I just read a blog post by my friend Nance about the politics of food. I found it intriguing because I had never given much thought to there being a political aspect to what we choose to eat. However, I think Nance presents a point of view that appropriately stirs up the brain cells; check it out.
I was rolling along just fine until I got to the image that Nance posted at the end as a sort of what not to look like. I know Nance, and she was merely illustrating her overall thesis about food, the environment and health. Still, give her an Afro and a really good tan and the woman in the photo could be me.
I'm fat. As y'all regulars know, I don't like the word obese; it sounds like some greasy substance you sell in a can. Weight is a major issue for a lot of us. Most of us who are fat are uncomfortable talking publicly about weight. The first lesson that a fat girl learns from her mother is not to draw attention to herself. Don't do anything to make people look at you such as wear bright colors or laugh loudly and maybe they won't notice that there's a fat girl sitting in the corner.
I wore a lot of pastel colors as a child. It was a faux pas to dress a child in black (the alleged slimming color), so pastels were preferred to bright reds, blues, and greens. To this day I hate anything in a pastel color; give me something in a bold magenta print with teal accents, or an animal print.
I suspect that fat boys have similar experiences but I've never been a fat boy and I write what I know. I do know that fat men appear to get away with less disparagement, at least they do in straight culture. Think of the television or film career of fat actors; they have wives (slim, pretty wives), or girlfriends. They get to have romantic scenes. They get to play the lead. It's still big news to have a fat woman play the lead in a television show. Drop Dead Diva made the news when it debuted a year ago because the lead actress was plus size.
People who would never disparage anyone based on race, ethnicity, or sexual orientation fail to even recognize the daily insults that they and others toss at fat people.
The focus should be on maintaining a healthy weight but we live in a culture where looks are everything. Attractive people are more likely to be hired and more likely to be promoted. If you're fat, perfect strangers feel that it is appropriate to comment on your weight. If you're fat, people take pictures of you from the rear, always a fat person's worst angle, of which you are unaware and use it as a warning of what not to become.
As for fat people, we still hide in the corners, trying to avoid attention. Most of us are unwilling to bring fat prejudice out into the light because to do so means drawing attention to ourselves. We laugh at the fat jokes and cluck disapprovingly at the image of some hapless fat person in an ad about the nation's obesity problem. We allow the image of fat people as lazy, unattractive, and willfully fat to go unchallenged. We are secretly grateful when there is someone in the room who is larger because we are able to escape the dubious distinction of being the fattest person present.
At age 55, I've gotten beyond having my feelings hurt by offensive comments about my weight. I still have my insecure days when I'm convinced that I look like a small tank, but most of the time I see myself in a more positive light. I have a standard comeback to rude comments when I feel that one is warranted, "I'm fat and you're stupid. I can always lose some weight." My friend Burmadeane came up with that one years ago.
However, most children and teenagers haven't made peace with their bodies and go through untold emotional pain as they receive a consistent message that they are worthless. Don't misunderstand, I think efforts to teach healthy eating and the joy of movement are needed. However, there is a big difference from conveying a message that being physically fit will enhance your enjoyment of life and conveying the message that being fat is akin to wearing a sign around your neck that says criticize me, emotionally batter me until I have no self esteem left and then tell me how it's for my own good.
I think that some of the animosity expressed by fat people towards healthy eating campaigns and efforts to combat childhood obesity (that word again!) masks hurt feelings and insecurities. To be fat in a culture obsessed with appearance is to be a fair target for ridicule and shame. It means being a teenage girl out with your friends and having some woman whom you have never met stop you and tell you that you are going to die young if you don't lose weight. It's having people become so obsessed with the issue of weight that they forget there is a human being in front of them and not an obesity problem.