far above or below his natural baseline weight to be overweight or underweight. If someone weighing 180 pounds has a varied diet that includes meats, fruits, veggies, desserts, breads, and fats and exercises moderately, I would not consider that to be "overweight." If someone who is naturally 120 pounds takes Zyprexa and gains 60 pounds within 3 months, then yes, I would consider that to be overweight. Same thing with people who are "underweight." Some people are perfectly healthy at 110 pounds while others are too thin at 110 pounds.

When's the last time you heard anyone called "morbidly skinny"? I haven't heard those exact words but I HAVE heard, "sickly thin", "She looks like death", and "She looks like shit" to describe girls who looked underweight and unhealthy.


Perhaps I'm not noticing the anti-obesity sentiment because my culture does not emphasize thinness. My mother was an abusive "witch" but I'll give my family credit for not being a bunch of salad freaks. In fact, my cousins and aunts and uncles used to tease me for being the skinny one in the family. I come from a culture that LOVES food, calories be damned.

Believe me, I KNOW that thin does not automatically equal healthy. I'm thin and I'm probably going to drop dead of a heart attack in a few years or rupture my stomach.

Correct me if I'm wrong but I'm under the impression that you think I am a vain girl who is obsessed with thinness, who thinks that fat people are "imperfect" or lazy. That is absolutely not true! I'm from a poor area and I see obesity as a social justice/public health issue that disproportionately affects PEOPLE OF COLOR. It pains me to see my neighbors and friends losing their limbs and going blind from diabetes. It pains me when they struggle to catch their breath as they walk up the stairs. I hate seeing children eat McDonald's meals every day because their parents are working three minimum wage jobs and don't have time to sit down with their children at the dinner table to enjoy a home cooked meal (with dessert). There's nothing wrong with enjoying a McDonald's burger but these kids shouldn't be eating that stuff every day. Not only is it physically unhealthy but it's mentally unhealthy as well. Kids need a variety of foods to nourish their brains. These kids aren't getting enough nutrition which is probably affecting their academic performance in school. And of course, poor academic performance just exacerbates socioeconomic inequality. Don't get me started on the public education system here. It's crap!

My concern about obesity is not about being thin. I'm concerned about the social justice aspects.

mary said...

Recently I had the interesting experience of hearing a man explain how much he hated his body which he considered far too thin for his liking. He said he always wore long sleeved shirts, which is what he was wearing on the hot day we spoke. He also said he has tried eating huge amounts of food yet just couldn't gain weight. The other person sharing this conversation was disgusted with himself because he felt too fat. He said he had dieted and lost a lot of weight only to gain back more. Hmmm, where have I heard that before? I guess what I am saying is that there are some non anorexic skinnies out there who'd rather be what they see as normal. Guess we all get the body we were dealt and ideally we'll listen to what we need and not what someone dictates to us if we have the mental health to know.
I agree that one can not judge a person's health by size. I feel there is far more wrong with a person who will hurt another person with judgments and this includes teachers who do this "in the name of education" to our children. There really was time when our weight was not a school, state, or gov't's business.I wonder, why do they care so much? And why haven't they respected the privacy of all people rather than shouting their self righteousness about health food? And do they even know what health food is? Most hospitals serve frozen crap salted and gravied...even the salads lack substance.This is where we go for repair, healing or to give birth! Yummy!

Harriet said...

ja,

First, thanks for clarifying where you're coming from. I agree with you that health is often an issue of poverty--i.e., many people don't have access to fresh food and walking/exercise opportunities. I agree with you that this is a social justice issue.

With regard to your example about the person who takes zyprexa and gains 60 pounds and is "unhealthily overweight," I would encourage you to think this through more thoroughly. What is "healthy" for that person? To go off his/her meds for the sake of being thin? It's a complex issue with no easy answers. I would hope that people would respect and appreciate all the layers involved. We tend to associate "healthy" with a very simplistic notion and nothing could be further from the truth.

Anonymous said...

I hear this phrase all the time: "... accused of having anorexia/being anorexic," and when you think about it, it makes no sense. Would anyone accuse a person of having cancer or diabetes?

I'm not attacking Whiner here, by the way - I know s/he was just relating what others had said.

Rhiannon said...

I agree with you in all but one way. I have known people who are naturally skinny who have been harassed about their weight and accused of having an eating disorder. These people care about being labeled in such a fashion. This is one reason why for me FA means accepting really skinny people too.

goodbyemyboy said...

Agreeing with the comments about people not having any idea what "obese" looks like. I hear this all the time even from people who are sympathetic to fat acceptance--that being fat is fine but being obese, well that's unhealthy for you. I had someone ask me once if I "thought" he was obese, as if it were an opinion question instead of a measurable thing. (Whether or not it's a useful measurement is another question entirely.) What's needed is education about what "obese" actually looks like (hint: I'm obese and I wear size 14 on top, 16-18 on bottom; the "headless fatties" in news articles represent about 2% of the population, not the "obesity epidemic"). People who are okay with "fat" still want to use "obese" as a euphemism for "unhealthy," and it's important to emphasize the fact that what society considers a little chubby and what your doctor considers a justification to bully you into losing 50 lbs. "for your health" are the same damn thing, and that's why FA advocates are so concerned.

I'm still deciding whether the "being fat is okay but being really fat is unhealthy" crowd are our allies or not, because many of them are still saying that skinny is good, just not as extremely skinny as the media likes. Prejudice against only the really fat people is still unfair prejudice against fat people.

Rachel said...

I don't define "overweight" as a specific number on a scale. It depends on the individual.

So, will everyone have to submit detailed reports on their diet and lifestyle to you and to others before getting their "discrimination-free" cards? I happen to be one of those fat people who is very healthy and eats a healthy balanced diet. Yet, without intruding upon one's privacy, how would you distinguish me -- someone you judge to be healthy -- from say, that thinner girl who gains weight after going on an antidepressant?

And herein lies the problem when we assume. You cannot judge a person's lifestyle or their diet based simply on what they weigh. And if this is merely a social justice issue for you, why don't you seem to be similarly concerned about those poor thin children who eat McDonald's every day and develop type diabetes?

living400lbs said...

I've had people tell me that I'm NOT "morbidly obese" because I exercise, go dancing, hold down a job, et cetera. Hello, I have a BMI of 60, the CDC definition of morbidly obese is a BMI 35.

Then there's the reactions since I began using an inhaler to control my exercise-induced asthma. If I arrive at the park-and-ride out of breath from hiking up the hill, I get looks of derision. If I pull out my inhaler*, the derision goes away - sometimes replaced by sheepishness.

*I use it 20 minutes before exercising to increase lung capacity. Mostly when I pull it out in that sort of situation it's to see how people react. It also tends to make smokers move away from me.

ja said...

If there is "nothing wrong" with being fat then why is it fat people cant seem to get a real diagnosis from a doctor? Get glares if from the general population for putting anything other then a carrot stick in their mouth in public? Why is it a woman is left dying on the dining room floor of a heart attack while the EMT's make fat jokes because they cant "figure out" how to move her?
It’s terrible that obese people are treated like that but skinny people aren’t always treated nicely either. Anorexics get glares too. Or they’re told, “OMG just eat a sandwich!” (Okay, so they do need to eat a sandwich but being told in a cruel manner doesn’t exactly help the situation.)

I dont care if someone is "naturally fat" or baby flavor doughnut and no excersize induced fat. Fat, Obese, and Morbidly Obese people are just THAT, people. You cant put a price on respect and dignity.
How is it disrespectful to say that the “baby flavor doughnut and no exercise induced fat” is unhealthy? Why are you accusing me of being disrespectful just because I point out the healthy problems that can happen with obesity? In case you didn’t notice, I also used the term “naturally skinny” in my post, yet you don’t seem to take any offense to that. You could have just as easily said:

I don’t care if someone is “naturally skinny” or eats 100 calories a day and runs 5 miles a day induced skinny. Skinny and Anorexic people are just THAT, people. You can’t put a price on respect and dignity.

I’m not categorizing people as a way of saying that one group deserves more respect than the other group. I’m just saying that one group is going to have health problems and I see it as a public health issue. I see fat and skinny as opposite sides of the same coin. There are plenty of fat/skinny people who are perfectly healthy. Unfortunately, I think being too under/over weight causes health problems. I think I’ve made it pretty clear that both extremes are unhealthy, so why are you getting on my case for being “anti-fat”? Why aren’t you accusing me of being “anti-skinny”?

The "I mean the unhealthy morbidly obese people" line, is just a candy coating (pun intended) way of saying "Oh, I dont mean YOU" to back track on some totally hateful, fat phobic comment.
When I discuss anorexia I often say “but there’s nothing wrong with being naturally skinny.” So that’s obviously be a candy coating way of saying “Oh I don’t mean YOU” to back track on some totally hateful, skinny-phobic comment, right?

ja said...

Did I forget to sign my name on the last comment? It's ja.

ja said...

I agree that “healthy” is a complicated issue with many layers. In the case of my Zyprexa example the person would have to weigh the consequences of Zyprexa induced health problems versus problems with psychotic episodes. Neither situation is ideal. Whichever choice the patient makes he/she will have health problems to deal with whether it’s physical health, mental health, or both. I never suggested going off Zyprexa for the sake of being thin. Ultimately it’s the patient’s choice whether he/she chooses to remain on medication or go off. It’s the same thing with a cancer patient who loses 60 pounds after going through chemotherapy. What should he/she do? Go off chemotherapy for the sake of being fat and beautiful? Continue to suffer through painful chemotherapy and possibly die of cancer anyway? I have never suffered from a psychotic disorder or cancer so I would never push someone in either direction.

Thanks for the interesting discussion and for listening to where I am coming from.

Harriet said...

ja,
I think until you've walked a mile in someone's shoes you should refrain from judgment. I've been in the position of having to choose between a medication that I know will make me gain a lot of weight and mental torment. Let me tell you, it should not be a decision. Our culture makes it very difficult indeed to take care of yourself in some circumstances.

To all: I am now closing comments on this thread. Some of the comments coming through for moderation have gotten out of hand.