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Negative fat

I've been thinking lately about the way people react when I mention my weight or body shape.  I mean for this post to be a commentary on our society, not a criticism of my friends or their comments.  I know that my friends mean well when they say these things, and I am not offended by them.  These comments have, however, given me food for thought.  I've considered them and digested them--pun intended--and what I have decided is that they are an indictment of our society.

So let me be more specific.  I occasionally say or do something which points out that I have gained weight.  A year ago, I was roughly 50 pounds lighter than I am now.  There are many different ways in which I disclose this information and many different reasons for why I do so.  For example, I may poke my belly out and pat my gut--with or without words accompanying, such as "look how fat I am" or "I really like donuts."  Sometimes it's mere whimsy.  I want to show off my belly or do something silly.  Sometimes I just want attention.  Sometimes I'm bragging.

What I have noticed is that most of the comments I get fall into two categories.  The first is denial.  These are comments such as "You're not that fat." or "Oh please."  These comments are made to the effect that I'm exaggerating my weight, that I don't qualify as fat, etc.  The second category are comments which do not necessarily deny that I am fat, but are meant to bolster my self-esteem.  These are comments such as "there's nothing wrong with that" or "you look fine".  The purpose of these comments is to make me feel better about how I look, typically neither confirming or denying the claim that I'm fat.

Both of these types of comments are made with the underlying (unspoken) premise that fat is bad.  Deny it.  Pretend it's not true.  "Oh, you're not fat."  The problem with denial is that it further marginalizes people who are fatter than I am.  I'm "OK" because I'm not as fat as someone else.  There are larger people than myself, so by comparison I'm not bad.  (The unspoken premise being that the fatter people are bad, and that I should just be glad that I'm not them.)  To reassure someone in their acknowledgement of being overweight also has this underlying premise.  The reasoning is that if I'm not reassured then I'll feel bad for being fat--that I must feel ugly or unwanted because of my weight therefore I need validation that such is not the case.

Again, I do not mean to criticize any of my friends or family who have said these kinds of things to me.  I certainly don't mean to put words in their mouth.  What I mean to do is to examine the society in which we live, which most certainly has a stigma against fat, which I believe to be unhealthy.

I have noticed many times when person X does something undesirable and X is also fat, the fact that X is fat is pointed out and perhaps emphasized even beyond the undesirable thing.  For example, many people who do not like Chris Christie make fun of his weight rather than his political views.  When I came out of the closet and had difficulties with my local church leader because of it, someone I knew pointed out that his disapproval of my orientation should be discounted because he's fat.  And the list goes on and on.  The point is, society has a strong negative feeling about fat and we as members of society generally all feel this way--either consciously or subconsciously.

Imagine for a moment if you made a Facebook post that you had lost 10 pounds and the comments which you got in response to that were "Oh, you're not that skinny."  "I have friends who are skinnier than you.  Don't worry." "Hey, man, it's ok to be skinny."  Those kinds of comments would be rather defeating.  In fact, when someone makes such an announcement, the typical responses are "That's great!" "Congratulations!" "I'm so happy for you."  These comments reinforce the idea that losing weight is good (and therefore, by corollary, that gaining weight is bad).

I do believe that social pressure is good for controlling behavior, and I think that society can and should be molded to that end.  Concerning the matter of fat, I think we have very much missed the mark.  I do not think we should be judgmental of fat people.  I do not think we should view fat as a negative thing.  I also do not think we should view fat as a positive thing.  I believe it should be neutral--like hair color, skin color, or other meaningless differences among us.

But fat is complicated.  I think that good health is something that society should promote.  And health is often related to fat.  In particular, there is roughly an inverse relationship with body fat percentage and healthiness.  This is not absolute.  Some 350 pound people are healthier than some 180 pound people.  There certainly are more factors than just weight and body composition where health is concerned.  Which is why I don't think the focus should be on fat itself.  It should be on health.

The truth is that I am overweight.  If I gained 5 more pounds, I would be obese by my BMI.  My belly is 43 inches around at the navel.  I wear pants that are size 38 or 40.  My belly jiggles.  And I'm okay with that.  I don't think it's negative.  I don't think I have less worth because I'm overweight.  I don't think that having fat is bad.  If a friend were to congratulate me on gaining weight, I would appreciate that just as much as all of the congratulations I just got on my marriage to my husband.  When I say I'm fat, I don't mean that I think I'm super fat.  I don't mean to say no one is fatter than I am.  I merely mean to describe my body as I see it and am comfortable with acknowledging.

There are many reasons that I think it is unhealthy for society to have such a negative view of fat.  The stigma against fat being as strong as it is has serious impact on people.  It can actually make people unhealthy, by causing them to be overly obsessed with their appearance and weight.  It may be a cause of eating disorders.  It may be a factor in low self-esteem and other mental concerns.  It would be just as bad if we lived in a society which promoted obesity and shunned people who were underweight.

I believe that a society where the focus is on health rather than on body weight would be better.  I believe we, as a society, should promote positive self-image and a proactive role in personal health.  I honestly think that we would have a lower obesity rate if we did. I think we should empower people to accept and love themselves, and to engage in healthful and beneficial practices.  Don't be annoyed when someone posts about exercising, congratulate em.  Don't feel guilty when someone mentions ey went jogging, plan time in your day to do similar physical activity.  Complaining about other people sharing their exercise successes only ruins their motivation to continue their routine, it doesn't empower you to start your own.  Don't tear other people down, build them up.  And build yourself up.

You are beautiful.  If you are fat, your fat is beautiful.  If you are slender, your slenderness is beautiful.  If you are muscular, your muscles are beautiful.  What you see in the mirror is beautiful.  What you feel when you look at yourself should be a positive emotion.

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