I’m not overweight. I never have been. How do I do it? It’s naturally who I am. It’s not willpower or moral fiber. Just “good” genes.
And those millions who struggle with their weight—who eat less than I and exercise more? They didn’t get those so-called good genes. In a society that treats the overweight as we do, they drew the short straw. Yes, many people eat when they’re bored, when they’re upset, and even when they’re not hungry. Are you really going to find fault with that? I’d actually be interested to find the individuals in the developed world who have not done any of those. I certainly have done all of them.
So why do we use words that connote value judgment around eating? How many times have I heard a friend say that they’re trying to be “good” when confronted by a tempting dessert that they know they “shouldn’t” eat or heard a friend talk about how “bad” they were over the weekend for “overindulging” at a party?
I understand that at a certain weight, health can be affected and needs to be addressed (though I think doctors are too often focused on the numbers on the scale), but the health effects are not my area of interest at the moment. My concern is the emotional scars–particularly on women and girls–of the constant barrage of fat-shaming that occurs in every corner of our lives. I’ve seen mothers who while hyper-aware of the effect of their words and actions on their children in most other instances are so immersed in our fat-shaming culture that they don’t see the effect their own obsession with weight has on their daughters. When you as a mother check the scale every day and critically scrutinize your stomach and thighs in the mirror, you are sending the message to your daughter that how you (and they) look is vital–and that one must forever strive to achieve perfection. I have heard from countless female students about the negative effects of parents and magazines and doctors on their body images. All they want is to feel good about how they look–and these are not young women we would call overweight; they are just not skinny.
Why do we fat shame? Why do so many look at others who are significantly overweight and not only thank god (or whatever) that they are not them but also metaphorically shake their heads when they see such an individual eating a plate of fries or drinking a milkshake as if they have observed her blowing smoke into a baby’s crib?
Fatness is viewed as a failure and weakness. If you’re fat and I’m not, then you’ve failed where I’ve succeeded; you’re weak and I’m strong. It’s also an acceptable form of an epithet in a world where such words are (fortunately) becoming increasingly unacceptable. (When Jonah Hill recently yelled an epithet used for gays at paparazzi, he went on a heartfelt apology tour.) But many still feel it perfectly reasonable to refer to someone’s weight when pointing out something unrelated about them that they dislike—whether it’s a political belief or just that they’re furious at them, and in pointing out their other flaws, they throw that one in for good measure.
Why is it that when people see someone who’s fat, they think they know something about her? People are overweight for a variety of reasons. For some, it’s genes. For others, it’s lack of affordable healthy food. Still others eat to fill an emptiness caused by childhood trauma. We cannot know why someone looks the way they do. We can only be sure that it has nothing to do with their moral fiber.